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TV Series Review

Her name might not be in the title anymore. But make no mistake: The Conners—at least in its opening stanza—is still all about Roseanne.

How could it not be? After all, the show's original iteration was built around Roseanne Barr, who moved her earthy, sometimes crass standup comedy into a network sitcom and struck ratings gold. Roseanne originally ran for nine seasons, and it ranked at or near the top of the Nielsen ratings for most of its run. TV Guide declared it one of its "50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time."

The show eventually imploded, of course, in a barrage of ludicrous plot twists. (Barr's never done anything by half measures.) But no matter: As the 20th century became the 21st, and network hegemony gave way to the fractured television landscape of today, ABC turned its attention back to one of yesteryear's greatest hits and put Roseanne back on the air.

At first, it felt like old times. Even the show's ratings were logging lofty pre-cable, pre-streaming numbers. Then Barr fired off an insulting, seemingly racist tweet, and it was all over. Roseanne was no more.

You'd think ABC would've shuttered the whole enterprise, right? Once the cornerstone's gone, the whole building's bound to fall, right?

But ABC is made of sterner (or perhaps more delusional) stuff than that. Welcome to The Conners, or Roseanne without Roseanne. Here, we learn there's some truth to that old adage: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Everything and the Afghan

In the show's latest incarnation, Roseanne Conner is dead. Not for pretendsies, as her hubby Dan apparently was during the show's 1997 season, but for real—the victim of an opioid overdose. The surviving members of the Conner clan must somehow move on. But that's not easy, given Roseanne's outsized presence. Indeed, it takes two to really give the Conners a familial anchor.

Middle child Darlene, who moved back home last season, is already a single parent of two kids: Harris, a teen girl, and Mark, a cross-dressing lad "exploring his sexual identity." Now she begins to assume the role of the family's caregiver, as well, reining in her flighty sister, Becky, and coping with her well-meaning (but tightly wound) aunt, Jackie.

Meanwhile, Dan's trying to adjust to his new familial role, too: He can't just run to the garage whenever a conversation gets too ticklish for comfort anymore. He has to be the voice of gentle wisecracking wisdom now. Well, as wise as he can manage, at any rate.

You Can Go Home Again?

Roseanne has always been rough, proudly working class and (at times) uncomfortably topical. Last year, the show became a cultural touchstone because of its titular character's unabashed Trumpian leanings—doing everything but slapping on a "Make America Great Again" ball cap while jousting with Aunt Jackie over the day's hot-button issues.

The Conners largely adheres to Roseanne's old ethos. The humor still sometimes leans toward the crass and tawdry: Allusions to sexual hijinks seem to crop up on occasion.

It's plenty topical, too, though perhaps the show's inclinations are turning a bit to the left, at least in terms of social issues. For instance: Mark's sexual preferences were featured last season, too. But with Roseanne gone, Dan's forced to deal with the issue more than he's had to do in the past: In the first episode, Dan helps Mark decide what boy to sit beside on a bus—thus indicating his level of romantic interest for the guy. "Enrique's a keeper!" Dan proclaims. Language can muss the proceedings, as well.

These are all important elements to grapple with when considering whether to watch. The Conners, like Roseanne, would've never gotten a green light back in TV's Golden Age.

That said, The Conners does share some similarities with the family sitcoms of yesteryear: The characters care—and care deeply—about family. They love each other, even if they struggle to show it. They respect each other underneath the constant wisecracks. In the midst of their anger and exasperation and grief, they're still a family. They pull together in the tough times. And that's a lesson we could all embrace a little more—even if not everything on this show is worthy of a hug.

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Episode Reviews

Oct. 16, 2018: "Keep on Truckin'"



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John Goodman as Dan Conner; Laurie Metcalf as Jackie Harris; Sara Gilbert as Darlene Conner; Lecy Goranson as Becky Conner-Healy; Michael Fishman as D.J. Conner; Emma Kenney as Harris Conner-Healy; Ames McNamara as Mark Conner-Healy; Jayden Rey as Mary Conner; Maya Lynne Robinson as Geena Williams-Conner






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On Video

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Paul Asay

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