I’ll admit it. I’m addicted to Netflix Instant. Since I have a baby who I’m breastfeeding, I get a chance to watch too much television. And even though I love to read, I’m finding myself completely unable to turn off the boob tube now that I have so many options. Doctor Who! Buffy! Firefly! And recently I discovered that Roseanne is also available.
I wasn’t a huge couch potato growing up, not like I am now anyway. And I don’t think I ever had a favorite show until Roseanne came along. It was the first show that I made a point to be home to watch, which you had to do in those pre-DVR days. When I was in high school, it was on in syndication right when I got home from school so I managed to watch every episode several times and never got sick of it,
I was a kid when the show started, so I didn’t realize how groundbreaking it was. Think of the sitcom families from the 80’s. The Seavers had a psychiatrist father and news anchor mother. The Huxtables had a doctor father and lawyer mother. The Keatons had an architect mother and public TV Executive father. What was missing? How about a good representation of a blue collar family? One where the parents didn’t go to college and had jobs rather than careers. One where the home decor is a decade out of date because who has the money for a new couch when that plaid monstrosity is still perfectly serviceable. One that showed a family living paycheck to paycheck can still be perfectly functional. The Conner family was the first representation of that large part of America on TV.
And what a great show it was. Roseanne and Dan Conner weren’t perfect and they didn’t have perfect kids. What they were was completely flawed and relatable in a way that no TV family had been before. Problems were solved by a lot of shouting followed by a lot of hugging. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Roseanne and Dan weren’t afraid of admitting that they sometimes didn’t know what they were doing as parents, whether the choices they were making were the correct ones. But they did the best they could. And while they loved their three children, they were never afraid to admit that those kids drove them bat shit crazy a lot of the time.
As a kid, I related in a hardcore way to Darlene. A middle child who is not as popular or as good a student as her older sister. I wasn’t a tomboy, but damn if that wasn’t me in spades. Though a lot of my wisecracks occurred in my head, I was too shy to vocalize them, the way Darlene did in every single episode.
Don’t get me wrong, watching the show now, I still love Darlene and most of the biggest laughs in every show are hers. But I’m finding myself relating to Dan and Roseanne a little more, which is no surprise given that I’m a parent. This show didn’t just focus on Dan and Roseanne as parents. They were two fully formed characters of their own. They were people, not just parents, with their own identities. A lot of attention was focused on who they were in the past and what they gave up to become parents. Roseanne’s writing dreams, Dan’s motorcycle, etc. There were times when they tried to recapture those dreams, and their youth, including one very hilarious episode when they found a stash of pot in the basement and decided to smoke it.
In the first season, Dan and Roseanne attended their fifteen year high school reunion. Which had me asking “what the what?” I just had my fifteen year reunion, which means Dan and Roseanne were MY AGE when the show started. (Magically, in the second season, Roseanne celebrates her 37th birthday. No mention of how she managed to age four years in the span of one season….) It’s TV. No continuity required.
What I love about watching this now is that the show is equally relevant as it was in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Ignore the crazy clothes and focus on the intense recessionary vibe from the Conner household. The first six seasons are as good as any sitcom ever. (Season seven through nine…eh. I will admit, a show has never jumped the shark quite as hardcore as Roseanne managed to. The ninth season was just bizarre with Dan gone, a lottery win, some weird royalty thing and an ultra-meta finale. I watch Community, so obviously I’m OK with meta. But only when meta is a show’s formula, not when it is so off the wall.)
Speaking of the crazy clothes, check out this tumblr that focuses on the Roseanne fashions. I can’t believe one person could wear so much denim, Dan Conner!
I don’t really know what my favorite episodes are. But here are three that are definitely way up there.
1-Brain Dead Poet’s Society. This one is far and away my favorite. This second season episode found Darlene struggling with a school assignment to write a poem. She manages to not only write one, but has it selected by her teacher to be read at Culture Night. She refuses to go and Dan and Roseanne bicker about whether to push her or not. Roseanne wins out and forces Darlene to go. When she reads her poem, it’s the first glimpse that we get that there is some softness, some vulnerability behind Darlene’s tomboy tough-as-nails exterior. A darling Sara Gilbert reading bad 13-year old girl poetry never ceases to make me tear up. And seeing Roseanne realize that she’s underestimated her daughter causes the tears to fall. (Fun fact: I just found out that this episode was penned by Joss Whedon!)
2-Like a Virgin – Roseanne gives Becky the birth control talk, only to discover Darlene making out with her pal Brian on the couch later that night. The whole episode is great, but the absolute best thing about this is John Goodman’s reaction after realizing (a good minute or two after everyone else) what Darlene had been up to. This is why the man was nominated several times for an Emmy. The goodness starts at about 3:50.
3-Aliens – I don’t know why I love this fifth season closer so much, I just do. It’s heartbreaking that Roseanne loses her job and Dan’s business is sinking. While dealing with such crap, it’s no wonder the Conners rally around DJ when he wins his spelling bee. As Roseanne yells at another competitor’s parent “Hey! This is all we got!” it totally sinks in that she’s right.
Family. Sometimes it is all you got.