The original “Roseanne” series, which aired from 1988 to 1997, was a television breakthrough for its diverse gay storylines—who can forget that controversial episode in which the veteran comedian kisses Mariel Hemingway (and wipes it off in surprised disgust)?
Fast forward 20 years and the award-winning comedy series returned to ABC last week with a whopping 29 million viewers. President Trump even called Roseanne Barr to congratulate her on the show.
On the radio series, “Here & Now,” NPR TV critic Eric Deggans was asked why the show was so immensely popular again.
“The series appealed to people who don’t see themselves depicted authentically on television that much,” he said.
“There’s a lot of dynamics that came together to make this happen. ABC promoted the heck out of this, we saw ads for this during the “Oscars,” “American Idol.” We saw the stars everywhere, at NASCAR rallies, on “Howard Stern.” This is a beloved show that was the number one show on television at its height, when the show was on the air. And I think a lot of people were just curious about what did they come up with.”
While the show has Sarah Gilbert (a lesbian) starring and exec producing, Wanda Sykes (also a lesbian) writing, Laurie Metcalf (a feminist) starring and a gender non-conforming child featured in the show, the LGBTQ community has been sharply divided on whether or not to watch a woman who continues to support President Trump and has made her own transphobic comments.
In the most recent episode (#3), Roseanne tries to be an equal opportunity offender. A shrill “Roseanne” managed to mock ABC’s “black and asian shows,” physically abused her grandkid and more. Meanwhile, her producers have already asked her to tone it down; a 2009 photoshoot of her posing as a Jewish-effigy-cookie baking Hitler began trending online after she tweeted about a greeting gesture by Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg, calling it a Nazi salute.
Notably, ratings have fallen precipitously from the initial blowout. The numbers for episode 3 were less that 15 million — still a strong showing but less than half that of the first two episodes.
The Los Angeles Blade talked to LGBTQ fans and critics about the show.
Frank DeCaro, Author/Comedian:
“I’m willing to give ‘Roseanne’ a chance” is the same kind of thinking that got us into this mess in the first place. You SHOULD be estranged from EVERYONE in your life who voted for Donald Trump. Hollywood would renew “My Little Adolph” if the numbers were good enough.
Watching “Roseanne” put me in a foul mood. It was like watching a reboot of “Hogan’s Heroes,” but being told that Col. Klink is now the real hero.
The last thing this country needs is a loveable Trumper, which is exactly what we’re getting in Roseanne Conner. The liberal characters were portrayed as bubble-dwelling boobs. Life coaches? Placenta eating? A few of us are smarter than that.
The conservatives, on the other hand, were presented as unsophisticated, but loving and ultimately wise, and, worst of all, probably right in the end. I don’t buy it.
Roseanne Conner is not Archie Bunker, who was the fool of “All in the Family,” she’s the hero of this piece. We’re meant to understand her embrace of the worst political candidate our country has ever had foisted upon it.
“Roseanne” isn’t nostalgia. It’s normalization at its most insidious.
Bruce Vilanch, Writer/Songwriter/Actor:
Another distraction from what’s really happening in Washington. Resist.
Victoria Brito, MUSE Model:
I think it’s a missed opportunity for our community to check out a show that features diverse, interesting storylines rarely found on network TV. If we push a strict litmus test of political alignment on every form of entertainment, we lose out on a rich, layered world.
I hope LGBTQ viewers can give this show a chance, as it’s an amazing reflection of the variety of our whole country and we all benefit from breaking outside of the echo chamber of our opinions.
Jeff Rosenberg, Screenwriter:
As a gay man, I was a fan of Roseanne’s original sitcom. Yes, it represented middle America, and I am more of an East Coast guy, but it showed the best of the Midwest. Their inclusiveness. Their love, warmth. Her character in particular.
It showed “their” struggles, fears and hopes were the same as “ours.” She served as a bridge between the two worlds. We saw ourselves in her and her family. We laughed, and cried, along with them. Why? Because she was a friend, and her show was a safe place. A place we knew we were not only included, but welcome.
That changed when Roseanne abruptly did a political 180. She sided with, and remains steadfastly loyal, to the single most anti-LGBTQ administration in U.S. history. While she has heralded Trump’s false accomplishments and furthered ridiculous conspiracy theories, she has remained ominously silent as Trump and his cronies erode LGBTQ civil rights and try to make us second-class citizens.
Sad that she once again has the voice and platform, yet instead of bringing our country together, she is trying to divide us by making hate a “family value”. Sad. Bigly.
Jasper Cole, Actor:
I was never a fan of “Roseanne” in the ’90s for the same reason I’m not today: she created a volatile work environment and treats people horrifically. Roseanne had no TV experience and was given a show much like Trump himself, and she ruled the set like a tyrant as well. She was and still is hate-filled, but was fortunate to surround herself with talented actors and writers who do the best they can to make her look good.
Her off-screen “antics” have always revealed who she really is and sadly, via her undying support for Trump, just how crazy she really is. That said, I’m most disappointed in the so-called progressive women who have chosen to work with her on the reboot: Sara Gilbert, Wanda Sykes, Whitney Cummings, Laurie Metcalf, and Sandra Bernhard. Most of them, with the exception of Gilbert — who rarely seems to have an opinion of her own that isn’t scripted by either a writer on “The Talk” or the “Roseanne” reboot — have been die-hard anti-Trumpsters.
In my opinion, choosing to work with Roseanne cannot be justified by saying, “we don’t agree with all the hate she spews.” I don’t care how well-written or well-acted the show is, Archie Bunker was a bigot, Carroll O’Connor wasn’t. Roseanne Barr is just pretending to hide behind Roseanne Conner, but they are one and the same. Both are hate-filled, egomaniacs like Trump.
I admire people who actually have morals and convictions and stick to them regardless of the paychecks. Ironically, none of the women I mentioned working on the reboot seem to be hurting for money allegedly. But who am I to judge?!
Jeff Hollingsworth, Publicist:
I’m with Roxane Gay, who wrote the recent op-ed in the New York Times. I watched and laughed and I adore the gender fluid grandson character, but I can’t overlook the feeling that Roseanne, the person, is a calculated, cheap shot provocateur not to be taken seriously.
I loved “All in the Family” and think comparing Carroll O’Connor to Barr or his show to hers is a false equivalence. If you read Gay’s opinion piece it doesn’t much quibble with the show’s humor. “All in the Family” and Norman Lear never wanted to normalize bigotry or proselytize or romanticize “real people” (Trump voters in the current show) — he cleverly and bitingly satirized these things. This show seems to be all about bait and switch politics of culture.
Jeff Olde, Longtime Television Programming Executive:
I think Trump is repugnant as a person and certainly as a president, but I have to say I really loved the first two episodes of “Roseanne.” It is an equal offender on all political sides and I found it funny, full of heart, and full of potential.
From what I have seen so far, I think you really see the influence of lesbians Sara Gilbert, as both a star and an executive producer and certainly, in the sharp writing of Wanda Sykes. And actress Laurie Metcalf is basically saying everything I’m thinking when I get into social media screaming battles with conservatives.
If millions of people in middle America are seeing positive storylines about the LGBTQ community and specifically about a gender-fluid kid, I’m good with that.
It is very early in this journey and we will see how it goes. Roseanne and her bat shit crazy right-wing conspiracy theories could push me over into the boycott zone. I would not want to support any platform she has if she continues to publicly fan those divisive (not to mention insane) flames.
But for now, if I step back from her politics, dare I say that I think “Roseanne” has the potential to become an important show in perilous times like “All In The Family” was back in the ‘70s. We’ve all got to find a way to talk to each other again, and maybe laughing at (and with) each other is a start. For me, this gay is willing to give it a shot. But of course the thing that could immediately blow that is Roseanne herself. I hope she doesn’t, as the work on screen is good, needed and potentially a powerful pop culture moment for the LGBTQ community.
Michael Kape, Theatre Blogger:
I do not understand why the LGBT community would not watch. True, Roseanne’s politics suck. But I think the show did a good job of balancing her views with an opposing opinion. And having a grandchild who likes to dress like a girl has brought back the very heart of the original show. There was a lot to really like and admire.
David Jay Lasky, Film Producer and Screenwriter:
The two episodes were sardonic, hilarious, and smartly written. Roseanne Barr, Laurie Metcalf, Sara Gilbert and John Goodman were all terrific.
I’m a registered Republican. I would never boycott a show. I like listening to all sides and all ideas from every American patriot in our country. God Bless America. This is a step in the right direction. President Trump is our president and I respect our commander-in-chief.
Greg Padovan, President, Insurance Sales:
Although I find her acting atrocious, her support of Trump in the show I HOPE can only be seen as educational, for what can happen in a family dynamic when a family is split in a political support situation.
I think her character is a perfect match for a Trump supporter and will develop into how bad a mistake people made in November, thinking this man was in their best interest for changing America for the better as opposed to listening to who the man made clear he was and continues to be.