So…what’s the Oracle been up to lately? This week I checked out the first three episodes of the Roseanne reboot.
For anyone who either lives in a cave or is reading this blog in the distant future, Roseanne is a network television comedy about a working-class American family living in the fictional town of Lanford, Illinois. The series ran on ABC from 1988 to 1997 and has been revived in the spring of 2018. Roseanne Barr plays the central character, Roseanne Conner.
Roseanne’s character is revealed to be a supporter of the current US President in the first episode of the revived series. Politics as an issue dividing families and society appears to be one of the motivations in bringing the series into the modern day.
If your family is anything like Roseanne’s or mine, you’ve experienced hard feelings or worse with your relatives since the 2016 US election. The series has taken a bold step in attempting to talk about something that has caused a lot of us to stop talking to one another. Some of the stuff I’d seen written and said made me leery of watching the show. Some people hated it. Some people hated her.
I watched it anyway and it made me laugh. Repeatedly.
The Roseanne of 2018 instantly reminded me of the best aspects of its earlier incarnation. The characters are likeable. They are funny. They are flawed but fabulous.
I stopped watching the original series on a regular basis, long before it ended, for a variety of reasons. Mainly, the show just became tiresome. It got too weird, too preachy, too much of a downer. It started taking itself too seriously.
This one doesn’t do that.
The joy of the new series is that it pokes fun at things we all tend to take too seriously, starting with ourselves. Does anybody really care that much about our opinions on any single politician or policy? It’s not that this stuff doesn’t matter; it matters a lot. But if we just draw battle lines and stop talking, what have we accomplished? What CAN we accomplish in that scenario?
Roseanne is going to touch on issues and express opinions that upset people. This is the nature of topical humor and social commentary, especially humor dealing with anything controversial. Roseanne deals with controversial topics.
One of the things that’s important to remember is that this is just TV, it’s not real. The series is about a fictional family in a fictional town. Roseanne is not a documentary or the news, and it doesn’t pretend to be. It’s also not Leave It To Beaver. Think more along the lines of All In The Family or South Park. The humor is modern and edgy, but it’s still just fiction. These aren’t real people.
It’s also important to distinguish between the actor and the role. Most people are clear on the fact that Carroll O’Connor only played Archie Bunker on television and Eric Cartman is only a cartoon character. Yet many people seem to have trouble differentiating Roseanne Barr from the character she’s playing.
Barr has been outspoken and politically active in real life, but it would be a mistake to view the show based on one’s take on Barr’s politics. The show is not exclusively, or even primarily, political. Politics is just one aspect of life in Lanford.
As an example, Roseanne and her sister Jackie finally talk about their differing views of Hillary Clinton:
Jackie: “You kept saying what a disaster it would be if she got elected and how I wasn’t seeing the big picture and how everything was rigged, and then I go into the booth and I voted for Jill Stein!”
Roseanne: “Who’s Jill Stein?”
Jackie: “Some doctor. You did such a good job of making me doubt myself and feel so stupid that I choked, which helped get him elected.”
Is that scene about politics or about someone feeling bullied by a sibling?
Roseanne Barr certainly knows who Jill Stein is, having run against her as a Green Party candidate. As for Barr’s politics, she recently said, “It’s up to us… Get out there and vote. Change it if you don’t like it.” Tough to argue with that one.
I don’t watch much television of any kind these days, but I make an exception now and then. Roseanne is worthwhile. It made me laugh and it made me think. I didn’t agree with all the opinions that were expressed, but that’s OK.
In an age of cable news and social media echo chambers where we choose our news and exclude people and opinions we don’t like, I think we need to hear other viewpoints. It’s even better to be able to laugh at some of the things we’re fighting about. In fact, it may be a big step toward a more constructive dialog.