Last month, Roseanne Barr seemingly spoiled one of fall TV’s biggest mysteries: How would The Conners handle the forced exit of Barr from all things ABC, and therefore the exit of her character, Roseanne Conner, right along with her? The disgraced comedian, who was fired from the network after tweeting racist comments about former President Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett, claimed her sitcom character would be killed off. The cause of Roseanne Conners’ death would be an opioid overdose, she explained.
The Tuesday night premiere of The Conners, the retooled, Barr-free version of ABC's ratings smashing Rosanne reboot, confirmed Roseanne Barr was correct. Roseanne Conner died of an O.D. and debut “Keep On Truckin’” tackles the lingering grief in the Conner household.
At the top of the episode, the entire Conner family is left reeling by Roseanne’s shocking death. Her husband Dan (John Goodman) is beside himself, completely baffled about how his wife could die so unexpectedly. “It doesn’t make any sense. I got her knees fixed. I flushed all her pills,” the widower tells sister-in-law Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) and daughters Darlene (Sara Gilbert) and Becky (Alicia Goranson). It’s that telling Dan, whose leading soundboard was always Roseanne, is now having this difficult conversation with the remaining three most important women in his life.
But, Dan himself revealed exactly why Roseanne’s death does make heartbreaking sense when he said “I flushed all of her pills.” Roseanne, as this spring’s Roseanne revival proved, was battling an opioid addiction and wasn’t getting any help for it. Season 10’s “Netflix & Pill” revealed Roseanne had been stashing pills, which she had received from various people for various ailments she didn’t suffer from, for quite a long time.
Although Roseanne blamed her prescription pill abuse on simple knee pain, Roseanne made it clear the Conner matriarch was hiding how deep her addiction went. In “Pill,” Dan assumes doling out the unprescribed opioids on a schedule and getting his wife the pricey surgery she needs will end her habit; Roseanne agrees to the plan... and still hides her remaining secret stash of pain meds in an freezer ice bag.
“Keep On Truckin’” digs deep into the reality that loved ones cannot know what secrets someone dealing with an addiction are hiding. When Becky finds a “final” pill bottle in Roseanne’s closet, Dan decides to publicly blame the neighborhood woman they actually belong to, Marcy Bellinger (Mary Steenburgen). He writes a sign reading “Thank you Marcy Bellinger for the pills that killed my loving wife Roseanne” on the side of his truck, and leaves it in town for everyone to see. Eventually, a teary Marcy appears at the Conners' house to beg Dan to remove the sign, explaining she had no idea Roseanne had an addiction.
Instead, Marcy — whose name came up on one of the “Netflix & Pill” bottles — explains a group of women in town share medication as a way to get the pills they and their families need in the face of economic instability and poor health insurance. Marcy thought she was helping Roseanne get back to work — not enabling her. The moment is all the more upsetting when Marcy suggests she herself has dealt with an addiction.
Yet, a grieving Dan refuses to relent. That is until Darlene reveals she and Jackie found another stash of pills in the freezer. It’s impossible to know whose pills Roseanne overdosed on, so there is no reason to blame an obviously devastated Marcy. It becomes clear Roseanne was going to follow this tragic road no matter what.
Throughout the Conners premiere, it feels as though the entire cast is dealing with the narrative loss of Roseanne Conner with the real-life loss of their longtime north star Roseanne Barr. Especially since Barr blamed her offensive tweeting, which led to the comedian’s far less fatal exit from the Roseanne world, on prescription pills (it was sleeping meds rather than pain meds). That’s why Dan’s emotional goodbye to Roseanne in “Truckin’s” final scene — where he hugs his wife’s side of the bed — comes off as startling real. It’s likely John Goodman misses his scene partner almost as much as Dan misses his wife.
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