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'Roseanne' review: Reboot was more about the ravages of time than politics

Lecy Goranson and Sara Gilbert in "Roseanne."

Lecy Goranson and Sara Gilbert in "Roseanne." Photo Credit: ABC/Adam Rose

THE SERIES "Roseanne"

WHEN|WHERE Season finale Tuesday at 8 p.m. on ABC/7

WHAT IT’S ABOUT In the season finale, Dan (John Goodman) and Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) have to make some tough choices which could damage long-standing friendships. Meanwhile, Roseanne and sister Jackie Harris (Laurie Metcalf) dig into the family’s deep past to see if there’s any of it they can hock. Also: Becky (Lecy Goranson) has some job advice for her own sister, Darlene (Sara Gilbert).

MY SAY Ever since that raucous, divisive opening episode, the Roseanne nation has been split. For some, it struck a blow for conservative values and “Trump’s America.” For others, it was a Trump commercial that hinted at more sinister impulses.

Because controversy — and Trump — are often good for ratings, they’ve been especially good here. After a launch seen by 18 million viewers, “Roseanne” has settled to just under 14 million, making this the season’s most successful new series. But what if everyone has been fooled by the producers, who essentially pulled a bait-and-switch after the heavily political inaugural episode? What if there’s another “Roseanne” interpretation — a blander one, less sexy, and largely apolitical? A case could be made for that and the season’s eighth and final episode does.

After a heavy rainstorm, the Conners’ basement has flooded. Dan wades in knee deep, and for an entire act, it’s him against the elements. The elements win. “I spent my whole life hanging on by my fingertips,” he tells friend Chuck (James Pickens Jr.), “because that’s my job and now, I can’t promise that anymore. I’ll do whatever I have to do to take care of my family because I’m old and tired, I’m not sure how much longer I can hang on.”

There’s no hint of politics in this outburst. Roseanne has no solution but she does have a quip (“after 40 years, we finally got a pool.”) Darlene (Sara Gilbert) and Becky (Lecy Goranson) certainly have no answers either. Roseanne needs a knee replacement too, hence the double-meaning of the title, “Knee Deep.” But how to pay for that?

Like every episode this season, this one does poke the bear: “Don’t tell me you’re going to hire illegals,” Roseanne demands of Dan — who’s looking to cut costs on a new job. After she spits out the word like an expletive, Dan responds, “I’ll also use substandard materials!” It’s a joke, of course, but one told at her expense.

Otherwise, the episode plies the theme that has run through each of the last seven — that which “Roseanne” may really be about. Time has passed the Conners by. Time has ravaged them, ravaged their bodies, and especially their finances. Time has robbed them of their fertility (Becky) and self-respect (Darlene.)

Twenty years later, the Conners haven’t even managed to stay in place because the law of entropy has forced them backward. They’re older and broken down and don’t have the money to redress either indignity. Initially at least, politics was the hook — a way to draw viewers in — but also a ruse to force them to see what’s really going on. Politics or presidents can’t reverse time. They can, however, stoke the impotent rage, and did here.

So love this reboot or hate it. Take your pick. But do consider this third option. Time’s cruel passage can be poignant, also universal. It clearly resonates with millions of viewers. Like the Conners, we’re 20 years older too.

BOTTOM LINE This smart reboot for an embittered age is really more about the ravages of time, than the ravages of politics.

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