REVIEW: Conversations and Controversies Gives THE CONNERS a Contemporary Feel
— October 16, 2018
By BILL HARRISSpecial to BellMediaPR.ca
We already knew the fate of Roseanne Barr, the sitcom star. But now we finally know what has happened to Roseanne Conner, the sitcom character.
The “new” sitcom called THE CONNERS debuted Tuesday night on CTV, and “new” is in quotation marks because THE CONNERS essentially is the ROSEANNE reboot without Roseanne. As you’ll recall, Barr was fired from the show after one successful comeback season because of comments she made on Twitter that were deemed to be racist. As scandals go, they don’t get much bigger.
But the mystery moving forward was how THE CONNERS was going to deal with the sudden absence of the Roseanne character. She wouldn’t have just run off to start a new life. That would be too easy on her family, ha ha. But if the writers were going to kill her, then how would she meet her maker?
They didn’t tease it for too long on Tuesday. It was revealed fairly quickly in the episode. If you haven’t seen it already, the premiere episode is available for viewing on demand on CTV.ca. But consider this to be a significant SPOILER ALERT, as we’re about to discuss the details.
There had been rumours about the demise of the Roseanne character circling on social media for several weeks, and at least parts of those rumours turned out to be true: The Roseanne character died because she took some pain pills that were not prescribed to her, which caused unexpected complications, and she passed away in her sleep. Essentially, she overdosed on opioids.
As the story began on Tuesday, it had been three weeks since Roseanne’s funeral. Neighbours and friends still were dropping off casseroles, causing widower Dan (John Goodman) to urge, “Keep telling people we’re grieving until we figure out how to feed ourselves.”
The extended Conner clan - Dan, Roseanne’s sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf), Dan and Roseanne’s adult offspring Darlene (Sara Gilbert), Becky (Lecy Goranson) and D.J. (Michael Fishman), along with their various partners and children - initially believe that “Granny Rose” died of a heart attack. But when the autopsy result comes in, it proves otherwise.
The news of how Rosie actually perished pushes Dan into an anger spiral, which gets even darker when a bottle of pain pills is found in Roseanne’s bedroom. They were prescribed to a neighbour named Marcy Bellinger (played later in the episode by guest star Mary Steenburgen). When Dan stormed away with the bottle of pills in hand, Becky gave me my first hearty laugh when she said, “Damn - that’s the only thing from Mom’s closet that I wanted.”
Really good line.
As Dan comes to realize, placing all the blame on Marcy isn’t fair. It turns out Roseanne had been part of a wider pill exchange in the neighbourhood, because people can’t afford the prescription medications that they need. Roseanne had been asking for, and getting, pills from various sources. The meds were hidden around the house. As Marcy tells Dan, “You can judge, but Roseanne called me.”
As one would expect, the first episode of THE CONNERS had more “SPM” (seriousness-per-minute) than what surely will be the norm in future installments. But I think killing Roseanne in the manner than they did was clever in terms of hot-button topics and future storylines.
The opioid crisis, obviously, is front-and-centre in the news these days. And the sheer unaffordability of certain prescription drugs for average people is the kind of middle-class and blue-collar issue in which ROSEANNE specialized (both the original and rebooted versions). Conversations and controversies regarding such things can anchor episodes down the line, giving THE CONNERS a contemporary feel.
The assumption has been that THE CONNERS will focus primarily on Darlene. Even Becky acknowledges it in the debut, snorting at her sister, “You’re the obvious choice to take over for Mom. You already live here and you’re a scary little tyrant.” Darlene, of course, takes that as a compliment. The first episode, however, is more Dan-centric, which makes sense given the subject matter.
I’ve seen a second episode of THE CONNERS – not the second episode sequentially, but one that will air next week (Oct. 23). It clearly goes for more laughs than the debut, but again, it wasn’t as Darlene-centric as I believe some people are expecting. Darlene is at the eye of the storm, for sure, but there still seems to be lots of room for the ensemble cast.
Let me put this out there as a hope: Despite the power of the Darlene-Dan-Jackie triumvirate, I think the dark horse in this cast is Goranson’s Becky. In the two episodes I’ve seen, she not only has the best lines, but she also has some meaty issues that will be able to carry episodes if the writers allow it to happen. So my message is, don’t under-use Becky.
If you previously were watching the rebooted ROSEANNE, were you watching it FOR Roseanne, specifically and individually? At times THE CONNERS feels as if the Roseanne character merely is in the other room. As time goes on, that will have to change, either by design or by attrition.
No one said this would be easy. We never promised you a “Rosie” garden. But everyone involved with THE CONNERS has done their best to keep this franchise going in arguably the weirdest circumstance in sitcom history. Now it’s up to viewers to confirm once and for all that family comes first.
THE CONNERS airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/9 p.m. MT on CTV and CTV GO with episodes available for viewing online at CTV.ca, following their television broadcast.