Life goes on in Lan­ford

‘The Con­ners’ brings back beloved char­ac­ters

The Sentinel-Record - - COVER STORY - By Kyla Brewer

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 rolling­, 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 co­par­ent­ing 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

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