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'The Conners' review: Life goes on after 'Roseanne'

ABC's "The Conners" stars Maya Lynne Robinson as

ABC's "The Conners" stars Maya Lynne Robinson as Geena Williams-Conner, Jayden Rey as Mary, Michael Fishman as D.J. Conner, John Goodman as Dan Conner, Laurie Metcalf as Jackie Harris, Sara Gilbert as Darlene Conner, Emma Kenney as Harris Conner, Ames McNamara as Mark, and Lecy Goranson as Becky Conner.  Photo Credit: ABC/Robert Trachtenberg

"The Conners"/ WABC/7/ Tuesday, 8

WHAT IT'S ABOUT In the season opener, "Keep on Truckin', " a sudden and unexpected change of fortune has beset the Conner household, but the family has to (well) keep on truckin'. Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) is gone, and husband  Dan (John Goodman), sister Jackie (Laurie  Metcalf), Darlene (Sara Gilbert), Becky (Lecy Goranson), D.J. (Michael Fishman), Harris (Emma Kenney), Mark (Ames McNamara) and Mary (Jayden Rey) have to go on with their lives. They do. Meanwhile, D.J.'s wife Geena (Maya Lynne Robinson) is back from Afghanistan where she was deployed. In an episode that will air Nov. 13, "Tangled up in Blue," Darlene's ex David (Johnny Galecki) turns up with his new girlfriend, Blue (Juliette Lewis).

Barr was fired from "Roseanne" — which was subsequently canceled — after she posted an inflammatory tweet about former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett. This new series is a continuation of the reboot, with the same cast.

MY SAY As a condition to see a screener of the most anticipated new series of the season before Tuesday's launch, ABC required that critics "will not discuss, imply or in any other way reveal what happens to the character of Roseanne Conner in the new series."

Fair enough. No spoilers or implications, but use your imaginations instead: How do major characters typically leave major series? Fly off to Tahiti? (Hey, it could happen.)  But it almost doesn't matter how Roseanne's character was written out of the show that once bore her name. What matters is what, or rather who, remains, specifically the other characters, writers and directors of "Roseanne," now "The Conners." They must fill the void, and they do, for the most part skillfully. After watching these first couple of episodes, the character of Roseanne Conner is fully and ineradicably expunged. Not even a ghost image remains for viewers to feel nostalgic over.

Not that brittle, contemptuous Roseanne Conner — whether here in the flesh or absent — was someone to feel nostalgic over. She wasn't.  "Roseanne" was always about the here and now, anyway, and about how working class people slay the indignities of daily life with gallows humor. The indignities and gallows humor remain. That should be enough to sustain "The Conners."

In some respects, this new show is better than the reboot. If these two episodes are at all representative, "The Conners" has completely excised politics. Politics was both the Achilles' heel and worst part of the "Roseanne" reboot, which — from the opening episode — turned the Conner household into a red state/blue state battlefield where blood was spilled. In those pitched moments, it was fingernails across the blackboard and about as relaxing — or illuminating — as a cable news shoutfest.

"The Conners," instead, gets back to real life where it belongs. How will Becky make some extra cash? When will Darlene start dating again? Harris is 16 and old enough to get in trouble with boys. Will she? Mark too is exploring his sexual orientation. What challenges does that pose in hardscrabble Langford?

As you watch these episodes, another thought  just may present itself too: The best part of "Roseanne" was never really Roseanne at all, but the constellation of characters who surrounded her, most importantly Darlene, Jackie and (above all) Dan. Without Goodman, this reboot of a reboot never stood a chance. It does now. And with the end of "The Big Bang Theory" next May, Galecki just might be turning up a little more frequently too. That could help even more.

And so, farewell, Roseanne. You will be missed. Just not for long.

BOTTOM LINE "The Conners" skillfully picks up where "Roseanne" left off and even manages to improve on the predecessor.

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