By Nancy Ford
I’ve been a Roseanne fan for a long, long time — ever since her breakthrough, ball-busting appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1985. Roseanne’s take-me-as-I-am, take-no-prisoners performance style was the wind beneath my fledging stand-up comic’s wings.
Apparently I wasn’t alone in my fandom. Quicker than you can say doublewide, ABC snapped up Roseanne to star in her own sitcom. Among its many highpoints throughout Roseanne’s nine stellar seasons, the show’s multiple lesbian and bi characters were treated with wit and respect rather than derisive, stereotypical punch lines, something other network sitcoms still sorely lack even 30+ years later (yes, Will & Grace and Modern Family, we’re looking at you).
Roseanne’s late ’80s and early ’90s sitcom domination was glorious, despite her having temporarily lost her mind during her brief marriage to the twitchy, minimally talented Tom Arnold. Sure, the show’s last season in which she wins the lottery, dates a millionaire and saves her hometown from economic ruin was a silly, stretchy flight of fancy. But she more than made up for it in the epic series finale that revealed her beloved husband Dan had indeed bit the dust; that fantasy world was the only place Roseanne Conner felt safe. Then, hard as it was, her fan base, understood it was time for both Roseanne Conner and Roseanne to move on.
And move on, she did, popping back up into the mainstream every now and then: A little stand-up here. A tepid talk show there. One season of a reality show as a macadamia nut farmer in Hawaii in 2011, followed by a Green Party presidential bid in 2012.
“Oh, Roseanne, don’t be silly,” people said. “Everybody knows a reality TV star could never become president.”
Ah, 2012. It was a simpler time.
Then five years later, thanks to talk show host and lesbian visionary Sara “Darlene” Gilbert, came the glorious news that the Conners would make a television comeback in all their blue-collar glory.
The Roseanne reboot revealed that time had not been kind to Roseanne, Dan and their kids and grandkids. Those blue collars were still blue, but had also become faded, stained and threadbare. Just like so many of the real-life, hard-knock Americans she represented, Roseanne Conner had been swept away in the promise that Donald Trump would make her country great again. It wasn’t a good look for the previously far left-leaning Lanford liberal. Most of the 18 million viewers who turned in to watch the return of Roseanne were aghast at the lead character’s political flip-flop, except for one particular Tweet-happy fan in the Oval Office. But we faithfully tuned in each week anyway because, just as they did its 20th century original, the Conners still reflected real-life reality, right down to the gender non-conforming grandchild and the STD-ridden senior citizen mother. That’s some 21st century real life, right there.
When last we saw her, an opioid-dependent Roseanne was about to undergo knee surgery — a cliff-hanger only slightly less rife with possibility than Dallas’ Pamela Ewing waking up to see her seemingly long-dead husband Bobby alive and well and all soaped up in the shower.
Then, because that’s what social media encourages, Roseanne (the real person, not the character) lost her mind on Twitter, starting with a highly toxic racist political message. Denials, apologies and Ambien-blaming excuses ensued, but nothing could salvage Roseanne from being Roseanne — namely, her own worst enemy. The bad news was that Roseanne was cancelled. The good news was that The Conners would debut in the fall. Sans Roseanne.
Actor John Goodman revealed recently that his patriarchal character in the redux of the reboot would “be mopey and sad because his wife’s dead.”
Well, I guess they told her!
It will be most intriguing to learn what happened to the presumably indestructible Roseanne. Did she die on the operating table? Did she survive surgery only to OD on her pain meds? Did she get trampled by a herd of fellow Kool-Aid drinkers at a Trump rally? Did her Tiki torch-bearing, alt-right friends burn down the Conner house with her in it? Did she contract a flesh-eating virus from that ancient plaid couch?
Or did she escape all those possible plot points, and simply decided to abandon her friends and family to hit the road on a Kerouac-type quest for the meaning of life beyond Lanford?
Last I heard, Roseanne (the real-life one) was headed to Israel in self-imposed exile, an ironic destination for someone in search of peace and penance.
I hope she finds what she’s looking for. For all her shortcomings, she’s still an American institution who bucked the good ol’ boy system and devoted her life to bringing joy to millions.
Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes, Ambien. If I were a gambling woman, I’d bet that we haven’t heard the last from Roseanne. Maybe in a few years she’ll turn up in the Conners’ shower.
After all, what doesn’t kill us is making us stronger.