Look Who's Talking Today: The reboot of the "Roseanne" series debuted on March 27.
Roxane Gay says she wasn't planning to watch, but decided to do so anyway. After we read her New York Times column about the frightening experience, we decided to take a look too.
We watched the first, half-hour episode of the rebooted series. Among other things, here's what we found:
As currently constituted, the Conner family resembles half of Noah's ark. It seems to have exactly one of each living thing.
It has a black grandchild. It has a semi-gay-seeming grandchild.
It has a newly unemployed daughter. It has a second daughter who's going to be a surrogate mother. That second daughter is a widow because her husband died of a heroin overdose.
It has one politically stereotypical sister who voted for Donald J. Trump. She's balanced by a politically stereostypical sister who voted for Jill Stein, even though she loved Hillary Clinton.
The show has one pink pussy hat, which the Stein voter wears. We're told that the show was filmed before a live audience, although we found ourselves forced to guess that a laugh track was present too.
We've almost never watched sitcoms. We liked Roseanne Barr the person, a lot, when we spent a few days around her back in 1986. But when her sitcom first aired in 1987, we don't think we watched it more than a couple of times, perhaps never all the way through.
In the current instance, the show made us think of the type of classic film where every species of humanity is trapped together on an airplane which is going to crash, or on a ship which is going to sink, or in a stagecoach scarily crossing the west, or perhaps at Rick's Cafe.
This formula can produce strong results. In Stagecoach (1939), John Wayne became a star in the film in which The Duke stood up for the lady. In Casablanca (1942), the formula produced an accidentally brilliant portrait of the human condition, in which we wait...and wait...and wait, generally doing the best we can, in the rare instance surprising ourselves by rising to the occasion, sometimes as a group.
The Epstein brothers were major scriptwriters. The gods plainly scripted that film, which was leavened with so much beautiful, human-loving humor.
We'll guess that Roseanne's new sitcom won't turn out that well. That said, if it's a bomb you're hoping for, you can jump the line by reading Gay's column about her frightening viewing experience.
Inside the cafe of worried liberal "Roseanne" watchers, Gay became one of the first to express her fears. If you want to know why we liberals are forced to hope that a bunch of high school kids will be able to save us, Gay's opening passage would be a good place to start.
Hard-copy headline included. Seriously though, people—Boo!
GAY (4/10/18): 'Roseanne' Is Funny. And Scary.Did Gay write her own headline, as Times columnists supposedly do?
It can be very difficult to separate the art from the artist. In the case of Roseanne Barr and her critically acclaimed television show based on her life, it is nearly impossible. I wasn’t going to watch the reboot because I find Ms. Barr noxious, transphobic, racist and small-minded. Whatever charm and intelligence she brought to the first nine seasons of her show, a show I very much loved, are absolutely absent in her current persona, particularly as it manifests on Twitter. She is a supporter of Donald Trump, vocalizing her thoughts about making America great, claiming that with her vote, she was trying to shake things up. She tweets conspiracy theories, rails against feminism and shares Islamophobic opinions.
Where once she was edgy and provocative, she is now absurd and offensive. Her views are muddled and incoherent. She is more invested in banal and shallow provocation than engaging with sociopolitical issues in a thoughtful manner. No amount of mental gymnastics can make what Roseanne Barr has said and done in recent years palatable.
Nonetheless, I was curious about what Roseanne Conner, her famous television alter ego, has been up to. The original “Roseanne” was a smart, hilarious and groundbreaking show that covered a lot of important ground in prime-time television. I wanted to see how the Conners were doing 20 years later.
What I found is that the tensions in the TV show—which more than 18 million people watched, a network TV high since 2014—are the same tensions that shape this current political climate. Roseanne the character voted for Donald Trump because he talked about “jobs.” For that she sacrificed so many other things. The promise of jobs and the myth of the white working class as the only people struggling in this country, which animates so much of our present political moment, are right there, in this sitcom.
We don't know the answer to that. That said, the reason Gay finds this sitcom "scary" seems to reside, in substantial part, in that final highlighted point, where Gay says, on the basis of two half-hour episodes, that the new series advances "the myth of the white working class as the only people struggling in this country."
Because we didn't find the first episode funny, and because it didn't exactly strike us as "art," we only watched one of those half-hour programs. That said, we'll have to admit we didn't feel that the program we watched was advancing any such myth, and we find it hard to believe that the second episode could have done a whole lot to advance it either.
How would a sitcom advance such a myth? We're not sure we know, nor does Gay really attempt to explain. All in all, we liberals no longer bother. We just stamp our feet at each other, loudly shouting "Boo!"
Why is the progressive world forced to hope that a bunch of high school kids will be able to provide the leadership we adults can't muster, helped along by the heroism of an adult film star who wanted to f**k and tell, needless to say for cash?
With respect to Gay, the problem starts with the silly idea that the two programs she watched were "art," and that their featured performer was an "artist." If you're willing to start by swallowing that, it's straight downhill from there!
We liked Roseanne Barr the person, a lot, back in 86. Since then, she has apparently advanced a lot of infelicitous ideas, though we aren't current on that to the extent that Gay may be.
There may well be lessons to learn from the false or "noxious" ideas Roseanne Barr the person may have expressed. We remember being disappointed when she grabbed her crotch while singing the Star Spangled Anthem so poorly—disappointed because massive fame can do lots of harm, and it looked like it might be doing some harm to her, a person we'd very much liked.
Why does the current person believe some of the things she may believe? We don't know, but that question strikes us as very important. Over the past thirty years, our politics has been eaten alive by weird, absurd and false belief, and if we hope to right our sinking ship, we'll have to come to terms with the idiocracy in which we all now reside.
That said, when it comes to silly beliefs, how about Gay, and how about us Over Here? Did two episodes of "Roseanne" really advance "the myth of the white working class as the only people struggling in this country?"
To us, that seems a bit hard to believe, but it has Gay scared. That said, we liberals now tend to see these Trumpian monsters under every bed. Please don't interview Them!
However silly or even "noxious" Roseanne the person may have become, she can't be much sillier than We are Over here. This became clear in an essay on the front page of the Washington Post's Outlook section this Sunday.
Matched with the earlier effort by Gay, that column helps explain why broken, frightened people like us have to hope that Emma and the rest of the kids will be able to bail us out.
Tomorrow: Additional frightened thoughts, this time in the Post