THE SHOW “Roseanne”
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Tuesday on ABC/7
WHAT IT’S ABOUT Gone since 1997, “Roseanne” is back. Roseanne Conner (Roseanne Barr) returns in this revival with the whole gang largely intact, including Dan Conner (John Goodman) who had died in the series finale, essentially revealed in the book she had been writing. Tuesday’s pilot, “Twenty Years to Life,” explains how this miraculous prime-time disinterment — so to speak — took place. Also back: Darlene (Sara Gilbert), who’s moved back with Mom and Dad; D.J. (Michael Fishman), who is married and has a daughter, Mary (Jayden Rey); and Becky (Alicia Goranson). And speaking of Becky, Sarah Chalke, who also famously played Becky, is in the revival, too. Meanwhile, Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) has a beef to settle with her sister.
MY SAY A lot has changed in America over the 21 years since “Roseanne” ruled. There’s this device called a smartphone, for example, where people look at something else called Facebook. A lot of these people don’t just watch TV, but stream it over the internet. The shows they like to stream star zombies and dragons. The King of Pop is dead. Hip-hop rules. A former TV star is president. He tweets.
Where, then, does this leave a premillennial TV classic that was so closely tied to that long-ago decade in which it aired? In an awfully big hurry to catch up.
In Tuesday’s opener there are jokes about “deplorables,” pantsuits, health care, guns, Russia, fake news and Uber, along with references to the war in the Middle East, opioids, surrogacy, sexual fluidity and the last fraught presidential election. Jackie is clearly a Hillary Clinton supporter and Roseanne a Trump one. Other than Jill Stein, no candidate names are mentioned, but they don’t have to be. The premise of the pilot is effectively a rerun of the 2016 election, reduced to a bunch of one-liners.
Emerging from a time warp, “Roseanne” has tried to frantically bootstrap itself to the present, with predictable results. Let’s charitably call those “mixed,” at least in the pilot.
The first great sitcom of working-class despair was “All in the Family,” but the second (arguably) was this one. Barr created something no one had ever really seen before on network TV and improbably, they see a little bit of themselves in her. Birth control, death, race and domestic abuse got hearings. Everyone was broke, always. Dan drank too much. His mortality was the final act. “Roseanne” was a comedy with a tragic subtext. Clearly it resonated then. So why now?
That’s a question this reboot needed to answer in the first 30 minutes. The answer feels both forced and about two years old.
In real life as on the show, Barr is an outspoken Trump supporter, which makes her one of the rarest — and loneliest — figures in Hollywood as well as on prime time. That also happens to be the single best entry point for this reboot. Mindful of all those enraged fans after Tim Allen’s “Last Man Standing” was canceled, ABC knows there’s an opening for a comedy with a conservative protagonist.
Nevertheless, the old “Roseanne” was essentially noncommittal about politics, and if a show could be a voter, it was an independent. Blue-collar values always prevailed over political ones. But the new “Roseanne” looks like it wants to fight the 2016 election all over again. That could be a miscalculation because viewers — along with the rest of the electorate — are exhausted.
BOTTOM LINE “Roseanne” crashes into the 21st century, with predictably rushed results.