The New ‘Roseanne’ Shows a Bickering, Diverse, and Politically Divided Family — Just Like Our Own

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This post contains spoilers from the first two episodes of ABC’s Roseanne.

I’ll be honest: I’d been counting down the days ‘til the new Roseanne premiered for quite some time. In part, because I’m hopelessly nostalgic for the TV shows from my childhood, and also because, well, I’ve always loved me some Roseanne Barr.

When I flipped on the TV last night, I silently prayed that the reboot wouldn’t crash and burn, as so many show revivals of its kind have done before. But only about a minute in, I was hooked.

There it was: The same lived-in Lanford, Illinois home I remember so well growing up, as I laid, legs splayed while watching in front of our old Zenith TV. There was that same messy kitchen with the mismatched table and chairs, and the beat-up, plaid couch draped in one of those ‘80s-style crocheted blankets all our moms seemed to have. In a million little ways, the Conner home felt like it could be our own. And likewise, the rough-around-the-edges Conner family felt like it could be our own, too.

We last left the Conners in 1997, but as the reboot premiere quickly revealed, they’re now facing some very 2018 pressures. Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) and Dan (John Goodman) have been hit hard by the skyrocketing costs of healthcare and the obscene prices they have to lay out for the medication they need just to make it from one day to the next. And those mounting financial pressures — which millions of American families are currently facing, too — nearly cost the family their home, as Roseanne admits in one scene.

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Darlene (Sara Gilbert) is now a mom of two, who’s moved back home with her family under the guise of caring for her parents. In reality though, a recent lay-off has left her flat broke and unable to raise her kids on her own.

Meanwhile, D.J. (Michael Fishman) is all grown up, too, raising his mixed-race daughter while his wife is deployed in the military. (In an interesting plot twist, he wound up marrying Geena, a young classmate that he once refused to kiss in an episode of the old series, simply because she was black.)

“It’s funny because Roseanne and I have talked for years, and we always talked about D.J. potentially being in an interracial marriage,” Fishman recently told TODAY. “And I think that’s really important because that’s what families look like now. They’re diverse. They’re really complex. It’s not this static thing that you see on most shows on television, so I was really excited for that. And I think it’s a good callback to the show. I feel so lucky to be gifted that from the writers because I think it gives us so much depth to play with and a whole new series of interactions and complex character traits.”

Becky (Lecy Goranson) has landed herself in so much credit card debt that she’s turning to surrogacy as a means to dig herself out from under it all. (Fun plot-twist No. 2: The woman whose baby Becky may potentially carry is actually played by Sarah Chalke, who famously alternated with Goranson while playing the role of Becky in the original series.)

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Dan, who is still as lovable, yet somewhat curmudgeony, as always, is now retired — and escaping to the garage every now and again to throw back a few beers when things get too tense inside.

And then there’s Roseanne, who is still just as no-nonsense, unfiltered, and hilarious, with one noteworthy update: She voted for Trump, and no, she wouldn’t take it back one bit; so stop expecting her to apologize for it.

This plot point in particular drew a lot of headlines in the lead-up to the premiere; but it’s a point that Barr herself, and executive producer Bruce Helford, felt was crucial.

“There are lots of families that are divided,” Helford told Politico. “It’s like a civil war.”

But ultimately, he says, “What’s really important to ‘Roseanne,’ and for all of us, is to put the whole discourse out in the open. We’re hoping we can bring a kind of dialogue back.”

And they certainly are.

Whether you agree with her or not, the reality is that Roseanne (both the character and Barr herself) represents the 62.9 million Americans who voted for Trump in the 2016 election, in the hopes that he’d bring back jobs and restore once-flourishing communities. And in doing so, she offers working class Republican voters a much-needed voice on mainstream television for the first time in a long time. Together with her sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) — who has emerged as a pink-hat-wearing, Nasty Woman-shirt-clad feminist since the last election — we get a front-row seat to what we all really look like when we let our politics stand in the way of our relationships with the people we love.

After a year of not speaking, Roseanne and Jackie can be seen yelling at each other in one scene at top-volume, over everything from health care to reproductive rights to why in the hell they would choose to vote for the person they did. You know, basically the same scene that plays out in your own kitchen, whenever family gets together.

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The thing that Roseanne gets so right about all this, is that these last few years have driven a wedge through both the country and our personal relationships like never before. (Or, you could argue, it’s shone a light on all the cracks we’d long-since ignored.) How many of us have been reduced to shouting matches — whether in person or via Facebook — with a family member over politics, unable to see where they’re coming from through all our blinding rage? And how many of us have drifted away from people we used to consider close, simply because of the way they voted?

In the end, Roseanne and Jackie hug it out. Not in that neat and tidy ’90s sitcom-era way we grew up accepting; but in a way that acknowledges this stuff is hard. The kind of hard that won’t be resolved in a 30-minute story arc. 

The same can be said for Roseanne’s other touching subplot, which revolves around Darlene’s gender non-conforming son Mark (Ames McNamara), who likes to wear clothes traditionally worn by girls — much to the dismay of his grandparents, Roseanne and Dan.

Most of the second episode features Roseanne and Dan showing an uneasy skepticism of their grandson’s clothing preferences, which range from colorful scarves and unicorn shirts to plaid skirts. And while it starts off looking like their backwards views prevent them from accepting him, the episode ultimately ends on a very real note: with both grandparents showing that their hesitance in fully embracing Mark’s clothing choices has more to do with knowing that kids can be mean and hurtful than anything else. After all, it’s in our nature to want to protect our own kids from the harsh realities of the world outside our door with everything we’ve got. It’s just not always easy.

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“We did a lot of research,” co-executive producer Bruce Rasmussen told EW. “It’s very tricky. We talked to GLAAD people to make it very specific to one kid, not try to make it about everybody. The hardest part about it, weirdly, was the terminology. We’re not saying the kid is trans. He’s not even at that point. My son had a friend who was 5 years old and he dressed like a girl. Ultimately he turned out to be gay, but he wasn’t trans. We didn’t want to put all that weight on the kid. He really is a kid who is non-traditional and right now he wants to dress like a girl. We’re saying, who knows what will ultimately happen?”

One of the final and most touching scenes happens when Roseanne ultimately lets her grandson know that while the future may not be easy for him, she’s going to support him in any way that she can.

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“It’s a great moment when Roseanne sits down and says to the kid, ‘This is going to be tough,'” Rasmussen shared. “That point of view was very much pitched by [Roseanne Barr]. It was really great.”

After watching the moment play out last night myself, I can honestly say it was pretty great — and had me tearing up.

I likely wasn’t the only one, though — according to Entertainment Weekly, the return of Roseanne drew the biggest ratings for a comedy telecast in the last four years, bringing in a whopping 18.2 million viewers. And after seeing how well it totally nailed the first two episodes — along with some tricky and divisive topics — I’m willing to bet much of that audience will return again next week for Episode 3.

What I loved most of all, though, is the sitcom’s clear message that while we may not agree on everything — or anything, for that matter — we all deserve to feel heard and to be seen for who and what we are. And while embracing our differences and talking through our conflicts will be messy and complicated and not always done so delicately … somehow, some way, we’ll get through — if only we let ourselves see things from the other side.

You can catch new episodes of Roseanne on ABC every Monday night, at 8/7 Central. 

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