Roseanne’s back. Are you watching?


25 million on its second Tuesday; now let’s starting talking.

Firstly, I’m an unapologetic fan of the Conner family since the show’s glory days. It’s with my excitement, to not just watch but write about the rival, that I paused in posting last week; taking time to reflect on the show’s resurgence and also wondering if its 18 million viewers spoke directly to 80s nostalgia.

With 25 million viewers last night, it’s safe to say that Roseanne returns like it began: with cultural fury.

As a media and communications teacher, here’s why Roseanne is worth the watch at home and school.

It’s been nearly twenty years since the Conner family made their exit from American television after a tremulous season that saw Dan pass away and the family win the lottery. As a fan of the show since its first season, I remember watching the final episode with a sour taste. This was not the Roseanne that challenged, provoked and changed the way I looked at my existence within a middle class neighbourhood.  Although, I was only seven years old when the first season aired and grew with the series through syndication, its working class origins (nothing new as a critical study of the series) was transformational. Unlike Tony Micelli in Who’s The Boss who is a product of immigration in search for the stability of the American Dream and finds it in Connecticut or the urban and visible minority community of 227 that shared lived experiences in an apartment building, the Conner family was a depiction of working class white Americans that was counter-intuitive to  80s mainstream television.

From returning home with minimal groceries due to a strict budget or calling utility companies and scheming out of late and past due payments (or later episodes including a major broadcaster’s first inclusion of a Lesbian kiss), the world of the Conner family painted an anxious portrait of day-to-day life; one outside the realm of the “traditional” American family first broadcasted on television in the 1950s or reimagined in the 1980s with The Cosby Show or Growing Pains.   It’s within the day-to-day struggle with wealth, employment and the complexities of raising children, that the show was a marvel upon its initial release; dethroning The Cosby Show as the number one rated show in 1989. Now, after twenty years, the show returns like it first began; with cultural fury. It’s within the context that Roseanne then and now is a great discourse to navigate cultural conversations about class and representation and the how progressive popular culture not merely entertains but rises out of and speaks to the political.

At the the core of the reboot or rather continuation of the series, currentl political discourse is very much in the DNA of the narrative; its intentional and speaks to current sociopolitical realities.  Darlene has returned home with her two children after being terminated from her job, D.J is home with his bi-racial daughter after completing a tour of duty in Syria, Becky is on the journey to be a surrogate for money and Dan and Roseanne continue to be plagued by the realities of the working poor. It’s within this framework enriched with conflict between sisters Jackie and Roseanne about the most recent election that the series, while entertaining, challenges the audiences’ own sensibilities. 

As I watched the first two episodes last week (and last night’s), it’s cultural bite and relevance was clear. Here’s a breakdown of key moments from the first two episodes:

  • As Dan returns home from the pharmacy he makes note that their health insurance doesn’t cover all of their required medication and the he and Roseanne swap pills and skim on their dosages.
  • Darlene has returned home and is trying to be balance her progressive views with that of her parents. This includes her nine-year old son Mark who is experimenting with his dress and thus challenging notions of societal masculinity.
  • Darlene shares with Roseanne that she feels embarrassed by her current unemployment and was hoping to “live in a big house” to hang over her mother’s head. This speaks to the shows grounded in generational poverty and struggle.
  • Becky, seeks to be a surrogate for money with the goal to pay of her credit cards, buy a car and not “worry about money.”
  • In fighting with Jackie about voting for Donald Trump (without directly stating his name), Roseanne asserts she was lured by the promise of change, jobs and that they almost lost their house during the Great Recession.
  • Jackie, now a life coach, speaks to the importance of women having control over their own body as Becky is challenged by her parents for her journey to be a surrogate.

With all of this, the show is not doom and gloom but rather is grounded, like in the past, with a sharp comedic tongue that reminds us that the notion of the American family is complex , diverse and popular culture does reflect and potential shape a sense who time and place.

Its within this cultural framework that speaks to current issues, that Roseanne is relevant both in the home and at school. It challenges – that is the intention. As a parent and teacher, the show forces you to engage with real conversations and by no means preaches on how to shape the dialogue. Just the same, the conversation that need to be had are real.

With 25 million viewers and counting, Roseanne is back!

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