I have something to say. I am having a crisis. I think I love Roseanne.
This makes no sense on any level. I didn’t watch the original. I have only a vague impression of it: characters in tacky sweatshirts, blue-collar yuks. I screened the revival, which premieres tonight, purely from a research perspective, expecting it not to hold my attention. After all, I watch and love to talk about shows like Atlanta and The Handmaid’s Tale. When it comes to television, I’m a—what’s the word? Oh yes. I’m a snob.
And yet, there I was, a third of the way through the pilot, feeling warmly invested and laughing out loud. What has happened? I emailed my editor afterwards. Have I lost my edge?
Maybe. But there’s something else going on, some stealth sophistication beneath the “Who, us? We’re simple folk!” surface. Let me walk you through the experience. The episode starts up, transporting you instantly back to your side-pony days. “Roseanne is taped before a live studio audience,” Sara Gilbert’s voice reminds you, as the camera tracks the Conners sitting down to a dinner of (my assumption here) many dishes made with or designed to pair with ranch dressing. Sigh. Remember when food was just…less of a thing?
Then—just when you’ve been lulled into a state of ‘90s nostalgia—the decidedly 2018 writing reveals itself. It takes all of a minute for Dan to call Roseanne “Mother,” in homage to our vice president’s pet name for the Second Lady. The next scene finds the two of them at the kitchen table, divvying up their pills because their “insurance doesn’t cover what it used to.” A moment later, Jackie blows in, pussy-hatted, and bellows at Roseanne: “What’s up, deplorable?”
When the family gets set to eat, a few scenes later, Roseanne lifts her gaze to Jackie. “Let’s say grace,” she says. “Jackie, would you like to take a knee?”
Here’s a sentence I thought I’d never say: Roseanne’s really opened my mind.
On it goes from there. Jackie and Roseanne are the leaders of the show’s values clash, flipping snowflake burns and Trump jokes at each other like coins, but the rest of the females in the Conners’ world take up charged positions, too. Darlene is forced to defend her son’s unicorn-sweatshirt habit. Becky (played by Lecy Goranson, who originated the role) has to fend off her family’s disapproval when she agrees to be a surrogate for Andrea (played by Sarah Chalke, who took over the Becky role when Goranson departed the show). The wink to the Becky-sharing embedded in the surrogate story is a delightful little stunt—but the writers have made it into more than that. Now, Becky is a cash-strapped waitress who sees the surrogacy gig as a feminist choice, a way to assert her independence. (“Her body, her choice,” Roseanne concurs, crossing party lines for a moment.) Andrea, by contrast, is bougie-clueless—probably the sort who considers herself woke, but will reveal herself to be still waking at best.
Speaking of people who are supposed to be woke: It genuinely startled me, how hard I laughed at that “take a knee” joke. I mean, I can tell you that when people in my Facebook feed start drawing lines between Colin Kaerpernick and the fall of patriotism, I don’t react with laughter. And yet: As the show rolled on and the women kept sparring, talking gender roles and healthcare and Hillary Clinton, I found myself enjoying the jokes for the red-staters as much as the blue-leaning ones.
It dawned on me, eventually, that this show was providing a catharsis I’ve desperately needed in this toxic climate. Women who disagree with each other but truly respect each other—and who, more importantly, listen to each other, considering the other’s ideas in good faith—seem to have dwindled in our real lives and disappeared on TV and Twitter. The Conner women represent a breed that hasn’t gone extinct so much as it’s gone invisible. They’re not politically correct, but they don’t bemoan the rise of political correctness because they secretly miss being hateful. They harbor strong opinions—but have empathy in equal measure. They grumble about change, but they grapple with it, too. And their writers are taking good care of them: On this show, no one’s scripted to seem stupid.
The result is a show that I’m convinced any viewer—regardless of her typical voting habits or viewing persuasions—can enjoy. A show that offers a flicker of hope for unity again—or, at least, reminds us what it looks like. Here’s a sentence I thought I’d never say: Roseanne’s really opened my mind.
As for my edge: I could likely keep more of it if I pretended to like Roseanne ironically. But maybe if we all gave up a little edge, 2018 would start to feel as livable as the Conners’ kitchen, where carbs still reign supreme and compassion never runs out.