Over 20 years after the show’s initial cancellation in 1997, the recently revived Roseanne hasn’t lost a step in exploring what it means to be an average American.
Of course, a lot has changed since 1997 — hell, a lot has changed since 2015, and yes, Roseanne tackles the subject of President Donald J. Trump head-on several times in its so-far two episode run. The show’s writers handle it with a type of tact and grace rarely seen, however. Roseanne Conner, just like her real-life counterpart Roseanne Barr, is an unabashed Trump supporter. Her sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf), on the other hand, is an ardent supporter of leftist politics, "Nasty Woman" shirt, p---y hat and all.
In a country divided by politics by a chasm the likes of which we have never seen, this is a real topic Americans have to tackle: how do we cope when a person we love voted for the other side? The show doesn’t seem to pick a side, rather letting the audience make up their own mind as both Roseanne and Jackie explain their thought processes. It’s a refreshing approach in a time where most political discussion devolves into name calling pretty quickly (okay, there’s plenty of name calling here as well, but they get it out of their systems quickly).
Meanwhile, Dan (John Goodman) is struggling with another 21st century problem: when did "masculinity" become such a bad word? What does it even mean to be "masculine" in today’s society of equality, political correctness and female empowerment? This philosophical question is brought on by Darlene (Sara Gilbert)’s tween son Mark (Ames McNamara), who likes to dress in clothes traditionally seen as feminine: frilly, sparkly boots, skirts, and even dresses on occasion. Dan, the archetype of rural American manliness, obviously has a hard time accepting this. The show is sure to point out, however, that this disagreement is not spurred by homophobia or transphobia, but by a desire to see Mark’s time in school go as smoothly as possible, with as few run-ins with bullies as possible.
And just like that, the show deftly tackles three touchy subjects of the day — gender norms, masculinity vs. femininity, and bullying — in a way most shows would struggle to pull off. Roseanne doesn’t come off as preachy; it isn’t trying to sell you on a viewpoint. Rather, it merely shows the struggles parents and kids have these days, and it does so in a way that doesn’t sensationalize or demonize them.
The other main story thread thus far revolves around Becky (Lecy Goranson) deciding to become a surrogate mother for a woman named Andrea (Sarah Chalke). It’s the most sitcom-y angle on the show currently, as it doesn’t really have much to say. It does pose some interesting questions around a 43 year old woman carrying a child through in vitro fertilization, but it’s largely a vehicle for laughs. It has to be noted that Sarah Chalke, who plays Andrea, played the role of Becky for seasons 6-9. In one of the best callbacks to the show’s original run, when Becky and Andrea meet, they decide the surrogate mother situation would be a perfect fit because "I mean, look at us. We could be the same person."
As a fan of the show’s original run growing up in the 1990s, it was a trip to see most of the original cast reunited in the same house. At the same time, it feels like the Conners haven’t been gone a day. Roseanne has always been a show that explores what real, everyday Americans go through and struggle with, and thankfully, the series’ revival is still tackling that subject with aplomb. It’s just, 20 years later, the problems are very different. Considering I personally disagree with Roseanne Barr’s political views outside (and now, inside) the show, I did not come into the new incarnation of this show expecting to love it. But I am extremely impressed by the way in which it tackles these very serious, very divisive issues that respects both sides’ viewpoints, while still remaining true to yourself. In a lot of ways, America could learn a thing or two from Roseanne.