Before last Wednesday, I’d never seen a single episode of Roseanne. But in the interest of cultural commentary, I cranked up my ABC.com app to see what all the fuss — and the extraordinarily high ratings — was about. Here’s what I learned.
From the moment Dan Conner (John Goodman) wakes with a start, we’re in a familiar world rarely seen on TV. His face is covered by a plastic mask with a breathing tube. The show assumes the audience recognizes what it is: a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine to treat sleep apnea. Back when the original Roseanne was on the air, from 1988 to 1997, I’d never heard of sleep apnea, which afflicts an estimated one in 15 Americans, particularly overweight men over 40 like Dan. Twenty years later, I have friends and relatives who sleep in similar get-ups. It’s a common phenomenon in American life. But you wouldn’t know that from watching TV.
The writing is equally knowing in its satire of the foibles of what sociologist Elizabeth Currid-Halkett calls the “aspirational class” and reverse snobs call “coastal elites” — even though some of them apparently live in Lanford, Ill. “I brought you some ionized water in glass bottles,” says the polished professional who’s considering Roseanne’s daughter Becky as a surrogate mother. “Thank you,” says Becky (Alicia Goranson). “I love water!”
But what makes the show is the talented cast, especially Goodman. “This is so unfair. You’re ruining my life! You all suck!” shouts granddaughter Harris (Emma Kenney) as she storms out after being told she has to babysit her brother. Dan laughs. “I ain’t seen that movie in 20 years. Ah, the classics really do hold up.” The writing is fine, but it’s Goodman’s delivery and expressions that make you laugh.
Family sitcoms are about family. Dan and Roseanne Conner (Roseanne Barr) are a 60-something couple still demonstrably in love with each other. At the core of the show is the Conners’ loving, protective and blunt-spoken attitude toward their kids and grandkids, along with the tensions…