May 21, 2019

"The Conners" Is Better without Roseanne

“ABC’s The Conners, the show formerly known as Roseanne, grapples, textually and extratextually, with the abrupt departure of a larger-than-life personality. In the world of the show, Roseanne Conner has recently died; in the real world, Roseanne Barr was fired for racist comments, following years of virulently hateful, conspiratorial, and generally Trumpian remarks. In the world of the show, Roseanne’s departure is a tragedy. In the real world, it’s just deserts. Even more just: The show works fine without her.

The Conners picks up three months after Roseanne’s death. The family is grieving but functioning, still cracking the sour, black jokes that make their difficulties bearable. (Lots of depressing cable dramas could stand to be reminded that you can take on serious, soul-crushing subjects and keep the jokes.) Aunt Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) won’t stop reorganizing the kitchen, Becky (Alicia Goranson) is avoiding helping in every way she can, Dan (John Goodman) is sleeping on the couch—which is finally being cleaned; gone, for now, is the iconic crocheted blanket—and Darlene (Sara Gilbert) is assuming the mantle of the matriarch.
“You already live here and you’re a scary little tyrant. You’re the obvious choice to take over for Mom,” Becky tells Darlene. “Why are you saying such nice things to me!” Darlene replies, sincerely flattered.

Dan and Darlene— Goodman and Gilbert, really—are now the show’s main characters, a recalibration that gives the entire enterprise a slightly more ensemble feel. Over The Conners’ first two episodes, the cast balloons to include a number of recognizable guest stars, recurring characters, and new faces, like DJ’s wife Geena, on leave from the military. (Maya Lynne Robinson takes over the role as a series regular, replacing Xosha Roquemore.) The plot is maximalist as well. The Conners are contending not only with grief but with addiction, divorce, teen sex, and coming out. It can feel a bit like five “very special episodes” packed into one, but hey, the show is just trying to keep busy.”

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