Spoilers for Roseanne
Though the Roseanne reboot’s announcement was met with excitement, the return of the show has been met with, at the very least, skepticism. While many remember that Roseanne tackled issues within the working class head on, they forget Roseanne Connor’s problematic views, which led to major storylines. Roseanne came from a place of trying to understand, but, due to her background, she wasn’t able to get it.
This was par for the course in most sitcoms until the 2000s. Main characters were allowed to be bigoted and make offensive jokes under the protection of satire or the occasional very special episode. However, times have changed, and that format is no longer acceptable. Audiences find it much harder to root for a charming but bigoted hero, even if they face their own troubles. Standards are simply different.
Fans of shows like Roseanne, or even Cheers, The Drew Carey Show, or any number of sitcoms with working class heroes conveniently forget their favorite characters’ problematic beliefs. This ignorance is accepted because the show was made in a different time. The Cheers episode “The Boys in the Bar” featured Sam and the other characters going on a witch hunt for two gay men in the bar. The characters also worry that Sam’s recent support of a gay former teammate will lead to the bar becoming a gay bar. Though the characters claim to support homosexuality, their views are, at best, complicated. Diane was the only character who remained supportive the entire episode. The episode went on to receive accolades from the Alliance for Gay and Lesbian Artists in the Entertainment Industry.
Would modern audiences root for Sam even though he found a great deal of difficulty in accepting his best friend’s sexuality? Some might, but it also feels like a topic that’s been covered by better and more nuanced storylines. This is the problem also with the new episodes of Roseanne. Her progressive side comes out in regards to her grandson, who prefers dresses and fashion to pants and cars. This is too little too late for the show. This storyline perhaps would have been progressive fifteen years ago, but now it’s something audiences have dealt with before.
There is room for a character like Roseanne Connor: a working class woman who voted for Donald Trump. But it’s not Roseanne. The sitcom style dictates that the characters revert back to normal at the end of each episode. Roseanne claims she voted for Trump because he promised to bring jobs, but that cannot be unentangled from the racist, misogynist vitriol he constantly spews. In an old-school sitcom format, that can’t be addressed in any meaningful way. So far, Roseanne hasn’t shown that she is going to change the genre from its original state. Though the characters tackle their feelings about Mark’s clothing in each episode, by the beginning of the next episode, they’re back to the same uncomfortable jokes.
In 2018, Roseanne cannot continue to only superficially address the main characters’ prejudices. With the current political landscape, it means the show isn’t fresh or compelling anymore. Roseanne’s brand of acceptable ignorance is no longer acceptable. Even though it’s only part way through the season, Roseanne already feels dated.