Television review: Roseanne

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s the sixth of April, 2018.

Thanks for joining us for our Friday edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s only been two weeks, and it’s still difficult to separate hype from actual content with ABC’s enormously successful revival of the sitcom Roseanne.

You may have heard this, but the show’s ratings are huge — with more than 27 million viewing the first episode.

REICHARD: That’s almost unprecedented in today’s fractured TV landscape of Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming outlets. The political conversation surrounding it is even bigger — with dueling op-eds in every major newspaper and political journal. Even President Trump referenced his apparent contribution to the show’s success. He picked up the phone and called Roseanne to congratulate her.

EICHER: But WORLD Radio’s Megan Basham says the show is actually a muddled mix of modern ideologies.

MEGAN BASHAM, ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR: If there’s one thing we know about the Roseanne reboot, it’s that the show’s eponymous star isn’t afraid to champion the voters who put Donald Trump in the White House…

AUDIO: Aunt Jackie thinks every girl should grow up to be president even if they’re a liar, liar pantsuit on fire.

And the jokes get even more pointed still.

AUDIO: First let’s say grace. Jackie, would like to take a knee? Dear Lord, thank you for this food and for bringing our son DJ home from Syria. Please protect his wife Gina and all our troops overseas. Please watch over our son Jerry who’s on that stupid fishing boat where apparently they don’t get phone calls. But most of all Lord, thank you for making America Great Again!

AUDIO: How could you have voted for him, Roseanne? He talked about jobs, Jackie. He said he’d shake things up. I mean, this might come as a complete shock to you, but we almost lost our house the way things are going. Have you looked at the news because now they’re worse. Not on the real news! Oh puh-lease!

But it’s the outrage some commentators are expressing about a scene in the third episode that illustrates just how much the media fails to understand Roseanne’s core audience… An audience that feels ignored and demeaned by most mainstream entertainment.

AUDIO: Dan, you’re snoring, wake up. What time is it? Did I miss dinner? It’s 11 o’clock. We slept from Wheel to Kimmel. We missed all the shows about black and asian families. They’re just like us. There, now you’re all caught up.

On Wednesday the Washington Post characterized this as Roseanne belittling two other ABC sitcoms, Fresh Off the Boat and Blackish. Variety called it reprehensible mocking of minority casts.

Clearly, they don’t get the joke.

The Conners aren’t actually anything like those two families, whose conflicts stem almost exclusively from rising affluence in flourishing urban centers. But the key differences aren’t about ethnicity. Roseanne’s subversive humor comes out of her resistance to the feel-good social message of sameness that elite, East Coast TV writers are preaching to her.

It’s an ironic circle for the sitcom to complete given that, toward the end of its run, the original Roseanne delivered plenty of sermons itself, contributing to the social changes we’ve seen since. Twenty years ago it was one of the first television shows to promote gay marriage.

And for all the hand-wringing about a Trump supporter gaining such strong purchase on prime TV real estate, the new incarnation of Roseanne suggests some uncomfortable contradictions with the old liberal one—but not an outright rejection.

The Conners pray and would likely say they’re Christians because it’s part of their regional identity. But they demonstrate no walk with God that would give them a firm worldview based in biblical wisdom. And they use some minor profanity you’d never hear in church.

Thus, they know what progressive values they’re supposed to adopt to be good people in modern America, but their natural feelings rebel against them. Such as Dan’s reaction to his cross-dressing 9-year-old grandson.

AUDIO: Darlene says just ignore it. He’s exploring. May the wind fill his sails and carry him to the boys section of Target.

Even more telling is how Roseanne reluctantly recites the catechism of a woman’s right to choose when Becky announces she’s donating an egg for easy cash. She and Dan can’t hide their horror that their daughter could be so casual about giving away a child.

AUDIO: I’m not letting Becky do this, Roseanne. In this family you’re gonna have the baby. We’re gonna love the baby, we’re gonna raise the baby to believe anything’s possible until the time the baby realizes it got screwed by being born into this family. Then we’re gonna send that baby out into the world until such time said baby returns to us to live with its own baby.

That said, neither goes so far as to retract the PC lines on these hot button issues. Though the no-spanking 90s Roseanne has definitely changed her tune on less controversial subjects.

AUDIO: People parent differently than they did in your day. Turns out a lot of what you did did not work and some of it was against the law. Yeah, it’s against the law because your generation made everything so PC. Instead of spanking them, you tell them to go over there and think about what they did wrong. You know what they’re thinking? I can’t believe this loser isn’t spanking me.

I’m not yet in the camp of right-wings critics like Ben Shapiro who dismiss the show as liberal in populist clothing, but he’s correct that it’s far from a clear triumph for conservative viewpoints. What the new Roseanne does seem to be, in the first five episodes at least, is honestly dedicated to exploring complex class and cultural divisions in good faith.

Ideologically, this show is muddled, contradictory, and combative and doesn’t belong to any political outlook. And perhaps that’s what makes it television’s truest reflection of 21st century America.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham


(Adam Rose/ABC via AP) This image released by ABC shows Roseanne Barr, left, and John Goodman in a scene from “Roseanne.”


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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