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Newsday’s 1988 ‘Roseanne’ review: We knew it would be huge

The cast of ABC's

The cast of ABC's "Roseanne," which premiered in 1988, clockwise from left: Michael Fishman as DJ Conner, Sara Gilbert as Darlene Conner, Alicia Goranson as Becky Conner, Laurie Metcalf as Jackie Harris, John Goodman as Dan Conner and Roseanne Barr as Roseanne Conner. Credit: ABC / Dan Watson

Here’s Newsday’s review of the first episode of “Roseanne” by longtime critic Marvin Kitman, which ran Oct. 18, 1988.

The “Roseanne” show, starring Roseanne Barr, which opens on ABC tonight at 8:30, is great. The first episode is the funniest first episode of the new fall season.

Roseanne Barr is the fat one you’ve been hearing all about, the housewife from Salt Lake City who found that life in the trailer park with the children was not that fulfilling. Her real life story sounds like Sally Field’s in “Punchline” - only it’s funny.

Roseanne Barr is a real comedienne, not just somebody TV viewers can identify with, a likable actress - i.e., the Sandy Duncan school of comedy.

Roseanne Barr is visually funny. She has that dead-frying-pan look on her face and a big mouth and wide shoulders with lots of chips on them. Like great comics, she has a way with a line and a sense of timing that is impeccable. When she says “This is why some animals eat their young,” to a child’s asinine remark, she makes me howl.

I’m torn about repeating the gags. I have seen whole articles about Roseanne filled with jokes from this first show. There is far too much of this theft of material going on. All right, I’ll mention one, a throwaway line. One of her kids, rushing off to school, asks her harried mother, “What happened to my English book?” “I sold it,” Barr says.

Didn’t you ever want to say anything like that?

There are almost as many laughs in the show as laughs on the laugh tracks. It may actually be funnier than the laugh track makes it seem.

“Roseanne” is like a sitdown routine by a standup comic. She’s usually sitting at a table with the standard domestic sitcom props: two kids and a husband.

But it’s like she’s from another planet when she delivers her line. The show has a different point of view about a traditional subject: raising a family. Her point of view is what laughingly can be called the real world - as compared to the TV world.

Roseanne looks like a real person. Her husband looks like a real person. Whoever cast John Goodman in the role deserves a medal. He is perfect.

Everybody is wondering how men will take “Roseanne.” There is some vicious, anti-male stuff in it - like the speech she makes about how men are like doughnuts, under the influence of their mothers, and all the macho stuff they get from beer commercials. She makes a lot of sense, even at her most biting.

She is the angriest person on a sitcom since Ralph Kramden or Basil Fawlty. She is an angry young woman and a credit to her profession: housewife turned comedienne.

This is not “The Cosbys.” It’s more like “Married . . . with Children.” It’s a blue-collar family. It’s so rare that we see a family like this.

“It’s crazy,” Maxine Lapiduss, a TV sitcom writer, observes about the future of TV sitcoms in the Forum of the November Harper’s. “Nine-tenths of the public are working class and nine-tenths of our viewers are.”

But there are practically no blue-collar sitcoms. That’s because people at home don’t think of themselves as blue collar. The real world for them is the people in the sitcoms everybody watches. Not the assembly line at the plant. Nobody wants to be associated with blue-collar jobs. Janitors are known as custodians, garbage collectors as sanitary engineers, bus drivers are surface transit operators.

If you don’t have the dream everybody is buying yet, you just keep buying all the things you see on the sitcom.

And you can’t expect L.A. comedy writers to be able to write about blue-collar life. The closest they’ve ever come to experiencing that life is watching “The Honeymooners.”

Mrs. Anderson wore pearls and high heels after school. My girls used to cry that their mother never dressed up like on TV. Why couldn’t she look like Donna Reed? She was a bad role model.

May “Roseanne” run for 450 episodes so we can have a new role model.

The real Roseanne (Barr) is an exciting person, a really tough, feisty woman who cares about the content of her performances. The papers are filled with stories about her wanting her comedy to be the way things really are in her world. She is a nice jolly fat woman, but underneath, the anger rages at the conditions women face.

Roseanne is a revolutionary, a feminist, a daughter of blue-collar Jewish parents from Salt Lake City. The big thing in her real life is religion. She wants her show to get into her religious difference with her husband, who is not Jewish. She wants to do comedy about what she knows. But the producers are nervous.

It’s going to be interesting seeing what happens to “Roseanne.” She has two enemies.

The papers are already filled with stories about her fights with the producers. It’s said Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner, those experts on reality from “Cosby,” are doing market research in Illinois to find out the concerns of blue-collar workers. This is like having a survey taken, after Mark Twain came along, to see how people would like to see life along the Mississippi portrayed.

What’s wrong with Roseanne Barr writing her own show? She and her husband wrote her standup act and her specials on cable. John Cleese and his then-wife, Connie Booth, did it on “Fawlty Towers.” It’s rerunning on Ch. 21, in case you forgot how well that classic husband and wife writing relationship turned out - better than the marriage.

The second enemy is Roseanne herself.

Will she become a star? Will she become a pain to ABC like Cybill Shepherd? Will she take time off from the production to go to fat farms and demand special watercress sandwiches on the set? Will she take diction lessons and go L.A.? Right now she’s Salt Lake City - refreshing and wonderful. The producers are telling her to keep her mouth shut, and be like everyone else. Take the money - and stay.

But Roseanne Barr is a true subversive, a trouble-maker. I predict there will be lots of trouble in “Roseanne.” Between the writers not knowing how to write blue-collar and Roseanne wanting to send her character to the mikvah every week.

There is also going to be lots of excitement at ABC.

Meanwhile, get ready for an invasion of ersatz blue-collar worker rip-offs the likes of which we haven’t seen since the golden age of “Laverne and Shirley.”

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