If you really believe that Hollywood and the networks are totally devoid of new ideas, ABC’s Roseanne revival will challenge your faith – unconventionally and in a surprisingly unpolished way.
In the former, because almost 30 years since her sitcom made its loud entrance, Barr still remarkably retains the ability to shock long after the likes of Bret Easton Ellis, Pamela Anderson, Simon Cowell, and the British monarchy have lost it. Granted, in this hyped up incarnation that reunites the comedian with John Goodman and the rest of the original cast, a lot of that shock value shtick is the Emmy winner’s very vocal support of Donald Trump, in real life and in the Connor household of the March 27 debuting sitcom.
That support for our current President risks overshadowing all the fine vinegar of working class comedy that this nine-episode 10th season of Roseanne could offer, not to mention John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf back in the roles that made them famous. Yet don’t be sucker punched or let your political prejudices prevent you from watching the double shot of Roseanne tomorrow night on the Disney owned network. From the four episodes I saw, the underdog ethos of this Roseanne is primarily a philosophical connection rather than personal between the once self described progressive Barr and the former Celebrity Apprentice host.
After scattered buckshot attempts at successful stints on the big screen, as a talk show host and as a Green Party presidential candidate, this Bruce Helford and Whitney Cummings showrun Roseanne’s return also makes crystal clear that Barr is and will always be best as a fictional depiction of herself. Which means the divisive backing of Trump for his promises of bringing back jobs and toppling the establishment strides true here in a way where most shows would stumble. Relics of the Reagan era from two ends of the class war, Trump and Barr have individually gone so far around the spectrum that they now share a penchant for the betrayed peasants to take up pitchforks at the ballot box, small screen and elsewhere in an internationalist inclined America that has left way too many behind here at home.
Amidst almost crushing hardship, bad knees, a boatload of in-jokes for fans of the first nine seasons, the opioid crisis, lost guns, adult children living back home, surrogacies, chasing fading dreams, bi-racial and gender fluid grandkids, the new Roseanne picks up in 2018 but with few changes from the original 1988 to 1997 run. A decision with great potential if you were a fan of the old show, as I was. There’s no George Clooney and The Big Bang Theory‘s Johnny Galecki only shows up briefly, but Goodman, Oscar nominee Metcalf, The Talk co-host Sara Gilbert, Michael Fishman and both Beckys Lecy Goranson and Sarah Chalke are all back on that couch in the almost unchanged Conner house.
Even with that formidable a cast, Roseanne is obviously no longer quite as fresh as it once was in its early seasons in an era of Netflix’s just renewed One Day At A Time reboot, FX’s Better Things and ABC’s black-ish. However, that is not the problem that often makes watching this revival more chore than choice.
As a lifelong believer that few things can’t be cured by a strong dose of contrarianism that Barr specializes in, it pains me to admit that the return of a bonafide television classic suffers in the most rudimentary way.
With the glorious exception of Gilbert as the still acerbic but now cowered Darlene, most of the cast seem to be speed dialing in their performances. As if this was a Roseanne tribute and not a reunion of the original band, eyelines and attention spans are all over the place as if looking for cue cards. Additionally, the pacing misses the beat repeatedly, and jokes are launched only to land far off target.
Were it not for the fact the scripts are so indomitable, Gilbert so good and Goodman so beloved, swaths of this Roseanne come off more like a time-filling Saturday Night Live skit.
It’s one thing to do things your own way, like Donald Glover’s Atlanta does so well. It is another to be distracting from your own strengths, like this Roseanne oddly does again and again in ways that have nothing to do with Donald Trump.
This review originally ran on March 26.