“Apparently, it’s cool to look poor now.”
Darlene raising her new family in her childhood home was bound to create some friction, but last week’s double-episode premiere glossed over much of that tension. Instead, “Twenty Years To Life” established why the middle Conner kid moved back to Lanford from Chicago, and “Dress To Impress” saw her disagree with her parents’ suggestions for how to address Mark’s gender nonconformity. But the multi-family household experienced mostly smooth sailing in the premiere—even the emotional rift between Jackie and Roseanne was patched up before the first half hour was over, and without anyone having to give up any political ground.
The show struck an almost conciliatory tone with that mix of episodes, doing away with plot points that viewers could get hung up on (see: Dan’s death; the absence of Jerry Garcia; almost everything about season nine, etc.), while also doing a little PR work for its creator. Roseanne Barr has made transphobic comments on Twitter in the past, so having her eventually lend full-throated support to her gender-nonconforming grandson appeared to be an attempt to head off valid criticism of her presence in the show.
That strategy, of course, can’t possibly work in the long run, since production’s already wrapped on the show, and Barr still has access to her Twitter account, which she’s used to do things like retweet obviously doctored, defamatory photos of a Parkland survivor. But after watching “Roseanne Gets The Chair,” I understand all the more why executive producers Sara Gilbert, Bruce Helford, and Whitney Cummings (and let’s not forget Tony Hernandez) thought “Dress To Impress” would help the revival make a good first impression.
Written by Sid Youngers and directed by John Pasquin, “Roseanne Gets The Chair” is a middling episode, which sees Darlene clash with Roseanne and Dan over—you guessed it—parenting styles. Darlene is trying to be the kind of parent she wishes she had growing up, while Roseanne and Dan can’t quite get their heads around seeing your children as anything but your enemy or a responsibility. Roseanne believes Harris (Emma Kenney) is spoiled, which is only an issue because Darlene’s the one doing the spoiling. Early on, Roseanne complains that she’d like to be seen as “fun grandma,” which is impossible if she has to look after Emma and Mark as if they were her children. She needs Darlene to step up so she can step down—and, as we see via the chairlift, she could really stand to get off her feet—but Darlene would rather “trust” her daughter and her own parenting up to this point.
It’s a classic debate, and it plays out in the most formulaic way. Before you can say “new age thinking,” Dan waxes nostalgic on the corporal punishment he endured from his dad, a member of the “Greatest Generation,” who believed in beating the artistic impulses out of his son. It’s not that they’re advocating for child abuse, exactly, but Dan and Roseanne are obviously of the “spare the rod” line of thinking, though you have to wonder how they reconcile themselves with the kids they ended up with if that was always their approach. But Darlene’s contemporary style of parenting is also proven to be ineffective, as we learn that Harris either shoplifted or accepted stolen goods for her Etsy shop.
“Roseanne Gets The Chair” was the second episode filmed, and it shows in the scenes in which Roseanne snaps about dirty clothes and dishes being left everywhere by Harris. These are the growing pains of merging two families that were mostly absent from the two-part premiere. But the reintroduction of Roseanne probably would have been a tad more disagreeable if we’d watched the episodes in sequential order; without “Dress To Impress,” the premiere wouldn’t have struck the same balance of new and old, of progressive and conservative (or, depending on your politics, batshit and/or horrid) ideas. The key word there is “balance”—neither side is shown to be the right one, not even that of the right.
It isn’t just the uninspired, “women be dieting” jokes in “Roseanne Gets The Chair.” At one point, Harris gets into a verbal fight with Roseanne that turns physical, as the Conner matriarch shoves her granddaughter’s head under the kitchen faucet to teach her a lesson. That move is preceded by an exchange in which former big-city resident Harris calls her central-or-southern-Illinois-dwelling grandmother a “stupid old hillbilly.” Harris is shown to be in the wrong even before these remarks; she is self-centered and lazy, though she’s acting out because she was forced to move to a “hick town.”
There might not be any messaging here, but the image of Roseanne gleefully dunking her granddaughter’s head in the sink right after calling her an “entitled bitch” still seems awfully convenient. I wrote last week that we can’t discuss this show in a vacuum, which means that these reviews are going to have more personal interjections or links to news articles than you might find in coverage of most sitcoms. And I think pairing the first and third episodes filmed for the premiere was a strategic move to assure viewers who are fans of the show, but who are appalled by Barr’s real-life support of Trump and bigoted comments. It was necessary to follow up the on-screen Roseanne’s support of Trump—brief as it was—with an episode that allowed her to demonstrate some humanity. By coming in third, “Roseanne Gets The Chair” is able to nudge the character’s progression along, even if it remains at a chairlift’s pace.
- I don’t know if it was due to scheduling conflicts, but once again, Laurie Metcalf is given little to do beyond dropping by to say a single line. However, the line does seem to reveal more of her revival storyline: Jackie’s insistence that she be called “Aunt Jackie,” because “it’s the only title I’ve got,” suggests Andy Harris is nonexistent in this timeline.
- Dan and Roseanne’s exchange on the couch references Black-ish and Fresh Off The Boat, two more than worthy successors to Roseanne. I’m still not sure how to interpret her “They’re just like us” line, though. Is she just playing into the meta-ness?
- Dan on Dan’s dad: “I wrote a poem for my dad, and then he hit me with a broom. And he said, ‘this broom will do more for you than a poem.’ And that was the greatest generation.”
- Darlene’s “apparently, it’s cool to look poor” remark was an example of bad writing. I refuse to believe she wouldn’t understand the appeal of thrifting, especially when she spent her teen years sporting a grunge look. It’s supposed to make her look out of touch, but it’s just out of character.