THE CONNERS MOVE ON
Family regroups without Roseanne
NEW YORK Can there be a Roseanne without Roseanne? The answer is yes. There can even be a pretty good sitcom. And you might not miss her that much.
ABC on Tuesday night aired the first episode of The Conners, a spinoff of Roseanne without Roseanne Barr. An overdose of pain pills may be the explanation for the contentious comedian’s absence from the Conner dining table, but she still haunts it, at least in the new show’s pilot.
The writers — Bruce Helford, Bruce Rasmussen and Dave Caplan — have done an absolutely masterful job of tackling a postBarr world, confronting sadness, cynicism and hopefulness in just the right amount of proportions.
They’ve accomplished that without the main reason people once tuned in. Barr was the show’s gravitational pull, the hurler of barbs in that accusatory, whiny voice.
The trio of John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf and Sara Gilbert raises its acting game, turning the first episode into something like a one-act play, albeit a comedy written by Arthur Miller.
The pilot begins three weeks after Roseanne’s funeral, with the family still coming to grips with its loss in its own trademark way with off-colour barbs. “I’m tired of crying. And laughing inappropriately is what Mom taught us to do,” Lecy Goranson’s Becky says.
Goodman has never been better, showing his tender and angry sides underneath that bluster and gruff, while an aching Gilbert tears up at one point, freed from her usual rat-a-tat-tat joke demands. And you can feel Metcalf ’s yawning grief at the loss of her sister as she goes on a manic cleaning binge. “I don’t want to go home,” she wails “I don’t want to leave this house because I don’t want to leave her.”
We learn that Roseanne had multiple pain-pill suppliers and was stashing stockpiles all over the house. “Who am I supposed to be mad at now?” Dan asks. For his part, Dan also starts to deal with his discomfort with homosexuality, in the end sitting down with his gender non-conforming grandson to help him pick a potential boyfriend.
One thing noticeably absent from the first episode: politics. There’s no Donald Trump, no Hillary Clinton, no Washington. The fission of red state-versusblue state infighting that made the reboot of Roseanne such a flashpoint is gone. Viewers are left with a blue-collar family worried about bill collectors and military deployments. Barr’s absence makes sense since her addiction to opioids was a prominent storyline in last season’s reboot. ABC fired Barr from Roseanne after she posted a racist tweet (she later apologized). Barr said she agreed to the spinoff — and not to take any money from it — to save the jobs of 200 cast and crew members idled when Roseanne was cancelled.
Roseanne was always masterful at quickly popping its own moments of emotional sweetness with a wry, sardonic needle, basically and gleefully mocking the traditional sitcom formula. The Conners stays in that tradition.
When Jackie, who in one scene is putting away kitchen tools, tearfully hugs Darlene in the kitchen, the younger woman admits: “It hurts.” Jackie responds: “I know, hon. It’s going to hurt for quite a while.”
“No,” replies Darlene, “Corn holders in my shoulder.”
The first episode mixes boob jokes and poignant scenes. The swirling credits and harmonica theme song that plays when family members gather around the kitchen table now comes at the end without Barr’s throaty laugh.
The Conners, which premièred this week, stars Maya Lynne Robinson, left, Jayden Rey, Michael Fishman, John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf, Sara Gilbert, Emma Kenney, Ames McNamara and Lecy Goranson.