The politics of "Roseanne" are uncomfortable, and that's exactly why you need to keep watching it
Months before ABC’s Roseanne reboot aired its first episode, much was made of the fact that, like the show’s real-life creator, the character of Roseanne Conner voted for Donald Trump. For many loyal fans of the original series, myself included, it was a revelation that forced me to ask a tough question: Can I, in good conscience, support a show that seems to support the current administration’s dangerous agenda? Can I tune in and laugh along with a woman who unabashedly spouts her pro-Trump values to anyone who cares to listen? Should I be listening?
But, knowing that comedian Whitney Cummings and actress Sara Gilbert, who plays Darlene Conner, were the driving forces behind the reboot, I trusted my gut and tuned in to see the Conners return to primetime television in two back-to-back 30-minute episodes that reminded me what was so great about the original series: It’s uncomfortable, unflinching honesty.
Like in real-life America, the politics of the Roseanne reboot are strained and disagreeable and, frankly, embarrassing, but it’s precisely because of that reason that viewers, especially white viewers, should keep watching it.
In the first episode of the rebooted series, viewers learn Roseanne Conner and her beloved and, according to Dan (John Goodman), clingy sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) are in the fight of their lives. It is quickly revealed that the women haven’t talked since the presidential election, in which Roseanne voted for Donald Trump, and Jackie voted for what seems to be Hillary Clinton, but is later disclosed to be Jill Stein.
When the sister are finally in the same room, Jackie greets Roseanne with a “What’s up, deplorable?” and Roseanne chastises her for voting for a “liar, liar, pantsuit on fire.” Through the entire episode, jokes were made on both sides. There was shade thrown at liberals and conservatives alike, so it seems unfair to pin down the episode as either “pro-Trump” or “anti-Trump,” the two camps America seems to have fallen into post-2016. Instead, it operates in the gray area in between, and asks its viewers to examine the political divisiveness in the Conner family, and in their own.
Once upon a time, Roseanne Conner was the kind of woman who would called out the sexist behavior of the men around her, the kind of employee who stood up to her boss at the plastic factory and lead a workers strike, the kind of mother who outwardly told her son racism was wrong. Now, both her TV persona and the real woman behind the character openly, unapologetically, support a man who has proudly insulted women on Twitter, allegedly doesn’t pay his employees, and brags about sexually assaulting women.
Why the seemingly unexpected twist? “He talked about jobs,” or at least that is what Roseanne tells her sister Jackie when they finally face each other about the election. “I should learn to understand why you voted the crazy way you did,” she responds, and in that moment, the goal of the Roseanne reboot is clear:
To get American families communicating about the things that draw them apart, the politics that divide them, and the morals they aren’t willing to compromise.
The truth of the matter is, people — especially people like the Conners — don’t fit into neat little boxes or adhere to specific labels 100% of the time. This rebooted sitcoms forces viewers to confront that fact, and face the limitations of their own categorizations, both of themselves and others.
Is the new season of Roseanne perfect? Not even close. In fact, in its caricatures of both conservatives and liberals, the sitcom is in danger of further normalizing some incredibly problematic stereotypes. The casual way it handles DJ’s biracial daughter and Darlene’s skirt-wearing son can feel forced and inauthentic, like these very real identities are only there to serve as the punchline to jokes. The fact that Roseanne seems to support Trump for economic reasons, and is so willing to overlook his bigotry, sexism, and racism because of it, sets a dangerous example that cannot be ignored. Underneath its flaws, or maybe because of its flaws, the Roseanne reboot is a very real, although very white, picture of modern American politics.
Whitney Cummings has defended the show’s choice to lean political, reiterating during last night’s premiere that Roseanne doesn’t have a specific agenda. “See,” she said in a tweet accompanied by a picture of Jackie dressed in all pink, a NASTY WOMAN shirt plastered across her chest and a pussy hat proudly resting on her head, “This is not a pro-Trump show.”
Maybe Roseanne isn’t a pro-Trump show, but it is a political one that is inspiring a complicated conversation in households across the country (albeit, mostly white.) At any rate, viewers can’t look away, not yet at least. Two episodes in, and Roseanne is already attempting to help American families navigate their differences, political, moral, and otherwise.
I don’t know what comes next, but I do know one thing: no matter how much it makes me squirm in my chair, the Roseanne reboot is worth watching, if only because of the kinds of conversations it forces us to have.