The Roseanne revival is a tricky nut to crack. Its star, Roseanne Barr, was once a feminist comedy icon with an unapologetic brash streak. Now, she posts and deletes right wing fever dream conspiracy theories about fake sex trafficking or Parkland survivors and receives congratulatory phone calls from a racist president, whom she supports. Hypothetically, those who chose to should be able to turn a blind eye to Barr's oftentimes offensive ABC sitcom — as people like Roxane Gay have pledged to do — but it’s also pulling in historic viewership in the millions. Roseanne 2.0 is a major part of the American zeitgeist, whether people like it or not.
All this behind-the-camera tension, paired with the actual politics of the present-day Conner family, makes the series almost claustrophobically political. Everything from the teenage rebellion of resident young person Harris Conner-Healy (Emma Kenney) to the health problems of Roseanne Conner (Barr) feels more like a statement than comedy. That’s why Tuesday night’s “Eggs Over, Not Easy,” which ditched conversations about elections and ideologies all together, was good enough to make me cry.
Most new Roseanne episodes put Roseanne against something, whether that’s Aunt Jackie’s (Laurie Metcalfe) progressive, pussy hat-toting ways, understanding her gender nonconforming grandson (Ames McNamara), or the forced urban snobbery of her Chicago transplant granddaughter, Harris. “Eggs,” doesn’t fall into that very limiting category. Instead, Roseanne’s prickly opinions take a backseat to Becky Conner (Alicia Goranson), now a grief-stricken widow, and the close of her shockingly emotional surrogacy storyline.
As we pointed out a few weeks ago, Becky’s get-rich-over-roughly-nine-months scheme was doomed from the beginning. She is a 43-year-old woman with the average uterus of one. Maybe, if the doctor was prepared for the medical needs of someone the waitress’ age, she could continue down the surrogacy path for coastal elite avatar Andrea (Sarah Chalke, who played replacement Becky during the original Roseanne). But, Becky is still, somehow, convincing everyone involved she’s 33. So, the the “Eggs” fertility specialist (Jeff Harlan) is naturally shocked to see eggs that appear a decade older. With this kind of health anomaly, which is actually normal biology in disguise, at work, he cautions all parties involved against moving forward. His parting words are a confirmation Becky only has a 5% chance of conception.
While that’s all unfortunate, it’s not exactly unexpected. What makes the entire storyline so genuinely successful is what the fertility news brings out in Becky. Despite the fact the oldest Conner daughter has spent most of the revival swearing she doesn’t want children of her own, the cold, hard truth about the low possibility of pregnancy drags a far more honest revelation out of her. It’s not that Becky doesn’t want kids, it’s that a litany of factors made her ignore the fact biology was catching up to any child-bearing dreams she may have.
“My life wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. Mark and I were going to have kids,” Becky tells her sister Darlene (Sara Gilbert), referencing her late husband, after a line of margaritas. “I just never met anyone after [he died] who I wanted to have them with.” In just a few sentences, we are given a greater look into Becky’s inner life then we’ve received in four full episodes. Now we understand this is a woman who had one very specific future in mind and was so knocked around by life, she completely gave up on it.
In letting go of that future with a husband and two-point-five-kids, Becky also inadvertently “froze” herself in the place she was when she lost Mark. While it's unclear exactly when Mark died, it's been at least 9 years, considering Darlene seemingly named her son Mark in tribute to her late brother-in-law. At maximum, Becky stopped maturing at age 34, which is a time when a baby, a new career, or any major life change seems easy to attain.
So, when Becky swears she’s “young,” Darlene points out her sister is much closer to middle-age than she realizes, joking, “You’re like an old young person. Or a young old person.” Although Darlene is trying to be funny, it’s a necessary reminder for Becky. The widow can no longer merely focus on “fun,” as she says, if she wants to move onto the next chapter of her life, whatever that may be. That is a deeply human, and difficult, understanding to come to.
That is why it’s legitimately sad to watch Becky, in the allegedly “Mexican”-style waitress uniform she hates so much, shed actual teals while lamenting, “I thought I had more time.”
This is the portrait of a real person, especially since Becky’s grief is clearly bumping up against her financial situation. It’s highly likely she avoided even considered adding to her family both because of bleak romantic prospects, as she vocalized, and the probable difficulty of supporting a child on a single waitress’ salary, which she didn't. There are likely countless real-life women going through these same crises.
All television, including zany network sitcoms, can only really work if you care about the characters and their relationships deep in your bones. That’s why Roseanne’s politically-tinged feud with Harris in last week’s “Roseanne Gets The Chair” falls fairly flat. That confrontation comes off as a simple straw man argument between a stubborn, get-off-my-lawn-type elderly conservative and a bratty, elitist kid, created simply to remind viewers how annoying and entitled city-living teens are. After all, Harris turns out to be a criminal and gets punished as Roseanne wins the literal last laugh.
On the other hand, Harris’ conversation with her mom Darlene over their familial problems since leaving the Windy City has the heart necessary for you to actually hope they figure things out. Rather than seeing their interaction through the lens of battling ideologies, it simply looks like a real family having a real, fraught, necessary, conversation. The same goes for all of Becky’s tough scenes throughout “Egg.”
All together, these set pieces feel like a callback to the old Roseanne, which was about telling a solid relatable story about people who love each other before it was about anything else. And, isn't that it should still be in 2018?
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