February 22, 2019

Critic’s Notebook: How to Save ‘The Conners’ From Roseanne

Show Middle America. All of It.

A lot of the talk around “Roseanne” focused on ABC’s decision, after the 2016 election, to develop shows about life in the country between the coasts. That was a good idea, in that TV is better when it tells all kinds of different stories, geographically, demographically and otherwise. But the execution was an issue.

A lot of media outlets struggling to cover the country in the Trump era fell into the trap of acting like “middle America” and “working class” meant one thing: conservative, nostalgic, older white people watching Fox News in diners. If you didn’t fit that mold — if you were one of the millions of Midwesterners of color, or one of the liberals that make purple states purple — you didn’t exist.

“Roseanne” complicated that picture somewhat: Roseanne’s sister, Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) was a liberal and Darlene and family returned from deep-blue Chicago. But it slanted its focus toward its title character and her “economic anxiety” self-justifications. Now it has a chance to spread the attention around, within the family and beyond. Remember Roseanne’s Muslim neighbors, Samir and Fatima (Alain Washnevsky and Anne Bedian)? How about making them recurring characters, with stories and challenges that have to do with things besides just being Muslim neighbors?

Keep the Politics Personal

I have no problem with politics in entertainment, because there’s a lot of politics in life. But “Roseanne” — both in the 1990s and in the revival — did its best work reflecting politics as lived experience: bills, health care, discrimination on the job.

The revival’s weakest episodes were its most on-the-surface takes on politics (the bad blood between Roseanne and Jackie over the election) and social hot buttons (Islamophobia). It’s not that sitcoms shouldn’t do this. It’s that the stories tried to turn “Roseanne,” unsuccessfully, into something it never was: a kind of modern-day “All in the Family” (something “The Carmichael Show,” for instance, did well).

I don’t know how much of that approach was driven by the writers, by Ms. Barr or by the writers deciding that they had to confront all the extratextual issues raised by Ms. Barr. But a post-Roseanne “Conners” has a chance to reset.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/22/arts/television/roseanne-the-conners-abc.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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