Happy families are all alike—except for Roseanne’s Conner clan, who have always been at their best when making each other unhappy. And even though two decades have passed since the sitcom’s initial run ended, not much has changed for the Lanford, Ill., family on ABC’s revival, though Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) and her hubby, Dan (John Goodman), now trade banter about blood pressure and anti-inflammatory meds as they fill their days-of-the-week pillboxes.
The reboot — premiering March 27 at 8 p.m ET — makes a joke out of ignoring pretty much everything from season 9 (Dan’s not dead!), but no other narrative acrobatics are required to bring the family back together: Younger daughter Darlene (Sara Gilbert) has moved home with her two kids after losing her job; son D.J. (Michael Fishman) is back after a stint in the Army overseas; while Roseanne’s sister, Jackie (Laurie Metcalf), still lives nearby, and still can’t quite settle on a career (her latest: life coach). The only bit of obvious sitcommery is the story line involving older daughter Becky (Lecy Goranson), who’s been hired as a surrogate by a local yuppie…played by Sarah Chalke, a.k.a. the original series’ “Second Becky.” It’s a long way to go for an inside joke, but Goranson successfully conveys Becky’s frustration about her life’s unfulfilled potential.
Much has been made over Barr’s decision to have her alter ego be a Trump supporter, but in the episodes screened for critics, politics serve mainly as fodder for intrafamilial ribbing: Jackie passive-aggressively brings a bottle of Russian dressing to dinner; Roseanne counters with “Aunt Jackie thinks every girl should grow up and be president, even if they’re a liar, liar, pantsuit on fire.” Mercifully, Jackie and Roseanne end their election feud in a tearful hug by the end of episode 1.
As with the original, the new Roseanne is most enjoyable when it focuses on the everyday life of the Conners; Barr and her writers know that family are the people who make you craziest, no matter what color your collar. Gilbert’s delivery of Darlene’s brutal zingers remains deadpan perfection (“The only reason you look younger than me is because you’re embalmed in Mike’s Hard Lemonade,” she tells Becky); Metcalf balances her character’s exaggerated intensity with superb comic timing; and the old-married-couple chemistry between Barr and Goodman is still relaxed and believable. Some of the best moments center on the family’s attempt to understand Darlene’s son, Mark (Ames McNamara), a 9-year-old who likes to wear skirts and “colors that pop.” Roseanne and Dan are befuddled by the boy’s clothes and worry he’ll get bullied at school, but their concerns stem from a fierce love rather than stereotypical “red state” ideas of masculinity. “Darlene,” Dan notes, “God did not give me this big a head to hold a narrow mind.” Barr always had an easy rapport with Roseanne’s child actors, and her scenes with McNamara are sweet without being cloying.
Networks have tried to justify their reboot mania by suggesting these series have something new and vital to say about today’s political climate (see: Will & Grace, Murphy Brown). But maybe it’s okay to admit that a group of talented actors and writers—and their fans—just want to revisit the good old days. So is this Roseanne revival necessary? Probably not. But it’s still real nice to have the Conners back. Grade: A–