Note for the underinitiated: Roseanne Barr refers to the real person, Roseanne Connor refers to the character. There isn’t much difference, because Barr can’t act for shit.
I watched the fucking Roseanne reboot so you don’t have to. No, I did not do so in a way that would actually improve its ratings or give it any money. I live in San Francisco, if I’m blessed enough to have a few dollars of disposable income that’s going into a drag queens perfectly manicured hand. I also need to save up for a new lounging sweatshirt because in the second episode Roseanne wears a sweatshirt I own while spouting her partisan bullshit. It’s really not cool that they did that to such a cute sweatshirt.
Unlike most millenials, I really, really wanted to like this show. As my former roommates will deservedly tease me about for the rest of my life, I once rewatched the entire series in a week after quitting my job, losing faith in humanity, and deciding to live off of wine and fried chicken for the rest of my life. I knew enjoyment of the reboot was highly unlikely given Roseanne Barr’s sharp turn to the right, but I also lured myself into a bullshit fantasy world where, like the original Roseanne, the show would face the complexities of politics with at least an attempt at nuance. Maybe she could articulate a narrative for Trump supporters disappointed with the way he was making things worse. Maybe she had even just been trolling us so that the Trump supporters would watch! Believe it or not the original show offered explicit critiques of trickle down economics and biphobia, and one of the first televised girl on girl kisses…in the 90s! I HAD DREAMS!
Nope! Within 2 minutes of the first episode, she’s un-ironically insisting everything is bright and shiny as Trump’s head under that toupee, as long as you watch the “real” news. My partner, upon hearing the line, very sweetly brought me a garbage bin so I could safely keep on watching. Then he put in his earplugs.
Despite being so nausea-inducing, I see alien cultural historians of the future documenting the rise and fall of ‘Muricah using it as a primary source in some really snarky essays. The only thing more fun to analyze would be the comments section of news organizations’ facebook pages. Vaguely related question: will our future alien overlords be advanced enough to weed out the fake news, or is it really that hard?
One of the more disgusting aspect of the reboot is the use of children’s storylines as crutches to fight the deplorable narrative. The most disgusting thing is that I’ve been having to watch this sober because weed is so much more expensive now that it’s legal. DJ’s random black child, while adorable, so far just seems to serve the purpose of making the sentence “we hired a black person” true. It’s the casting equivalent of “I have black friends.” He’s a military guy with a wife overseas, so I’m sure there will be more of a storyline there down the road (spoiler alert: I will not be watching). Assuming that will be the big storyline tackling race, one has to wonder if Michael Fishman, who was just a child in the original, will actually have the acting chops to pull off a politically charged storyline. Oh wait, you really don’t have to wonder. Of the children, only fake Becky (Sarah Chalke) has gone on to play a character different than the character they played on the show.
Much more disturbing is the handling of Darlene’s gender-nonconforming son Mark. In the first episode, Mark is utilized as the same easy target as every gender-noncomforming character on a sitcom ever. His clothes, nail polish, and love of color is the punchline in scene after scene that could have been written by the worst improv comic at the worst amateur comedy club. While the second episode pushes the narrative that the family is concerned for his safety, not actually judging him, that would be a hell of a lot more believable if they weren’t constantly making lazy jokes about him wandering into a pair of pants or not wearing underwear. Punch up not down, motherfuckers.
Not to mention, Mark is shoved into a new variation of a “model minority.” He’s sure of his identity, accepts violence from bullies without retaliation, and so far shows no real signs of mental anguish from being teased. Maybe I’d buy it if he were off in college, but we’re talking about a 9 year old here. Roseanne only decides to help protect him after he assures her that he is a boy, but dressing in his own clothes is very important to him. Would she have had his back if he were too scared to tell her? If he wasn’t sure? In real life, Mark would be a fucking precious treasure but he would not be so damn happy all the time. God forbid they actually have to address the transphobia being taught at home by the kids taunting him, and actually challenge the valid basis of the deplorable stereotype. I’m also wildly suspicious that they had his character declare he was a boy so early on so the show would not have to grapple with the tougher question of a child who does not identify as either a boy or a girl, let alone a child who expresses a desire to transition. That tolerance pill they swallowed was so sugar-coated it was as potent as a generic brand cough drop.
Of course, such a hamfisted storyline clearly exposes the goal of the show. Avid Trump supporters are still feeling defensive about the mess they got us into and are whining about being called bigoted deplorables while constantly lashing out at “liberal snowflakes,” which is hilarious because it’s the first politically correct insult they’ve come up with in years. Instead of crying into her wine like the rest of us, or considering jumping on the ridiculous celebs-as-politicians bandwagon like Oprah, Barr got her TV show back, so that’s at least one job Trump brought back from the dead while we wait for the real winning to start. In a time when poor whites are (justifiably) feeling like no one gives a shit about them, Roseanne Barr is the one person in LA who is at least pretending to listen. Which sounds nice at first, until you realize that’s just being a politically expedient piece of shit who ultimately will just make everyone double down on how much they hate each other.
The original Roseanne never took a left or right side – it was the system vs the people, which either side can relate to. This new shit is propaganda. It wraps a cocoon of safety around its title character while she lashes out at “the man”, pussy hatters, and weak-ass millennial parents. Connor is just a strong matriarch looking out for her family and trying to do her best, while her liberal sister Jackie is so weak-kneed she let herself get bullied into voting for Jill Stein even though she’s pro Hillary enough to still be walking around in her Nasty Woman shirt in 2018. Darlene, supposedly a millennial (can millennials have teenage kids already?), is also used as a symbol of the imminent threat of Americans actually becoming nice. I mean weak.
Which gets us to the scene that really solidified my feelings that I cannot move forward with this show. One thing I noticed come up during the 2016 election was a narrative that our country is going to hell in a handbasket not because our education system is shit and after 300 years and 1 Civil War we all still fucking hate each other, but because parents don’t yell at and spank their children anymore.
We’re all entitled to our opinions, but to quote Roseanne Barr, pick your battles guys. Hitting kids? Hitting kids? Even just being mean to kids. How does anyone choose that as the political issue they give a fuck about? My mind is tired and would like me to stop asking these questions.
Well, Roseanne picked that battle, kind of. While she does not spank a child, she does hold their head in the sink and spray them over the head with water.
Was the kid lying, breaking the law and being a disrespectful turd of a teen? Of course! She was played by Emma Kenney, who after her stint on Shameless will probably be the lowkey best performer of angst in my timetime. Was her mother, Darlene, being a spineless pushover with no apparent interest in creating anything resembling a boundary? What a fantastic and memeable plot device!
So instead of calling all of us – and all Americans have some – out on our bullshit, we’re just getting one-sided platitudes. Trumpsters get to pat themselves on the back for supporting misfits in their own families, while not grappling with their support of a president who discriminates against trans soldiers and engages in bullying. They get to reinforce their stereotype that liberals are weak and don’t care about jobs (both Jackie and Darlene are unemployed). And they think just because they cast a biracial couple and did a storyline about a boy in skirts, that the left will eat it up. We’ve been saying this for years, it’s not just about representation, it’s about how you represent. Like, pretending to care about representation is the only explanation I have for Ben Carson still being relevant. No one likes him. No. One.
As I said, I really wanted to enjoy this show. I was also prepared to be let down. I hoped Barr was smart enough not to give us something so partisan it was actually dangerous. In giving it a shot, I was reminded that there’s no reward for optimism. Trump won, capitalist artists never gave a fuck about us, and the political divisions are widening. At least the alien overlords will be able to get a good laugh in.