Though the series has now proven divisive among viewers, Roseanne was once the most-watched show on tv. From 1989 to 1990, entire households were glued to their sofas, eager to watch a family that was just as dysfunctional, unpolished, and brutally honest as they were. Roseanne cast a beacon on the struggling working class at a time when it wasn't popular to do so and gave a voice to a large demographic of the population that didn't see themselves represented in the nice houses and beautiful faces found on other family-focused series.
By subverting expectations, and taking risks, Roseanne pioneered a lot of the "special moment" episodes of other sit-coms involving teenage pregnancy and substance use but conveyed their morals and messages with greater authenticity and heart. The series wasn't without its problems, and at one point or another, Roseanne, her husband Dan, her sister Jackie, or the children would make jokes (or suffer through them) that by today's standards seem downright mean. There was a line between withering sarcasm and just withering, and Roseanne walked it bravely in order to exist. Below are 10 jokes from Roseanne that have aged poorly.
10 JACKIE NEVER BEING ABLE TO FIND A DECENT MAN
Jackie Harris, Roseanne's harried, neurotic sister in the series was played with great gusto by Laurie Metcalf. Perpetually flitting from career to man and back again, over the course of the show she was a waitress, a trucker, and a cop, and went through boyfriends like Dan went through six-packs of beer.
Jackie was a constant presence in the Conner household, always dropping by to see what her sister's family was up to since she was so often miserable and alone. What was an amusing trope at first, now seems sad and pathetic. You want to reach into the television, shake Jackie by the shoulders, and tell her to stop dating losers who don't value her.
9 MEN ONLY LIKING SPORTS, BEER, & OTHER STEREOTYPES
Roseanne did a lot to break up strict gender norms on the series by portraying its leading lady as just as much of an influence in the household as her husband, but it did reinforce some unfortunate male stereotypes. No one would ever say that Dan Conner was anything but a loving father, but the show relied on big laughs elicited from his aversion to talking about his "feelings" and loving football and beer.
The same went for Mark, Becky's boyfriend. They didn't even get along that well, but they could bond over sports and beer, while making fun of David. It used to be funny watching them duck out of important conversations to grab a beer from the garage, but now it just looks like they're shirking their responsibilities.
8 DAVID BEING THE "SENSITIVE" CHARACTER
In sharp contrast to Dan and Mark as alpha-male type figures in the household, David was a soft-spoken, introverted artist. He was never interested in sports, never interested in violence, and therefore had very little in common with the men around him.
His emotional sensitivity was supposed to be hilarious because it caused him to petulantly whine in the face of his problems, but now it just seems crass and unfeeling, like the writers had some vendetta against men like David. That he turned out to be so self-involved and whiny as an adult in The Conners wasn't just not right by the character, it gave him no chance for personal growth.
7 BECKY BEING THE DUMB BLONDE
Earlier in the series, Becky didn't have the same reputation for being the dumb blonde as she did when the series entered its final seasons. It might have been because she was younger, and hadn't yet met Mark (who would consume her attention for most of the show), or because the actress hadn't yet been replaced.
Becky became a walking stereotype of a dumb blonde, who eschewed academics in favor of any chance at popularity, and dating a cute boy with a car. This characterization never changed, and by the time we see her in The Conners two decades later, she somehow managed to get even dumber.
6 DARLENE BEING MOODY
Arguably some of the best pieces of Roseanne's comedy came from polarization, which existed nowhere more acutely than between Darlene and the rest of her family (notably her older sister Becky). Darlene was a cynical realist who dressed in black, listened to heavy metal, and sketching endlessly in her notebook at the expense of socializing.
Alternative scenes like grunge and goth were at their zenith in the mid-90s, so having Darlene walk a line between the two subcultures was a smart choice on the part of the writers. Few other shows were taking these teens seriously. But the endless cracks from her family concerning her inability to put up with their obnoxious dysfunction seems cruel now, instead of satirical.
5 HATING YOUR PARENTS
One of the great tropes of television sit-coms is to have obnoxious in-laws that everyone hates but relentlessly come to visit anyway. Roseanne took that trope one step further, and it wasn't just in-laws that were fair game. In Roseanne, all parents were hated.
Roseanne and her sister Jackie made endless cracks at their mother (she was too critical), Dan made endless cracks at his father (mostly due to his infidelity), and their children made endless cracks at them. The fact that no character had a constructive relationship with their parental figure was less funny and more horrifying.
4 ROSEANNE AND DAN'S WEIGHT
Today, there are many shows featuring large characters. Shows like This Is Us and Mike and Molly have set a precedent for featuring characters of all shapes and sizes, without fanfare, treating the situations they find themselves in as the focus of the series, not their weight.
Roseanne still hadn't shed it's weight problem in the '90s, even as Roseanne and Dan Conner presented themselves as "tell it like it is" characters. Since this was well before any "body positivist" movement, they were free to make fun of themselves and have others make fun of them in relation to their weight, which now comes off as a cheap laugh at their expense.
3 THE TOKEN GAY CHARACTER
Roseanne broke some ground by featuring a prominent gay character, paving the way for series like Will & Grace to create even more diversity among gay characters as seen on television. And while it did feature Leon, Roseanne's boss at the cafe tie the knot with his boyfriend Scott in Season 8, it also featured jokes that undermined its progress.
For instance, in the season just prior, the big joke at the end of the sixth episode was that Fred, Jackie's boyfriend was gay. Not only that, but apparently so was Dan, Roseanne's husband. When they're caught in bed together, it's supposed to elicit huge laughs, making a joke out of actual LGBT members' way of expressing affection.
2 TWO FOR THE PRICE OF ONE BECKY CONNER
When Lecy Goranson went off to college, the character of Becky Conner was up for grabs. Sarah Chalke soon assumed the role, and portrayed her for Season 6, Season 7, and Season 8, with Goranson returning in the ninth season and tenth season.
There were several gags throughout that time period when Roseanne and others would make references to the difference in the women's appearance. And while it's amusing at the time to feel "in" on the joke, when rewatched today, it becomes less clever and more tedious. It pulls you out of the episode every time someone makes a reference.
1 DIVERSITY OF MODERN SIT-COMS
In the 10th season of Roseanne, which premiered as a reboot in 2018, the Conners made a joke that surprised longtime fans of the show with its crassness. Dan Conner remarks that they slept through all the shows that feature "black and Asian families", to which Roseanne responds, "They're just like us! There, now you're all caught up.".
It's a joke that even a year later hasn't aged well. If there was one thing the Conners had in common with minority families, it's that they often all struggled together as members of the working class. It's truer today than it was in 1989 when the series began. After the 10th season, and the series was turned into The Conners, where the characters seemed to remember that fact.