"After a sudden turn of events, the Conners are forced to face the daily struggles of life in Lanford in a way they never have before.”
And with those words — ominous but expected in ABC’s news release Thursday evening — “Roseanne” will return this fall without Roseanne Barr.
The creative options were always limited, the outcome certain. Will Roseanne simply disappear, in a version of the “whatever happened to Donna” gambit that “Kevin Can Wait” chose for its second and final season?
Or in a twisted act of art imitating life, Roseanne becomes a Twitter addict, and disappears into the bowels of the local library, where she taps away furiously without thought of nourishment or family.
“Roseanne” without Roseanne will proceed, because profitable shows must go on. Now it’s up to viewers to decide whether they will embrace the outcome.
They will, at least initially, because they always have. “Kevin Can Wait” may be the obvious exception, but that was simply an example of a series shooting itself in the foot. Roseanne did the shooting this time.
There is a long history of stars leaving shows, but a fairly short one involving the departure of the eponymous star. “Valerie,” NBC’s 1986 family sitcom with Valerie Harper, is the go-to example. Harper staged a walked out over a salary dispute, and NBC opted for Sandy Duncan instead. Viewers stuck with the renamed “The Hogan Family” for a while, but that was also the late '80s when they pretty much stuck with everything because the options were limited.
In 2018, you’ll note, they are not. There will be no new member of “The Conner Family” but it will instead revolve around Dan (John Goodman), Jackie Harris (Laurie Metcalf), Becky Conner-Healy (Lecy Goranson) and especially Darlene (Sara Gilbert). D.J. (Michael Fishman) will be a part of the mix, too.
Who’s missing becomes the critical question. ABC got a hit out of the deep blue when this relaunched in the spring, as just the latest improbable re-do in a re-do trend that has recently consumed television. The numbers were initially huge, then settled down to “good.” Many viewers sampled, then many moved on.
An obvious reason was the inflammatory opener, which cast Roseanne as a voracious Trump supporter who overwhelmed sister Jackie (who voted for Jill Stein) with a volley of one-liners. Some viewers figured they were finally getting the prime-time version of a Fox News sitcom. But they were wrong.
Before long — the next episode, in fact — “Roseanne” settled into a routine that echoed the original’s spirit. As far as politics was concerned, “Roseanne” largely became whatever you wanted it to become, or sitcom as inkblot test that could be read as anti-Trump or pro-Trump.
But a simmering controversy continued because Roseanne Barr — not Conner — made certain of that. Her trolling Twitter habits led to her downfall after the show-ending tweet about former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett. Many viewers, from the left and right, continued to see the show as a proxy for the real Roseanne. That was a problem, and ABC — which was in a be-careful-what-you-wish-for bind — knew that, too.
And so, as the 11th season of “Roseanne” — without Roseanne — gets underway, this outcome may be the best one of all. No thinking viewer ever thought “All in the Family” was a celebration of Archie Bunker. It was funny, and often great, because it was a celebration of his humanity, as well as Edith’s (Jean Stapleton), Michael’s (Rob Reiner) and Gloria’s (Sally Struthers). It was about real people with real-world problems who confronted those with real-life biases, attitudes and outlooks.
Absent the social media distractions of its former star and namesake, there’s no reason “The Conner Family” can’t recapture some of the quality that was evident here from the beginning. At least it seems worth the try.