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Roseanne Finale Review – The Worst Part of ‘Roseanne’ Was the Bad Writing, Not the Bad Politics
Nine episodes, one finale, and countless headlines later, we’re at the end of the first season of Roseanne. Looking back on everything that’s happened: It’s not the Roseanne world that anyone remembers, but that has little to do with the politics. And no, it’s not the premise of the series finale being abandoned, either; believe me, we’ve tried to piece that together. It’s something much less trivial.
Yes, families change. Politics evolve over the course of 20 years. And sure, Roseanne Conner might have become a Republican. But developing a character takes finesse. Rewriting one is a risk.
But Roseanne hasn’t done either of those things: it’s invented a poorly constructed vehicle designed for headlines, and it’s called that creation Roseanne Conner.
The whole process started in the premiere with a politically charged episode. Roseanne’s political leanings didn’t track, but showrunners assured viewers that moving forward the series wouldn’t rely on politics to tell the Conners’ story. But for a show that argues that it would shy away from politics as the season went on, this nine-episode collection has covered the following topics: natural disaster relief, the opioid crisis, undocumented workers, racism toward Middle Eastern people, insurance coverage, elder care, divorce, surrogacy, multigenerational caregiving, physically punishing your child, genderqueer children, gun rights, the presidential election, and the lacking resources from the Veteran’s Association.
If you’re keeping track, it’s a bit mind-boggling. For any fan of the old show comparing series notes, it’s full-on perplexing. The conversation isn’t about theoretical narrative holes anymore—it’s about careless storytelling. What made Roseanne such a groundbreaking show is that it showed a portrait of America, with parts that were admirable (and others not so much). But even in its most “teachable” moments, the Conners never compromised on their beliefs, no matter the topic, without good reason. If anything, the show stuck to its guns so closely that it alienated its audience, which makes the reboot’s pandering so much more jarring.
The Roseanne of the early ’90s introduced gay characters without apology. It spoke about being laid off in an economy that doesn’t take care of blue collar workers. The show covered the spectrum without reminding you that it was ever doing it because that’s just what their lives looked like. Roseanne Barr would never act as a mouthpiece for the government or a political party—she’d degrade them with a deadpan jab.
This season, an entire episode culminates in Roseanne forcing Darlene’s daughter’s head under the sink as a punishment for talking back. In Season Six of the original run, Roseanne yelled at and spanked DJ for wrecking the family car, and she was consumed with guilt over her decision. If your politics and economics sensibilities change, fine. But it’s hard to believe that over the course of someone’s life, the opinion of whether or not to hit a child would move from “I don’t think this is okay” to calling her a bitch and physically punishing her—especially considering Roseanne once gave a monologue about enduring abuse at the hand of her father.
The decision does however make sense for the audience ABC is trying to reach: Give the right a working-class hero and the left something to label problematic. For Roseanne to be a successful reboot, the show had to do away with some flexible facts of the past—but that’s no excuse for rewriting the character’s histories. As the show moves into a second season and Whitney Cummings steps down as co-showrunner, the show’s narrative future could go haywire. As the self-described “P.C. police” and “libtard” of the writer’s room, Cummings questioned decisions that might offend left-leaning viewers.
The overarching issue with Roseanne is sacrificing storytelling for temporary cultural currency.
But those discussions also presumably muddied up the script. By trying to be a vehicle for left- and right-leaning agendas, the sitcom’s biggest problem stopped being its politics. The overarching issue with Roseanne is sacrificing storytelling for temporary cultural currency. In the same episode that Dan refers to undocumented immigrants as “illegals,” Roseanne has her own arc with the new next door neighbors from Yemen. It’s not until she confronts them at 2 a.m. (with a baseball bat in hand) to ask for a favor that they’re redeemed. By the end of the episode, she’s defending the matriarch at the grocery store. The storyline simply doesn’t track: It’s a series of hot-button issues around immigration mashed together to perfectly ignite either side.
But Roseanne‘s greatest sin of all is its irresponsible finale. As Roseanne prepares for an expensive knee surgery at Dan’s insistence, he discovers that she’s become addicted to pain medication. It’s a timely conversation to have, and one that could have honestly crossed the aisle and united a divided audience. The inhabitants of Roseanne’s world are most susceptible to opioid addiction—white, working-class people. The Roseanne that we once knew would tackle addiction in a nuanced way that spoke to that America; instead, she’s trying to speak for it. The finale’s approach was worse: It dismissed her addiction entirely, introduced a flood that damaged the house, forced the Conners to decide between Roseanne’s surgery and repairing their home, then introduced a federal emergency from the president that rewarded FEMA money to the family. Everything is saved!
It lacks a basic understanding of how that assistance is awarded, but it also completely dismisses addiction—like it’s a cold best treated with vitamin C and Netflix. The storyline is the furthest departure from form because it laughs in the face of the marginalized audience it hopes to encapsulate. Like every other social or political issue addressed this season, the episode reads as an ill-informed Facebook comment, posted for the vanity of being seen without any research or ramifications.
The most refreshing thing Roseanne could have done would be to turn its star into a recovering addict, but it won’t because the rebooted Roseanne isn’t about wrapping a real-life issue in perfectly blue collar comedy. It exists just like that comment you can’t help but post—for the likes and replies.