Revivals of a classic TV show isn’t exactly a new thing, but the concept has been kicked into overdrive lately. I can’t imagine anyone was clamoring for a Hawaii Five-0 or Knight Rider reboot, but here we are with both existing. I guess it was only a matter of time, but we now find ourselves with Roseanne back on the air (until it’s cancellation today thanks to a racist Twitter rant from Roseanne herself) and reminding people what life as a “poor” person is like.
Receiving some of the highest ratings for a sitcom premiere in quite a long time, Roseanne’s 10th season was poised to become the smash hit of the year that no one expected. Despite some decent moments, a few callbacks and a dab of topical humor, I don’t know that we needed to see the return of the Connor’s.
The very first episode of Roseanne’s return was a bit clumsy. As is to be expected after 20 years of absence, the cast of Roseanne didn’t feel exactly natural in their old roles. Sure, it was great to see all of the same faces, but the comedic timing of jokes was slightly off and Roseanne Barr, lead actress of the titular character, just felt tired. You could almost make the assumption that everyone returned for a paycheck since the first episode was pretty devoid of the zest that the original run had.
Things do start to coalesce as the season progresses, but this never reaches the same quality as past seasons. It certainly has a leg up on the ninth season, but that is mostly because it sticks to reality instead of creating a “What-If” scenario for the Connor’s that spits in the face of the entire point of the show. No, instead, season 10 of Roseanne mostly forgets about the past and tries to blaze its own trail. While that does allow for storylines that speak to a modern audience, it feels inconsistent with what we already know about these characters.
The worst example comes in the third episode, where Roseanne squares off against Darlene’s daughter, Harris. The plot revolves around how Harris is a bit stuck up and full of millennial entitlement and how Roseanne wants Darlene to punish her with spanking. Putting aside how contrived that set up is, it directly conflicts with the season six episode, “The Driver’s Seat.”
In that episode, it was revealed that Roseanne doesn’t believe in spanking since her father had physically abused her and her sister while they were growing up. When her son, DJ, accidentally wrecks the family car, Roseanne loses her cool and hits him, leading to her breaking down and fearing she has become the same monster as her father. It was a very poignant moment wrought with emotional breakthroughs and ideological lessons, but season 10 can’t reconcile the past with the actual Roseanne’s own beliefs.
This pervades a lot of the humor in season 10, where Roseanne is now an avid Trump supporter and a bit of a die-hard Republican. She holds values of distrusting foreigners and believes Trump did the best he could, but that really flies in the face of what the old Roseanne once was. This was a series that championed acceptance of others for being good people, but now we’re just gonna throw casual racism in as a characteristic that Roseanne has.
In fact, most of the other characters suffer similar faults, though at least they aren’t political in nature. Jackie, Roseanne’s sister, is back to being the bumbling idiot she was in earlier seasons and barely gets a chance to shine in her appearances. Darlene and Becky, Roseanne’s daughters, still bicker with each other and offer backhanded compliments while hardly breaking the mold set from their teenage selves. DJ is utterly pointless, appearing a scant few times and offering basically no look at his progression over the years. Even Dan, expertly played by John Goodman, gives us a glimpse into his past that conflicts with previous knowledge established before.
The newer characters fare a bit better, but only because there is no history to draw from. Darlene’s daughter, Harris, is sort of a combination of traits that Darlene and Becky had, though with complete disrespect for her elders. Mark, Darlene’s son, attempts to address gender fluidity, but then quickly throws that focus out to simply cast him as a side character. Finally, DJ’s daughter, Mary, only appears in three episodes and offers nothing outside of being a token black character.
I know these are supposed to be characteristics that challenge Roseanne’s brazen outlook on life, but the past seasons saw Roseanne and Dan embracing the changing world around them and learning to grow with it. For season 10, we’re supposed to accept that old age has turned the couple into closed-minded drones that want everything to go back to the “good old days.” This does ease up as the episodes progress, though, so I do wonder how much was written before audience reception got factored in.
My biggest point for that is how the season starts with Becky basically reverting back to her old self. Here is a 43-year-old woman acting like she is 17 and treating everyone like dirt. She storms off when her mother offers advice, yells at her sister for daring to oppose her and walks with a chip on her shoulder. As it turns out, this was a mask to deal with the pain of losing her husband, a very heartbreaking reveal that suddenly casts Becky in a whole new light.
This mirrors the development given to Darlene, who was forced to move back home due to an unstable job market. A college graduate, Darlene was unable to find a career in her chosen field and was forced to take odd jobs when the father of her children vanished in the night to volunteer his life away. It is a strong reflection of our modern society where job security is uncertain and children returning home are becoming increasingly common.
As I kept watching, I found that shifting the focus away from Roseanne, Dan, and Jackie and onto the next generation was just better, overall. Not that you can’t spin a good tale for the mid-life cast, but their journeys were complete as of the end of the original run. Trying to create new dynamics and character wrinkles for them lead to clashing with the past and ruining the very values they once held dear.
At least in the final few episodes, we do see a return to that original form. Roseanne gets put into an episode where she needs to accept that a Middle Eastern family isn’t automatically a terrorist group and Jackie gets some development with her mother that feels like a real maturation of both of their characters. Sadly, the finale of the season is a dud and ends on a forced twist of fate that feels incredibly hollow.
Even with all of these complaints, there were genuine moments where I laughed and felt like this revival could work. I know the original Roseanne didn’t shy away from political or topical humor, but season 10 works best when it leaves hot-button issues aside and tackles more societal problems. I guess there had to be a reintroduction for people that haven’t been diligently re-watching the original run for the past 20 years, but season 10 mostly sticks the landing and moves on instead of kowtowing to nostalgia.
Sadly, whatever potential this season had will be completely squandered. Real life Roseanne couldn’t keep her mouth shut, so the production of season 11 was cancelled. I can’t say that I’m sad we’ll never see more Roseanne, but there was a definite improvement with later episodes that could have really justified this ressurection. In any case, season 10 isn’t a must watch or anything special. It mostly feels like business as usual, which certainly doesn’t live up to the reputation of this once great show.