You know when you have lunch with an old friend and pick up right where you left off? The weeks, months, even years since you last talked slip away. “It’s like we saw each other yesterday,” you marvel.
More than any other TV show in this revival-palooza we’re experiencing, that’s exactly how the 10th season of Roseanne feels. The kids are older. So are Dan (John Goodman) and Roseanne (Roseanne Barr). There are new offspring. But the kitchen table is still there. As is the iconic crochet blanket, Barr’s signature cackle and Darlene’s (Sarah Gilbert) sardonic commentary. Quite wonderfully, it feels as if we’ve never left the Connor family.
When Darlene’s adolescent daughter, Harris (Emma Kenney), screams at her mom, “You’re ruining my life!” Dan laughs, “I haven’t seen that movie in 20 years… the classics really do hold up.” That exchange sums up the series. It doesn’t feel like the characters have been in a state of arrested development (talking to you, Will & Grace) since we last saw them—we’re just dropping back in to check on them. In the interceding years, their lives have moved on. We simply weren’t there to see it.
Darlene has moved back into the Connor home with her two children—the aforementioned Harris (who was born when the original series ended in 1997, so the math doesn’t quite work, but I’m letting it slide) and nine-year-old Mark (Ames McNamara). Becky (Lecy Goranson) is a money-strapped waitress who is going to be a surrogate for Andrea (Sarah Chalke, who took over the role of Becky when Goranson left the series in the fifth season to attend college). DJ (Michael Fishman) is home after serving in Syria and raising his daughter, Mary (Jayden Rey) while his wife is still in service overseas. Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) is now a life coach and a pink hat-wearing “nasty woman.” There’s even mention of Jerry, the baby born to Roseanne and Dan in the show’s penultimate season (I had totally forgotten about his character. Sorry, Jerry). Apparently he’s on a fishing boat and unreachable. Whatever. He was a baby then, so it’s not like we miss him now.
Like many fans, I’ve blocked the series’ disastrous, lottery-winning ninth season from my memory. And that’s OK, because Roseanne has, too. Dan has not, in fact, died of a heart attack: The series gets that out of the way right at the top with Roseanne waking up a sleeping Dan with, “I thought you were dead.” There are a few other inside jokes in the premiere, but the show quickly moves on and doesn’t wallow in them.
What has gotten lost somewhat in the 21 years since Roseanne ended is how groundbreaking it was. Barr’s larger-than-life cult of personality has eclipsed what the show accomplished. During its run, the series talked about teen sexuality, birth control, domestic violence, homophobia and racism while discussing the real financial hardships the family faced. In the three new episodes made available for review, Roseanne once again does not cower from current events and taboo topics. Mark likes to wear “colors that pop” and paint his nails, something that gets him teased at school and makes his grandfather uncomfortable. In the premiere, Jackie and Roseanne explicitly debate politics. Roseanne voted for Trump (“He talked about jobs, Jackie!” she says), while Jackie was a Clinton supporter. What the show does so well is give both those points of view credence. Neither side is viewed as dumb. It’s easy to make fun of a Trump voter. It’s not as easy to portray them as thoughtful people who believed they were making the right choice. This perspective may be straightforward for Barr, who is an outspoken Trump supporter. But her on-screen alter ego is more tempered than she is in real life.
For her part, Gilbert perfected the art of the perfect put-down long ago. (Sidebar, I just spent 15 minutes looking for the exact wording of this Darlene quote which has been seared in my memory since 1992: “Just stop right there, Ponyboy. You and the rest of your Outsiders can go rumble someplace else.”) And she’s got plenty of great lines in the revival (“Unfortunately, Walmart doesn’t have any openings in the English Lit department.”) But what Gilbert really excels at this time around is her character’s softer, more vulnerable moments. When Mark tells her that no one played with him at school, the crushed look that crosses Gilbert’s face will go straight to your heart. “You’ll have to hang in there until people figure out weird is cool,” she tells her son. Johnny Galecki, who played Darlene’s boyfriend and husband David on the original series, is set to return for one episode this season, which should help explain why Darlene is now a single mom (and hopefully the reason is better than “Because you dad is now the star of The Big Bang Theory.”)
The writing remains as sharp as ever. (“Dad, would you tell Mom how stupid she’s being?” Darlene asks. “That’s never worked out for me,” Dan replies.) This is the role Barr was born to play and she’s so happy that it’s impossible not to enjoy the show. She and Goodman resonate as grandparents and retirees just trying to get by. Two decades has not diminished their rapport. Metcalf is a delight. Everyone has fallen gracefully back into their roles. I think it says something good about the series that everyone, no matter what their current degree of fame, wanted to return.
The series airs Tuesday night in tandem with The Middle, which is in the midst of its final season. It seems fitting that The Middle, which kicked off the current family comedy boom, should end just as Roseanne, which clearly inspired The Middle, is returning. Let the cackling commence.
Roseanne premieres Tuesday, March 27 at 8 p.m. on ABC.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .