The Roseanne revival can’t avoid the label of “political sitcom” in this day and age. The iconic comedy, about a white, Midwestern, working-class family, is a purposeful olive branch from ABC to the real-life white, Midwestern, working-class families who helped put Donald Trump in the White House. You know, the kinds of people who are rarely allowed to hear the word “media” without “liberal, elitist” attached, if conservative politicians and pundits have their way. Roseanne, its home network hopes, will show Middle America that the media isn’t nearly as snobby and coast-obsessed as certain people say it is.
As someone who has seen three of the revival’s nine new episodes, I can confirm Roseanne 2.0, premiering Tuesday, March 27, succeeds at this goal, giving viewers a loving look at a white blue-collar family. But, more importantly, the reboot just might serve as a very subtle progressive Trojan horse, helping its core viewership question their own opinions on political tensions, gender, and race. Basically, Roseanne is a sugary chocolate chip cookie secretly sprinkled with kale.
When we re-enter the world of Roseanne, it looks very much the same as it did 21 years ago, when the series ended in 1997. Except, Roseanne Conner’s (creator and vocal Trump supporter Roseanne Barr) husband Dan Conner (John Goodman) isn’t dead, as the finale revealed the Conner patriarch to be. Instead, everyone is alive and begrudgingly revolving around in the same Illinois home we saw over the original run’s nine seasons.
Darlene Conner (Sara Gilbert) is back in casa Conner with her two children, Harris (Shameless’ Emma Kenney) and Mark (Ames McNamara). Becky Conner (Alicia Goranson) is working a low-paying waitressing job with a demeaning “Mexican”-style uniform. D.J. Conner (Michael Fishman) has a daughter and seems to miss his wife, who’s abroad serving in the army. Jackie Harris (the great Laurie Metcalf) is still delightfully neurotic. While only Darlene still lives with her parents, everyone manages to descend upon the Conners kitchen for dinner.
As with Roseanne's original nine seasons, that dinner table is the center of the sitcom's opening sequence, complete with the same music, same cameras tracking shots, and star Roseanne Barr’s same memorable laugh. The only difference is, there are a few new additions, namely gender non-conforming 9-year-old Mark, and D.J.’s daughter Mary (Jayden Rey), a little Black girl with beautiful natural hair. Both Conner kids are rightly shown as just another member of the family, no different from anyone else.
While that kind of inclusion is a solid step forward, the comedy then forces its legacy characters to talk through behaviors they might not be used to or approve of. It’s completely understandable a cisgendered, straight couple in their mid-60s like Dan, who hails from the ultra-macho world of drywall installation, and Roseanne wouldn’t exactly be comfortable with their grandson walking around in dresses or painting his nails. That is a reality of our country right now. But, the pair still loves their grandkid, so they keep trying to connect with the open-hearted little boy. We get hints of this dynamic in premiere “Twenty Years To Life,” when Mark adorably tells Dan, “I like your nail polish, Grandpa.” “That’s drywall, son.” This is the kind of curmudgeonly intergenerational humor sitcoms live on.
But, the third episode of the new season, “Dress To Impress,” is what truly grapples with what it means to be a conservative 60-something with a grandson who enjoys wearing sequin skirts. Throughout the installment, Darlene defends her son against his critical grandparents, Roseanne has an important, illuminating conversation with Mark about his gender, and Dan realizes there are extremely incorrect ways to go about protecting a nonconforming child from a possibly threatening world. Everyone hears some hard, important truths throughout the episode, and, thankfully, that means viewers will too. We can all hope these teachable moments will inform Roseanne’s more conservative viewership if they ever find a Mark in their family.
When you look at Roseanne through a macro lens, the entire revival seems dedicated to this kind of bridge-gapping. Yes, it does have an unquestionably blue-collar comedy sensibility, but there are also important messages about loving people who don’t share your own political ideals. That's why a huge chunk of the premiere is dedicated to Aunt Jackie, who sports a pussy hat in teaser trailers, and Roseanne repairing their ruined relationship after the polarizing 2016 election. Other episodes deal with prescription pill abuse and the fact no one is above a working class job. If someone wasn’t thinking about these difficult topics, they will once they’re done laughing.
Of course, the Conner parents’ willfully conservative politics also lends itself to jokes that will feel tone deaf to its more liberal viewers. That’s probably the point. Remember, this is a purposefully friendly overture to Americans who think Hillary Clinton is a “liar, liar pants on fire,” as Roseanne calls her, or choose to vilify the NFL players who protest systemic racism by kneeling during the National Anthem. Roseanne works hard to suggest these people just might not be so wrong. It’s not a message I can agree with, but it is a message about half the country is desperate to hear on primetime television.
Look, I know I’m not Roseanne’s target audience. After all, upon hearing an upcoming Dan joke about “Mexican champagne” I reflexively thought, “It’s actually Mexican sparkling wine, since champagne only comes from Champagne, France.” But, even I can admit Roseanne is going to do some good — even amid the played-out pantsuit jokes.
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