Life goes on in Lanford: ‘The Conners’ brings back beloved characters
Sitcoms are a staple of prime time, peppering just about every night of the week. But few of this season’s sitcoms have generated as much buzz as “The Conners.”
Since losing his wife, Dan Conner (John Goodman, “The Big Lebowski,” 1998) has been soldiering on as the head of the household in “The Conners,” which airs Tuesday, Nov. 13, on ABC. The show is a spinoff of ABC’s “Roseanne,” a comedy about a working-class family in the fictional small town of Lanford, Illinois, which aired from 1988 to 1997, and again last spring in a much lauded revival.
“Roseanne” centered on Conner family matriarch Roseanne (Roseanne Barr, “The Roseanne Barr Show”), but a now-famous racist Tweet from the comedian about Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to former president Barack Obama, prompted ABC to cancel that show in May, despite its stellar ratings. Three weeks after Barr was ousted from the series, the network announced plans for a spinoff featuring all of the original cast with the exception of Barr.
Fans and critics wondered how “The Conners” would fare without the actress, but so far, things are looking good for the comedy. In a review of the show’s debut episode on rollingstone.com, TV critic Alan Sepinwall expressed hope for the new incarnation of the series sans the controversial comedian.
“There are enough sturdy characters and performances here to move on without her,” wrote Sepinwall, “and the premiere felt more focused than many of the episodes from the spring.”
In addition to Goodman, Sara Gilbert (“The Talk”) returns as Dan and Roseanne’s youngest daughter, Darlene, who’s set to take on an even larger role in “The Conners.” Original series star Alicia Goranson (“Boys Don’t Cry,” 1999) is back as the eldest, Becky, and Michael Fishman (“Undrafted,” 2016) once again appears as Roseanne and Dan’s son, D.J. Emmy winner Laurie Metcalf (“The Big Bang Theory”), who was a breakout star of the original show, reprises her role as Roseanne’s flighty sister, Jackie, in “The Conners.”
The cast of the new comedy also includes a number of performers who weren’t part of the original series but appeared in last spring’s revival. Emma Kenney (“Shameless”) portrays Darlene’s daughter, Harris Conner-Healy. Ames McNamara (“At Home With Amy Sedaris”) portrays Darlene’s son, Mark. Their father is Darlene’s ex, David, played by Johnny Galecki (“The Big Bang Theory”), who will guest star in the show. Young actress Jayden Rey (“Unforgettable”) plays D.J.’s daughter, Mary, while Maya Lynne Robinson (“Mom”) stars as D.J.’s wife, Geena.
As far as the ratings go, the debut of “The Conners” performed fairly well against the competition, drawing more than 10 million viewers. The show may not have reached the peak of the revival’s debut ratings last spring, which attracted 18.44 million initial viewers, but the premiere was still among the top-rated shows of the night, behind only CBS’s “NCIS” in its time-slot. Interestingly, the spinoff’s premiere was on par with the spring finale of “Roseanne,” so it looks as if plenty of fans are still interested in the Conners’ story.
Just like its predecessor, “The Conners” is set to tackle hard-hitting subjects as the Conners work through their grief after the death of Roseanne from an accidental opioid overdose. The debut addressed not only the subject of opioid addiction and abuse in America but also the desperate lengths underinsured, financially strapped people may go to as they try to compensate for their lack of coverage. Roseanne, as it was discovered in the premiere, was part of a neighborhood network of people who would trade and share medicine. After the show’s debut, Barr was critical of how her character was killed off, saying the opioid overdose “lent an unnecessary grim and morbid dimension to an otherwise happy family show,” in an official statement on Facebook with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.
During its 10-episode first season, “The Conners” is expected to continue the conversation about a variety of issues facing working-class Americans. Along with typical family dilemmas such as financial strain and co-parenting tensions, the show will look at gender issues through the eyes of Dan’s gender non-conforming grandson, Mark.
The future success of the series rests very much on the shoulders of the cast, particularly the very capable shoulders of Goodman. He won a Best Actor Golden Globe for his work as Dan during the original series run and went on to enjoy a successful film career, often collaborating with acclaimed filmmakers the Coen Brothers. His credits include “O Brother, Where Art Thou” (2000), “Monsters, Inc.” (2001) and “10 Cloverfield Lane” (2016).
Recurring characters from the original series will also appear in the show’s debut season, including stage legend Estelle Parsons (“Bonnie & Clyde,” 1967) as Roseanne and Jackie’s mother, Beverly. Natalie West (“The Poker House,” 2008) reprises her role as Roseanne’s friend Crystal and James Pickens Jr. (“Grey’s Anatomy”) is expected to appear as family friend Chuck Mitchell.
As the Conners and their friends forge ahead through their grief, life will go on in Lanford, and the family will once again tackle challenges with love and laughter. Check in with Dan and his brood in a new episode of “The Conners,” airing Tuesday, Nov. 13, on ABC.
“The Conners” star John Goodman