Fam­ily re­groups with­out Roseanne

Calgary Herald - - YOU - MARK KENNEDY

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.

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