Where to Watch: Tuesdays on ABC
Premiere: March 27, 8 p.m.ET/7 CT
Stars: Roseanne Barr, John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf
Roseanne Barr’s famous cackle is back on TV, two decades after the original show once watched by 20 million left the air, and the reboot's really good — though not for the reason you might think from the early publicity, which emphasizes the family feud over the Trump election.
Yes, there’s a "Make America Great Again" hat to go with the Elvis commemorative plate on the wall of the Conner family’s blue-collar Illinois home, and Roseanne and her pussy-hat-wearing liberal sister, Jackie (Laurie Metcalf, AARP’s Movies for Grownups supporting actress award winner), do squabble over the election.
Of course they would, and their spat is skillfully composed by original Roseanne writers. “Aunt Jackie thinks every girl should grow up and be president, even if they’re a liar, liar, pants suit on fire,” teases Roseanne.
But actually, politics is the least important and funny thing about the eight-episode revival. What’s most important is that, except for new, grownup problems we can identify with — Roseanne and John Goodman now contend with aches, pains and prescription-drug costs— everything is the same as it used to be.
And, of course, it would be, because the perpetually strapped blue-collar Conner clan can’t afford a new afghan for the couch, let alone a new couch. “It’s a decorating choice called poverty,” as daughter Darlene (Sara Gilbert) cracks to her ex, David (Johnny Galecki) — though Darlene should talk, she’s more broke than her mom. She’s moved back home with her two kids.
Darlene still fights hilariously with her sister, Becky (Lecy Goranson), slinging barbs like, “The only reason you look younger than me is because you’re embalmed in Mike’s Hard Lemonade.” But Becky, a widowed waitress, claims she’s younger than she is, and an infertile woman wants to pay her $50,000 to bear a baby for her. (In an in-joke, the woman is played by Sarah Chalke, who played the Becky role after Goranson left the show.)
But some things never change. Life is tough when you’re lower middle class, and peevish jokes will get you through. D.J. (Michael Fishman), back from military duty overseas, asks his mom if she gets points on her credit card. “We get threats — is that the same thing?” Roseanne replies.
Even Sandra Bernhard is back as a family friend, and Estelle Parsons returns as Roseanne and Jackie’s mom.
The focus on Roseanne’s politics is understandable, since she’s a noisy if eccentric Trump supporter on Twitter, and, after all, she may have been the first public person to urge him to run for president, when he was on her late-'90s talk show. She ran for president herself in real life and got more than half as many votes as Trump won by. And the Conners’ clash does reflect what’s going on in America today.
But Roseanne was never exactly like All in the Family, a vehicle to air political disputes. It felt like a real family, more natural than Archie, Edith, Gloria and Meathead did. Nobody before Roseanne ever dared to make a TV family so unsentimentally non-idealized, living from paycheck to paycheck, skewering one another with zingers that hurt, using wit to cut the pain (and to cut down egos).
Shot before a live audience, the new Roseanne still feels like a spontaneous visit to a warm, loving home with real problems. Somebody in the family is stealing opioids, which is inconvenient, because as Roseanne complains, “My knee is holding a gun to my head.” Darlene’s 9-year-old, Mark (Ames McNamara), wants to wear girls’ clothes to school because “I like colors that pop.”
This Roseanne could have been depressing, like a tour by an old rock band that's lost its touch and forgotten the lyrics. The first episode does have a few wobbles, as it tries to cram in slightly too much social commentary. But in the second half hour (which airs right after the first on March 27), the cast and writers find the groove again, and a third episode provided for critics is better, too. Roseanne is a golden oldie, but its themes are still ripped from today’s headlines and turned into real people's problems. What's more, it has the crucial element for great nostalgia: It’s good enough to win new fans who never saw the original.