Roseanne has been cancelled, and, for longtime fans of the show like myself… it’s a relief.
On Tuesday, Roseanne Barr posted a racist tweet saying “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby = vj,” referring to Valerie Jarrett, a former aide to Barack Obama. There was an immediate backlash and within hours, ABC cancelled the show.
I had approached the new 2018 reboot cautiously, especially with news that both Roseanne the character, and Roseanne the real-life celeb, were now Trump supporters—not to mention Barr’s history of posting offensive, incorrect things on Twitter. This outcome isn’t a surprise (and clearly, I was right to be wary). Still, I think Roseanne fans like myself hoped for a miracle: that reviving Roseanne Conner might change Roseanne Barr’s vile and hateful online behaviour.
The reboot was nothing like the OG
The thing is, this wasn’t the Roseanne I watched, and loved, throughout my ’90s childhood. Even though the show brought back much of the same cast and crew, there were too many moments where it betrayed the original. For instance, in what universe would Roseanne advise her daughter Darlene that spanking children is acceptable, when in the original series, she’d tearfully regretted hitting her son D.J., and we then learned about the trauma caused by her father having hit her and her sister, Jackie, as children?
There were also numerous times when the new season was just plain mean. In one episode, Roseanne and Dan fall asleep in front of the television. When he wakes up, Dan says, “We missed all the shows about Black and Asian families,” referring to Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat, both also ABC sitcoms. “They’re just like us. There, now you’re all caught up,” Roseanne quipped in response. That scene perversely echoes a classic moment from Season 7 when D.J. didn’t want to kiss a Black classmate for a school play, and Roseanne admonishes him, saying: “Hey! Black people are just like us. They’re every bit as good as us, and any people who don’t think so is just a bunch of banjo-picking, cousin-dating, barefoot embarrassments to respectable white-trash like us!” (While Roseanne’s quote from the new season didn’t mesh with her original character, given recent events, it seems to ring true to her perspective IRL.)
Roseanne was also similarly nasty about immigrants. Two main storylines were Dan losing work to undocumented workers, referred to as “illegals” on the show, and Roseanne suspecting her Muslim neighbours of being terrorists (which, again, is now oddly reminiscent of her real-life baseless accusations against Jarrett). The attack on racialized people and immigrants aligns neatly with white working class fears that progress towards equality can mean some people get an undue advantage. The problem, however, is that the show lazily takes these concerns at a surface level, when the original series dealt with classism, racism, sexism and homophobia with empathy and nuance.
Roseanne was never a Roseanne for our time
When the new season premiered to giant ratings, many attributed its success to catering to the forgotten masses. But like so much commentary on the working class, these commentators almost always meant the white working class, even though the majority of the working class are racialized people. Roseanne debuted in 1988, and at that time, viewers had rarely seen parents like Roseanne and Dan Conner: yes, big and working class, but also articulate, witty, and lovable. What would the Roseanne of today look like? Instead of the recent revival, the answer is actually a completely different reboot, which is already available on Netflix.
One Day At A Time, inspired by the 1975 series by the same name, features a working-class Cuban-American family living in Los Angeles’s hip Echo Park neighbourhood. The sitcom is led by Army veteran and single mom Penelope Alvarez (Justina Machado), who cares for her two teenagers, Elena and Alex, with the help of her mother Lydia (the fantastic Rita Moreno) and neighbor Schneider.
Through its two seasons (a third is on its way in 2019) the show has balanced humour with heavier subjects, like Penelope *spoiler alert* entering therapy to deal with post-traumatic stress from serving in Afghanistan, Elena discovering her sexuality and coming out and Alex having to face schoolyard bullying amid chants of “build that wall” and “go back to Mexico.” Whereas the latest season of Roseanne felt like bitterly clinging to the past, One Day at a Time feels like looking ahead to the future.
Reminder: @OneDayAtATime is a sitcom about a tight-knit, working class family that tackles extremely topical social issues in a smart and innovative way. Ya know, if you’re suddenly looking for a show like that… pic.twitter.com/er4Fx6Cxb6
— Netflix US (@netflix) May 30, 2018
Roseanne predicted its own demise
Funny enough, the ups-and-downs of the past few months feels a bit like life imitating art, a mirror to the show’s bizarre ninth season in 1997, where the Conners win the lottery, become caricatures of themselves, and then in the series finale, the whole show is revealed to be a dream-like fiction. Who would have thought the 2018 Roseanne revival would top the charts, get quickly renewed and then just as quickly get cancelled?
That original series finale was controversial, but I think a lot about its closing monologue. Over the final scenes of the show, Roseanne told us, in voiceover, “Dan and I always felt that it was our responsibility as parents to improve the lives of our children by 50% over our own. And we did. We didn’t hit our children as we were hit, we didn’t demand their unquestioning silence, and we didn’t teach our daughters to sacrifice more than our sons.” Near the end of her monologue, she said, “I learned that no one could stop me but me. I learned that love is stronger than hate.”
How true that line turned out to be.