Over twenty years since the original ended and nearly a year since the reboot was officially announced, Roseanne has finally returned to the airwaves. Two episodes premiered back-to-back on Tuesday and focused on the return of America’s favorite blue-collar family. Right from the start, they addressed Dan’s death (which was revealed in the finale and ignored here) as Roseanne (dressed in the infamous chicken shirt) wakes him up from beneath his C-Pap facemask. It’s good that they did away with the dreadful final season completely (the Conner clan didn’t win the lottery either) but it was still a bit of a rough start.
The first episode was overstuffed trying to re-introduce all the characters. Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) and Dan (national treasure John Goodman) are still living in Lanford, Illinois and still barely getting by, Roseanne an Uber driver and Dan, well, not really sure what he’s doing but he carries a thermos to work. Roseanne and Jackie have been fighting since the election with Roseanne a fervent Trump supporter and nasty-woman clad Jackie (recent Oscar nominee Laurie Metcalf) and their political rehash is the backdrop for the first episode. The jokes mostly thud (Roseanne snapping “snowflake,” Jackie calling her a “deplorable”) but the actual argument isn’t as forced or ridiculous as it could’ve been.
Middle-kid Darlene (Sara Gilbert) has moved back home with her two kids Harris (Emma Kenney), a brooding teenage as Darlene once was, even though she was born twenty-two years ago TV time, and Mark (Ames McNamara), a thoughtful kid who prefers to dress in girls’ clothes. The second half of the first episode dealt more with this plot development, which was an interesting take and a nice way to bring the series back and push the same topical buttons the original series did. Darlene is still fighting with older-sister Becky (original Becky Alicia Goranson), who has decided to become a surrogate for an uptight housewife (second Becky Sarah Chalke). Original youngest son DJ (Michael Fishman) pops in for a moment, referencing his recent service, with his black daughter (Jayden Rey). DJ’s wife is said to still be serving overseas. There’s even a throwaway line to youngest-son Jerry who was a baby when the show went off the air.
The storyline with Mark was nice and thoughtful, and the obvious ace in the hole in the reboot is Gilbert, who should really be the center of the show. She lands every joke, every barb, and even nails the heavier moments. She feels evolved from the original Darlene, and still believable regressing back to living with her parents. Her chemistry with Roseanne (mom and actress) is still rock-solid. I think I’ve grown weary of anything with a laughtrack but it wasn’t as awful and distracting and it was on that other recent reboot Will and Grace. Goodman and Metcalf, the real standouts from the original are used a little too sparingly, but that is mostly due to how much time is spent just trying reaclimate the audience to the old surroundings.
The middle seasons of the original series still stand as some of the best television I’ve ever seen, so there’s a lot for the reboot to live up to. Thankfully, it feels more justifiable than other recent reboots and while not a complete homerun, it’s at least a solid double with the promise of new and interesting stories to tell. But really, focus on Gilbert and give Jackie more to do and it’ll be off to a good start.
My Grade – B-