Since the dawn of the television age, American sitcoms have streamed into our living rooms and, for better or worse, they’ve changed us. They’ve broadened our horizons as to what the “American family” looks like. The Waltons and the Cleavers — with their all-white casts, wife cooking a pot roast in heels and an apron, and neat and tidy lesson learned within a 28-minute episode — dominated the early days of TV.
Later decades, however, brought shows that broke the mold. America saw an educated black family, with a doctor dad and lawyer mom, when The Cosby Show aired. Ellen paved the way for Will & Grace. The Mary Tyler Moore Show cracked the ceiling, making room for more lead female roles like Murphy Brown. The Brady Bunch brought divorce and blended families to the forefront of the conversation. And in the late ’80s and early ’90s, America met a new type of family: the Conners.
They were crass. They were inappropriate. Their kids didn’t behave. Hell, the parents didn’t behave. Roseanne Conner was a 1,000 light years away from June Cleaver. And America loved them. They resonated with families across our country — families who struggled from paycheck to paycheck, who drank cheap beer, ate TV dinners, and maybe told each other off from time to time – but who also loved each other fiercely.
Now, they are back. And they are breaking the mold again. From topics like political division (Roseanne’s character is a grandmother who voted for Trump), opioid addiction, and access to health care, the show will tackle a lot of tough, yet uncomfortable issues that Americans are talking about.
It will also address gender conformity.
Much of the same cast is returning, including Roseanne and Dan’s daughter Darlene. But now she has a son, Mark, who is introducing a new layer to American sitcoms — a topic at the forefront of news stories and social media, but one that has yet to be dealt with on mainstream cable.
As reported in Cosmopolitan, “Darlene and David’s 9-year-old son Mark, played by Ames McNamara, is gender-nonconforming; he likes to wear girls’ clothing, but doesn’t (yet, if at all) identify as gay or transgender. Though Mark will wear girls’ clothes throughout the whole season, one episode in particular will be centered around what his clothing choices mean.”
Here again, a TV show is coming into your living room that will make you think. It will make you reassess what the typical “family” looks like. What the typical “American family” looks like. Just like The Brady Bunch did in the ’70s, Diff’rent Strokes did in the ’80s, and Full House did in the early ’90s. Gone are the rules that a TV family must have a (white) stay-at-home mom, working dad, two kids, and a dog. Roseanne is back to rock the boat. Again.
Mom of three Sara Gilbert, who is gay and an activist for the LGBTQ community herself, says in the Cosmo article that Mark “happens to dress that way [and] he’s an amazing, creative, brilliant kid, which you will see … I don’t want to pigeonhole him and say just because he dresses this way that’s the only thing about him.”
Gilbert also goes on to add, “[Roseanne] is a show that’s always been able to represent the world and talk about it without being so issue-heavy. We can do it through the dynamics of the family. I know kids like that and it seemed like a great character.”
That’s the power of television. So often, shows break barriers without us even realizing it. I don’t remember it being a huge deal growing up that the Bradys were a blended family. Or that Webster was a black boy who was adopted by white parents. Or that there was no mom on Full House. They were just shows that my family enjoyed watching. Their families looked like normal families to me, and that’s exactly what they were meant to do.
So now, Roseanne will attempt to do the same. In a subtle, non-dramatic way, a new family will meet America this coming March. They’ll probably make us laugh, nod with understanding when they struggle with typical family issues, and over time, accept that this too, is what an American family looks like.
There’s nothing wrong with appreciating the nostalgia and purity of the Waltons or Father Knows Best. But it’s 2018 now, and times, they are a-changin’.