Tonight, after a 20 year hiatus, the 90’s sitcom staple Roseanne returns to network television. The critics, fresh from their advance viewing, have done their part and the internet is awash in reviews. As expected, opinions are mixed but the details being reported appear to be consistent. The father of the Conner family, Dan, it turns out is not dead and, in the years since we last met, life has churned relentlessly on. The middle and most problematic child in the original series, Darlene, appears to be once again at the center of the action and is back at her parents’ with her kids in tow in the wake of a divorce. Her older sister Becky, meanwhile, is a widow – the actor who had played her husband, Mark, in the original series has passed away – and the youngest of the Conner’s three children, DJ, has married a person of color. The situation appears to be set and the comedy will surely flow but the cherry on top of it all – and it’s the one fact that the papers are simply up in arms about – is that Roseanne is a Trump supporter.
Roseanne was an unlikely hit when it first hit the airwaves in 1989. Based on the standup comedy of Roseanne Barr, who spoke about the everyday life of the American housewife in the snarkiest of terms while referring to herself as a “domestic goddess,” the show was distinctly different from family sitcoms that dominated the airwaves at the time. Instead of the usual light escapism, Roseanne was shockingly real in its depiction of the American working class. Money was scarce, the kids weren’t well adjusted and the mom and dad weren’t thin or good looking. No, as it was for millions of Americans, life for the Conners was a struggle and the humor, which came most often in the form of biting sarcasm, was the family’s coping mechanism.
Of course, the show evolved over the years and as Roseanne herself – the actual person not the character she played in the show – changed and grew as a person the series followed her interests. The results of those changes, which often appeared to be quite sudden and volatile to those of us who followed Roseanne’s real life in the tabloids, didn’t always reflect well on the series itself but no matter where the show went one thing was certain – the Conner family was always a cohesive unit.
Of course Roseanne was unquestionably the star of the show but, as a man and member of the working class myself, I was always particularly grateful for the way they handled the role of Dan Conner. Roseanne may have been the boss of the house but, perhaps due to the physicality of John Goodman, her husband was no wimpy lapdog. At a time when so many male roles were being denuded, and once respected fathers were being turned into mindless boobs ala Homer Simpson, the character of Dan Conner solidly bucked that trend. No matter the situation, Dan and Roseanne were equal partners and their power as parents was fully shared. Like Roseanne, Dan had his struggles, lean times and failed business ventures among them, but like tens of thousands of working class men all across the country, he got back up every time life knocked him down. Having been there and done that myself, I can tell you that the way that character was written and acted was not made-up TV bullshit.
Despite all the time that has passed, the world Roseanne portrayed remains a very real place today. So why then are the critics agog over the fact that people like the Conners are Trump supporters? Is it because the entertainment industry is supposed to relentlessly spout liberal values and support liberal candidates? If it is, the critics are clearly missing the point. The Conners, and millions of Americans just like them, are a mishmash of values some liberal and some conservative. Like most people, they take life one day at a time while doing the very best they can, and like many in the working class, they are a little dismayed with the rhetoric coming out of the left side of the political spectrum. I know how they feel because, despite my continued affirmations that I myself stand left-of-center, I too find myself pretty dismayed at times.
People like me, and the Conners, haven’t been represented by the political elite for a long time and nothing made that clearer than the last presidential election. Early in the campaign, the Democratic candidate wrote off entire states as lost and, as a result, made zero effort to engage the people that live and work there. That candidate followed the same pattern in battleground states, appealing to people firmly in her camp in the big cities while making zero effort to engage with people in more rural districts. She deemed those people insignificant and, to her detriment, she utterly ignored them as she flew over flyover country again and again.
Donald Trump, meanwhile, did not. And although I and a great many of my working class brethren knew that the billionaire businessman was feeding us line after line of bullshit, we appreciated that he came out and talked with us. Although the media would tell you otherwise, we are not stupid and we were not duped. Our hope was that the Republican candidate would take some of our concerns with him to Washington and, while and we recognized that the odds were slim, we found them better than the ones presented by the candidate who simply ignored us. So, when election day arrived, there was only one real choice for the forgotten working class and, like it or not, when the time came they exercised what they saw as their only real option.
So, I won’t be surprised when politics goes on display in the Roseanne revival. It is a part of the national discussion and it makes sense within the context of the characters of Dan and Roseanne Conner. I haven’t seen a single preview but I can tell you this: Money will still be scarce, the kids and the grandkids won’t be well adjusted, and the grandma and grandpa won’t be especially thin or good looking. Life will still be a struggle and the humor, which will come most often in the form of biting sarcasm, will still be a coping mechanism. The show will be shockingly real and, for the first time in decades, the working class will once again see itself accurately reflected on the TV screen.