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'Roseanne' Episodes That Will Make You Think

No topic was off limits in the original Connor household

Roseanne Barr and Mariel Hemingway

Everett Collection

Roseanne Barr and Mariel Hemingway in a 1994 episode, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Roseanne returns to ABC on March 27, when we'll meet a whole new generation of Connors. All of the original cast members are back (including both Beckys), led, of course, by Roseanne Barr and her on-screen husband played by John Goodman. From its start in 1988, the show was best known for its true-to-life portrayal of working-class America and for tackling controversial topics head-on. From domestic violence to mental illness to racism, the show addressed issues with wit, authenticity and tenderness. We unearthed some of the classics in which the writers and cast dealt with subject matter that was ahead of its time and is still relevant today. You can find episodes from Roseanne's first run on TV Land, Amazon Prime, Netflix and iTunes. 

Taxes

Roseanne and Dan race against the clock to get their income taxes done, only to find out they may be in over their heads; the government tax forms are just too complicated. “I give up. What language is this?” says a frustrated Roseanne. They head down to the local IRS office for help and encounter a few odd characters. It's an amusing critique of the U.S. tax system that may resonate even more this year, as taxpayers wrestle with recent changes. "April Fool’s Day" (Season 2, Episode 22; aired April 10, 1990)

Mansplaining

Roseanne dresses up as a man for Halloween and gets into acting like one of the guys at the local bar. While the episode provides a humorous peek into men’s thinking and behavior, it also sheds light on the more crude and unnerving ways of masculinity."Trick or Treat" (Season 3, Episode 7; aired Oct. 30, 1990)

Teen Sex

Seventeen-year-old Becky asks Roseanne and Jackie to help her get birth control, signaling she’s ready to have sex with boyfriend Mark — only for them to find out Becky and Mark have already done the deed. Roseanne and Dan grapple with the fact that their little girl is becoming a woman. "A Bitter Pill to Swallow" (Season 4, Episode 1; aired Sept. 17, 1991) 

Lecy Goranson with Sara Gilbert and Roseanne Barr

Everett Collection

From top left: Lecy Goranson, Roseanne Barr and Sara Gilbert in "Darlene Fades To Black"

Depression

Darlene vegs out on the couch, wears black and wants to be left alone. In 2018 we’d say she was depressed, but in 1991 the Connors couldn’t seem to figure out what was bringing Darlene down. They never find out why, but the show hinted that her behavior was more than typical teenage moodiness. "Darlene Fades to Black" (Season 4, Episode 4; aired Oct. 8, 1991) 

Domestic Violence

In this two-part episode, the family encounters domestic violence when they discover Jackie’s boyfriend, Fisher, has been physically abusing her. In retaliation, Dan beats up Fisher and gets arrested. Jackie is in denial and wracked with guilt and self-blame — all characteristics of victims of domestic violence. "Crime and Punishment "(Season 5, Episode 13; aired Jan. 5, 1993) and "War and Peace" (Season 5, Episode 14; aired Jan. 12, 1993)

John Goodman and Roseanne Barr

Everett Collection

John Goodman and Roseanne Barr in "A Stash From the Past"

Recreational Drugs

A stash of marijuana is found in the house, and David gets blamed. However, Dan reminds Roseanne the pot is hers from 20 years ago. Roseanne, Dan and Jackie take a trip down memory lane and decide to partake in the leftover weed. Marijuana was illegal (even for medicinal use) in the U.S. at the time, so seeing the three light up and take a toke was a perfect example of Roseanne’s defiant spirit. "A Stash From the Past" (Season 6, Episode 4; aired Oct. 5, 1993)

Homosexuality

Roseanne and Jackie’s night out at a gay bar with Nancy (Sandra Bernhard) and her girlfriend Sharon (Mariel Hemingway) takes a hot and heavy turn when Sharon unexpectedly kisses Roseanne. The aftermath of the kiss causes Roseanne to grapple with her own homophobia. When Nancy calls her out on her hypocrisy, Roseanne asserts: “I have friends that are way gayer than you!” 

At a time when homosexuality was taboo, the kiss between the two women caused quite a stir, with plenty of public chatter both for and against the episode — not to mention increased tension between ABC and Barr (Roseanne Arnold at the time). Two ABC affiliates did not air the episode. In the end, according to ABC, the feedback was favorable, with 30 million viewers tuning in, and the controversy was what people came to accept as part of the show. "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell"(Season 6, Episode 18; aired March 1, 1994) 

Mental Illness

With Dan’s mom in a mental institution, this episode put mental illness in the spotlight. Dan has to deal with the impact of his mother’s condition on his life — especially his relationship with his dad. There was plenty of comic fodder to go around about mental illness, but the seriousness of the topic was not diminished. In fact, we see Dan at his most volatile and vulnerable as he deals with the situation. "Lies My Father Told Me" (Season 6, Episode 21; aired March 29, 1994)  

Racism

D.J. refuses to kiss a girl in the school play because she’s black. Roseanne and Dan explore their own prejudices and wonder if he picked up racist beliefs from them. Roseanne’s bias is put to test at the diner when she denies entry to an African American man. Jackie assures her it wasn’t about race. Roseanne isn’t so sure. "White Men Can’t Kiss" (Season 7, Episode 9; aired Nov. 16, 1994) 

Abortion

Roseanne weighs whether to abort her pregnancy due to medical complications. The episode focused on a woman’s right to make decisions for her own body and how much say her partner has in the matter. Roseanne’s pro-choice stance is pretty clear here. "Maybe Baby" (Season 7, Episode 11; aired Nov. 30, 1994)

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