The Conners has thus far neglected its younger characters in favor of the adults, and may be losing some of the cross-generational dynamic that helped make Roseanne a classic family sitcom. When Roseanne Barr fired off a racist tweet and was subsequently fired, ABC had a big call to make regarding the future of the remaining members of the Conner clan. Ultimately, the network went ahead with the spinoff series The Conners, an ensemble comedy bringing back original cast members John Goodman, Sara Gilbert, Laurie Metcalf, Lecy Goranson and Michael Fishman.
In addition to the legacy characters retained from Roseanne’s original run of seasons, The Conners cast also included some younger characters introduced during the 2018 revival season, including Darlene’s children Harris (Emma Kenney) and Mark (Ames McNamara) and D.J.’s daughter Mary (Jayden Rey). In theory, the inclusion of the three Conner grandkids should have provided the new show with a cross-generational dynamic similar to the original Roseanne, which focused on kids Becky, Darlene and D.J. as much as the adult characters. Indeed, the original Roseanne would not have been the same show without the focus on the kids and their various adolescent struggles.
However, at least thus far, The Conners has not made much effort to develop its younger characters or even get them very involved in the week-to-week action. This week’s episode “O Sister, Where Art Thou” was somewhat of an exception, as it tried to bring Darlene’s rebellious teen daughter Harris into the fold with a storyline about underage drinking. But ultimately Harris’ storyline was really just a way to set up a later scene where Darlene and Becky confronted each other about their strained relationship. As has mostly been the case during The Conners’ debut season, the kid’s brief story was only put in place to provide some conflict for the adults to grapple with, while the kid was quickly shuffled off-stage.
The original Roseanne never seemed to do it this way. As conceived by Roseanne Barr and her co-creators, the show was a true family sitcom built around the home life of the Conner parents and their three children. Indeed, the show was largely about raising children: the problems of adolescence, the difficulties of cross-generational relationships, the sacrifices the adults had to make in their own lives in order to provide. With that solid core, the show could then go off into other areas, even tackling larger political issues at times.
By contrast, The Conners seems almost entirely focused on Dan, Darlene, Becky and Jackie and the various love interests who have been written into the series. This week’s episode, instead of spending more time on Harris and Darlene's problems, gave Jackie and her boyfriend Peter (Matthew Broderick) a goofy B-plot that saw them trying to live like Vikings, complete with period garb. From a comedy standpoint, such sidebars may be fruitful, but they also certainly detract from the show’s ability to dive deeper into the kids as characters. Some of this, of course, is down to time constraints, and the inherent problems of writing an ensemble show that must juggle multiple characters and storylines.
So far on The Conners, the shuffling of characters and storylines means the kids mostly lose out. Occasionally, Harris is brought on to act surly and stand-offish, while the gender-non-conforming Mark arrives now-and-again to play the innocently mischievous scamp. And Mary remains almost entirely a non-entity (the only thing we know about her is that she has a pet chicken named Corn Flake). There doesn’t seem to be much space to develop these characters the same way Darlene and Becky were during the original show (D.J. sadly never came fully to life, mainly due to Michael Fishman’s limited acting ability). Indeed, it's hard to think of a single scene of siblings Mark and Harris interacting. By contrast, the sisterly rivalry between Becky and Darlene was central to the original Roseanne series (and continues on to this day).
Things could change going forward, of course. If it gets more seasons, The Conners could find time to build episodes around Harris, Mark and Mary and let them become fleshed-out the way Becky and Darlene were. And no doubt more interesting comedy would ensue. For now, though, The Conners is a show about how hard it is to be a grown-up dealing with life and love under tough economic circumstances, where kid issues are just one more obstacle to overcome. Until the show really starts to delve into the younger characters and find out who they are, and stops treating them merely as props, it won’t be a true family sitcom.
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