About 20 years ago, Roseanne ended with arguably one of the worst series finales in TV history. Turns out the Conners we invited into our living rooms for almost 10 years were fictional characters in Roseanne's made-up family biography. How meta, but also — to quote another beloved and rebooted TV classic sitcom — how rude.
But Roseanne Barr has never been polite.
When Roseanne premiered in 1988, sitcom families seemed to be doing pretty well. The Huxtables never had their power turned off; and no matter who was the boss, a single mom could afford a live-in housekeeper. But that wasn't how the other half of the country lived. Barr welcomed us into a working-class Midwest home, using frugal domesticity and economic anxiety as both a political punchline and lesson.
Now, we're as divided as ever, so it makes perfect sense for Barr to barge into our homes again, with that cackle heard 'round the table. Which makes its 10th season, airing Tuesday at 8 p.m. on ABC, still sorely relevant.
Roseanne the character is a Trump supporter. Her sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf), laughably now a life coach, is not. It's both awkward and familiar, however, Roseanne's signature heart and humor keeps it mostly tolerable.
When Darlene (Sara Gilbert) returns to 714 Delaware Street — yes, the house looks exactly the same — with her two kids Harris and Mark (Emma Kenney and Ames McNamara), she forces her mom and aunt, who haven't spoken since the election, to finally make up at dinner. It starts with Russian dressing for the salad, and ends with a hug over the kitchen sink.
As on-brand as ever, Roseanne knows she's right. And Jackie dares to call her out. Metcalf, who's been nominated for an Oscar and Emmy, continues to out-act everyone else on the show. Her comedic timing is impeccable, and it's especially fun now to watch her fight and flounder against her big sister bully.
It's pointless to wonder if Roseanne or Jackie will change her mind on politics. The confrontation reminds us that we all love to talk. But we don't like to listen. Even when we're related to the other side.
The Conners were built on conflict. Roseanne never approved of Jackie's life choices. Dan had a difficult relationship with his father. Becky eloped at 17 when her parents forbid her from seeing Mark. Roseanne was the mother queen of tough love, but she was never mean-spirited. We feared her; we loved her.
In a TV genre Barr helped create, other family sitcoms such as Black-ish, Jane the Virgin and Mom all deal with current real-life issues with a generous side of politics from fresh perspectives. Lately, TV has tip-toed away from a certain side of politics, and Barr is eager to expose it.
Her fictional family has been our family for almost 30 years. And just like we all must do with our family arguments, the Conners let things lie. The show thankfully moves on from nasty name-calling and deplorable jokes. But Barr and other showrunners Whitney Cummings and Bruce Helford sprinkle in other hot-button issues such as health care and gender identity.
Darlene's son Mark insists on wearing colorful clothing, despite his grandparents' resistance. Though it's not because they think his skirts and painted nails are a threat to masculinity. When Granny Rose takes Mark aside to ask about his odd choices, it's obvious why we fell in love with the show in the first place. "You know it's gonna be rough on you at school, right? But we'll back you up." So hilariously she marches to school to warn his classmates of her wrath. Roseanne knows how to take care of her kids.
Even though we've been gone, the Conners are still together. Thankfully, Dan (John Goodman), who was killed off in the original series, is alive again and still wearing his best flannel. It's such a joy to watch 40-somethings Darlene and Becky (Lecy Goranson) still take playful jabs at each other. Becky, now a widow, makes plans to be a surrogate for Andrea, naturally played by Becky 2 (Sarah Chalke). Fresh from a tour overseas, DJ (Michael Fishman) lives nearby with his biracial daughter, Mary (Jayden Rey). And that musty afghan still sits on the couch.
Take comfort in the uncomfortable. Confront some harsh realities, and move on. There's a lot more in life to laugh about. Roseanne demands it.
Contact Brittany Volk at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @bevolk.