The series premiere of The Conners resolved the Roseanne Barr question by killing off her character via an opioid overdose, but how will the death of Roseanne impact the spinoff going forward? After Barr’s now-infamous tweet comparing former Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett to a Planet of the Apes character, ABC decided to cancel their highly-rated Roseanne revival series and part ways with the show’s controversial co-creator and star.
However, ABC did not wish to part ways with the potential big ratings that could still be garnered by spinning off a new series focused on the remaining Roseanne characters. So the network made a deal with Barr that allowed them to go ahead with The Conners, a new show starring returning regulars John Goodman, Sara Gilbert and Laurie Metcalf. To bolster the cast, The Conners has also added Juliette Lewis, Steve Zahn, Matthew Broderick and Justin Long in key roles.
The show’s debut episode Tuesday night dove right in by resolving Roseanne’s exit, showing her surviving family members dealing with their grief over her sudden death from an (off-screen) opioid-induced heart attack. Predictably, the Conners used humor to help themselves get through the dark times, but there were also some injections of warmth as when Dan (John Goodman) helped his gender non-conforming grandson Mark (Ames McNamara) work through the tough task of deciding which friend to sit with on the bus. The episode also drew genuine drama from the grim situation in a powerful scene where Dan confronted Marcy (Mary Steenburgen), the woman who provided Roseanne with some of the pills that ultimately led to her death.
Of course, the sudden exit of Roseanne was always going to leave a sense of something unresolved at the heart of the show. Despite the debut’s noble attempts at handling her departure, it was impossible to avoid a slight sense of let-down that such a beloved character as Roseanne was not given a proper send-off. Going forward, the show will have to find ways to fill the void left by the character and the actress who played her, which will not be an easy task.
At least in the premiere, The Conners made up for Roseanne’s absence by giving Laurie Metcalf a more central role. Metcalf’s neurotic Jackie was always a great character, but in the revival season she seemed to be relegated to something of a foil, especially when shoehorned into the role of “angry Hillary Clinton supporter” opposite Roseanne’s Trump voter. But Metcalf had a chance to shine in the premiere, showing Jackie in meltdown mode, trying to deal with Roseanne’s death by obsessively re-arranging her late sister's ever-cluttered kitchen. Sara Gilbert too stepped forward, showing Darlene taking on a leadership position in the family, becoming the rock that Roseanne used to be as Dan and Jackie both struggled openly with their grief.
In terms of tone, it’s clear The Conners will go on just as Roseanne did, finding humor in the daily travails of the working-class. No doubt, the absence of the family matriarch will continue to be a looming issue as the series continues. The premiere laid the groundwork for how things will play out going forward, with Jackie becoming more of a focal point and Darlene basically becoming the new Roseanne, no-nonsense attitude and all. As for Dan, audiences caught a glimpse of his anger in the debut, and certainly the series will continue depicting the character’s deep grief as the season progresses. But as we saw through Dan’s interactions with Mark, the way out of that grief will be through bonding with his grandchildren. So far at least, The Conners seems to have a solid blueprint for how to press on without Roseanne.
- The Conners release date: Nov 15, 2018