It's no wonder shows like Roseanne (and Will & Grace) are making a comeback. They were among the original cultural commentaries on classism, sexism, racism and homophobia in America that mainstream white audiences paid attention to. Particularly The Roseanne Show which portrayed a working class family without any of the bells and whistles. The show resisted depicting a manicured mom with a magically hot bod and a lifestyle that afforded her endless amounts of time to perfect and dote over her well decorated home while her children somehow made themselves scarce. There was certainly no breadwinning TV husband dripping in masculinity, money, and muscles that he maintained on his lunch break (is that how those TV dads do it?). And of course, there was rarely an episode that ended leaving audiences feeling like, hmmm I would just kill for a house and family dynamic like the Conners. Nope, there was just an average working class family who knew that they were white, straight, and out of shape.
So if didn't offer us the seductive escape that many weeknight TV comedies secure their ratings with, why was it such a success? To answer this question, we have to answer the question, what's in it for the viewers?
Before it was cool for white people to support Black Lives (and way before Barack was a household name), before celebrities were publicly supporting gay rights, or bringing awareness to domestic violence, The Roseanne Show was among the first to discuss taboo TV topics such as teen sex, domestic Violence, abortion, depression, racism, and homophobia. This show called attention to major political topics by de-politicizing them, and simply talking about how they were affected by them as a family. Instead of pretending (like pretty much every single white sitcom on TV) that their family was color blind, in, 1994, The Roseanne Show has their middle school son DJ come home and explain his refusal to kiss a Black girl at his school. The episode is boundary breaking in the sense that Dan and Roseanne, DJ's parents, take this opportunity to look at their unexamined racism. They ask themselves, 'did we make our son racist'? This was decades before Black Lives Matter, and decades before white people on TV were even beginning to acknowledge their roles in perpetuating racism. Another boundary breaking moment, four years before Ellen DeGeneres made out with her on-screen girlfriend and came-out on national TV, Roseanne shared an on screen kiss with her co-star Mariel Hemingway.
In a time when we are as politically divided as ever, and some might even say politically desperate, viewers undoubtedly are craving a sense of humanity, and what better way to experience this, than bringing back the Conners to weeknight TV. In 2017, after a long day of office politics, micro-aggressions, emotional labor, and CNN Breaking News Updates, middle class families want to see themselves accurately represented on TV. They no longer can afford to be completely tuned out, and The Roseanne Show offers them a way to recognize both their struggles and successes as a modern family. Bring on the Conners!
'Roseanne' returning to ABC for eight-episode run in 2018
By Rachel Hall, Rachel has a Masters in Cultural Gender Studies, and a BA in Communication & Culture, is a Certified Life Coach, and can often be found hiding in her laundry room from her two children. More about her on her website.
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