A joke from last week's episode of Roseanne mocking diversity on television has been blasted as "belittling." After 20 years off the air, Roseanne returned earlier this year to shockingly massive ratings. In fact, ratings were so good that ABC has already renewed the Roseanne revival for a second season. And while many have embraced the new incarnation of Roseanne, many others have shunned the series for putting pro-Trump political views in the mouth of its lead character Roseanne Conner, played by the ever-controversial Roseanne Barr.
In the revival series' debut episode, Roseanne sparred with her sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) over their opposing political views, leading to criticisms that the show is nothing but a showcase for Trump. Outrage reached a higher pitch this past week after a joke in which white, working-class Roseanne and her husband Dan (John Goodman) made fun of diverse television programming in the episode "Roseanne Gets The Chair." Waking up on the couch after missing most of the night's shows, Dan says "We missed all the shows about black and Asian families,” possibly referring to ABC's own Black-ish and Fresh off the Boat, to which Roseanne replies, “They’re just like us. There, now you’re all caught up.”
Social media naturally exploded in response to the joke. At the vanguard of the backlash was Bob's Burgers writer Kevin Yu, who took to Twitter to launch a lengthy explanation of everything wrong with the show's attempt at humor. Yu tweeted:
“At the very least, it’s reductive and belittling, as if to say those shows are nothing more than ‘Black’ and ‘Asian’ in their existence. But the real kicker is when Roseanne says: ‘They’re just like us. There, now you’re all caught up.’ Which implies that the point of any show about a minority family is simply to normalize them. That’s it. The stories, the humor, the characters… not important.”
Yu then went even further:
“Then you take ALLLLLL of that and put it in the mouth of an avowed Trump supporter (not the actress–the CHARACTER of Roseanne) and you have one stinky little shit sandwich of a joke that ABC allowed to be served in their own restaurant. It’s a big deal. Do I think the characters Roseanne and Dan watch Blackish or Fresh Off The Boat? Of course not. Do I think they’d say something PC about them? Probably not. But the point is, they didn’t HAVE to say ANYTHING. They didn’t have to write that joke at all. It’s not even a joke.”
Roseanne's network ABC has come under fire as well amid controversy over the show's tackling of touchy social and political issues. Earlier this year, ABC pulled an episode of the sitcom Black-ish, citing "creative differences" with the series' creator Kenya Barris. ABC previously praised the critically acclaimed series for its deft handling of controversial topics, but for some reason they thought this particular episode went over the line. Since then, Barris has tried to get out of his ABC contract so he can move to Netflix. In some peoples' eyes, there's a blatant double-standard at work when a white-centered sitcom can get away with being overtly political, while a black-centered one seemingly cannot.
Roseanne's return comes at a time when television has become generally more diverse, and indeed, Roseanne itself seems to have embraced diversity in a limited way by giving Darlene (Sara Gilbert) a gender-fluid son and D.J. (Michael Fishman) a black daughter. However, not everyone sees Roseanne as an inclusive show, despite its attempts to keep up with the times. Much of the perception problem for the show lies with Roseanne Barr herself, given the actress' history of saying and doing outrageous, offensive things. Can Roseanne ever convince naysayers that its heart is in the right place despite its occasional problematic jokes? Or will the show continue being perceived as an out-dated dinosaur aiming its humor at an audience that itself refuses to get with the times?
Roseanne continues with "Eggs Over, Not Easy" on Tuesday, April 10, on ABC.