Updated: Nov 16, 2020
Hit 90's sitcom Roseanne returned to TV screens this week with a monster audience and a slew of confused critics
Roseanne enjoyed a nine series stint through the nineties becoming a behemoth in the TV ratings. A sitcom about an average working class American family and the challenges they face laced with relentless acerbic interplay and one liners that the cast enjoyed delivering and receiving as much as the audience did. It made a glorious return to the small screen this Easter and wasted no time in grappling with the the tormented divisions in American society with characteristic sledge hammer subtlety.
First deftly pushing away a major plot point from the original run in which her husband Dan, played by John Goodman, is not actually dead, the opening show blends the frenetic challenges of daily family life with the political challenges of Trump or Clinton. Much like Brexit has destroyed friendships and tested society in the old country, the Trump - Clinton divide has left deep wounds across America. Roseanne is certainly not the first show to tackle this topic, neither is it the first revival keen to have it's say on the issue. Will & Grace returned to our screens just prior to the US election to wade into the political debate, so why is this any different?
Well, the protagonist is a Trump supporter. Roseanne Barr has proudly planted the flag of the MAGA flyover masses on the Show Biz front lawn and if the response is anything to go by, has also demonstrated that there is a huge appetite for the opinions so relentlessly sneered at by the coastal metropolitan elites. The Oscars slumped to spectacular new audience lows, cinema figures are way down as people turn their backs on the pompous hectoring of the wealthy Hollywood set. Roseanne feels like a voice that wants to be heard. A straight talking, sarcastic honest voice. The feud between the on screen Roseanne and her sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) provides the platform for the political pistol whipping but there are other themes baked into the cake. Becky (Lecy Goranson) is trying to be a surrogate mother for a woman played by Sarah Chalke who took over the role of Becky in the original show. Darlene (Sara Gilbert) has returned to her parent's home, broke, unemployed and divorced and her son is wearing pink unicorn jumpers, make up and nail polish. The Connor family wrestle with the issue with acceptance, confusion and concern in a style which reflects the way many people struggle with such topics.
Roseanne has explained that her desire to bring the show back to the small screen developed out of a serious knee injury. While exploring surgical and treatment options she wondered how her on screen character would ever be able to resolve the Gordian knot of medical costs and recovery and being a working mum. The show wastes little time in working these themes into the constant grind of being poor, something it always portrayed with empathy and honesty.
If you were a fan of the original show, this will not disappoint, the writing is as cutting and fast paced as it ever was, and the characters just as lovable as you remember them to be. The politics of the show are not triumphant, there are equally good lines delivered from both sides of the fence. The critics have struggled with this one, trying to admonish the Trump supporting Roseanne without seeming too far out of step with the enthusiastic reaction of the viewing public. Increasing clear blue water is emerging between critic metascores and ordinary viewing responses as political agendas cloud artistic assessment and Roseanne may well suggest that if the juggernaut is big enough it will sweep aside the sneering with ease.
In an era where TV and cinema are under increasing criticism for a lack of original ideas, where reboots and revivals are fairly common place, this is a welcome return. The show works just as well as it did in the nineties, and the pearl clutchers are still just as furious as they ever were. They will refuse to watch, whilst millions will tune in and laugh out loud with satisfying regularity.