Roseanne: A Working-Class (S)hero Returns

The Roseanne reboot promises to tackle love and politics.

TV's Roseanne and female family members 2018 Pack your bags and hit the road, folks. On  March 27th we’re going back to Lanford. The return of the hit 80s/90s sitcom Roseanne is the latest in a wave of nostalgic revivals hoping to recapture our hearts. And while other reboots have stirred up controversy, few have been as hotly anticipated – and debated – quite like Roseanne has.

Here’s what we know: 20 years have passed since we last saw Dan, Roseanne and their blue-collar brood. Dan is alive. Jackie is a Nasty Woman. The kids now have kids (or in Becky’s case, may have kids) of their own. Oh, and Roseanne and her husband Dan voted for Donald Trump in the 2017 election.

Talk of the Town

That’s right: Roseanne Conner is pro-Trump. Much has been said about the cultural, racial and feminist implications of Roseanne Conner’s politics (which still manages to pale in comparison to the actress Roseanne Barr’s politics). Critics range from incensed and disappointed to (begrudgingly) accepting.

Robyn Pennacchia, writing for Wonkette, suggests that the plot twist calls into question the working-class heroine’s moral authority. Similarly, Laura Zarum, for the Village Voice, speculates that a sort of “doublethink” might be at work. The only consensus, it seems, is that this is a bizarre choice for the famously progressive Rust Belt mom.

Call it clever marketing. As a casual Google search for “Roseanne reboot” will show you, after Barr dropped this bombshell in January discussion of the show’s politics has dominated the discourse. There are a lot of opinions out there, and all (whether they hate or can tolerate this move) serve to peak our curiosity about the reboot.

I’ll have to admit that I’m curious, too.

The Return

I am currently rewatching the original sitcom, and I don’t expect to find a smoking gun – or a copy of The Art of the Deal – wedged between the couch cushions. (You’ll be the first to hear from me if I do.) However, in rewatching Roseanne, two things become apparent.

One: Roseanne Works Hard

Roseanne at work in a factoryRoseanne works – a lot. In the show’s nine-year run, Roseanne has worked in a plastics factory, a bar, a fast food chain, a restaurant, a diner and more. She’s sold magazines and poured beers, been an employee and the boss. Except for the final season, Roseanne’s always needed to work, because the Conners have always needed the money.

Often, this is played for laughs. Take, for instance, an episode in the second season when Roseanne works two jobs, one of which is a fast food restaurant. In a particularly cringe-worthy twist, her manager is one of Becky’s classmates and assigns her a weekend shift despite her protestations.

Because she needs to make ends meet and Dan’s income fluctuates, she bites her tongue and invites the “little maggot” over for dinner. She even volunteers Dan to help him with his homework, but Roseanne’s kowtowing does not pay off. When she tells her manager that weekends are the only time she can be with her family, he fires her.

Roseanne retorts that she doesn’t work for allowance money but to feed and clothe her kids. The punchline is delivered when Dan and company hand the “little maggot’s” homework back to him – in pieces – as he’s ushered out.

Roseanne works best when it invites us to laugh when times are tough and money is tight. It’s a humor born of resilience and love.

[Besides class,] Roseanne was willing to address a range of difficult topics from race, sexuality, birth control, abuse, teenage drinking and mental illness ... 

Two: Class and …

Roseanne was never just about class. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in a lower-middle-class, immigrant family. Long before I had heard of code-switching, I was a kid that watched sitcoms and learned what white families all across the country were like.

To me, Roseanne was, as the character herself once said, “respectable white trash” – shoes in the house, visits from Nana and beer tchotchkes. (Lanford, as we learn in that infamous episode in which DJ refuses to kiss a black girl, is only 5% African-American. People of color, it should be noted, are largely absent from the show.)

Roseanne was willing to address a range of difficult topics from race, sexuality, birth control, abuse, teenage drinking and mental illness – all with its characteristic humor and underlying love.

We’re going to need both again, because on March 27th we’re visiting MAGA-era Lanford.

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