REVIEW: Roseanne’s well-timed reunion really works

Dan’s not dead? Find out how that corner was worked out of tonight

There’s a surprising amount of comfort — along with laughter — with the triumphant return tonight of Roseanne. The first  of nine new episodes of the groundbreaking comedy from the late-’80s/’90s premieres Tuesday, March 27 at 8 p.m. on ABC and CTV.

At 65, the comedienne at the centre of the show has mellowed, as she tried to convince reporters at a lively TCA session in Pasadena last January.

I think that I’ve grown up.  I’m a grandmother now.  I have six grandchildren.  And I’m 65 years old.  And I’m so happy that I have Medicaid.  Or is it Medicare?  I mix them up.  And, in fact, this whole arc of this season is about healthcare and stuff like that, healthcare.  But, yeah, I think that I’ve mellowed as far as, you know, my own person and ‑‑ but I think everybody who hits 65 is more mellow than they were in their 40s.

That being said, Barr gave no ground to reporters who peppered her with questions about her own, personal, Twitter allegiance to Donald Trump and how that would play out this season through her character on the show. Roseanne Conner voted for the 45th US president and the Trump presidency is a hot and divisive topic around the clan’s kitchen table — as it is for many families throughout America.

Barr got her back up and, despite all that mellowing, showed flashes of her old belligerent self at the stormy session. It was the fun and lively high point of last January’s tour — the reason to fly down.

Roseanne has always been a comedy about a working class, blue collar family, she told reporters, and she wanted to see the many folks who voted for Trump represented in a family sitcom.

Yeah but, what about all your personal tweets supporting this president, asked everybody. Once a room full of TCA journos sniffs a hot topic, everybody in the room latches onto the same chew-toy and starts pulling.

Exasperated, or maybe just really smart, Barr tried to lob the question over to her extremely diplomatic executive producer Brice Helford or her co-star/executive producer Sara Gilbert. Both saw the Trump storyline — more pronounced in tonight’s return episode than in the other eight new half hours — as an opportunity.

“Our country is very divided,” said Gilbert. “So, to me, it was a great opportunity to have a family that can be divided by politics, but still is filled with love.  And what a great thing to bring into this country right now.”

And that’s really what the new season of Roseanne is all about. Backed by some smart writing (including from former contributor Norm Macdonald and new one Whitney Cummings), this expanded clan gets into the issues of the day in ways not seen on TV sitcoms much anymore. I never thought I’d advocate this sitcom on the grounds that it is “sweet,” but what is sweet about it is it shows how, in families, there is love behind the divisions.

Bringing back old network sitcoms has the singular advantage in that, once upon a time, they were watched by 20 or 20 million people. Watching them was a large scale shared experience that just doesn’t exist in this age of niche programming. It’s no exaggeration to say that everybody knew about Roseanne back in the day, good or bad, and many could relate to the struggles of a sometimes dysfunctional working class family.

“I think we’re friends to a lot of people, if you can be friends on TV,” Roseanne said in one of the few quiet moments at that press conference last January. “They did let us into their homes and maybe they missed us, and they’re happy to catch up with us again, I hope.”

Read more about the return of Roseanne and the two actresses who played Becky — Lecy Goranson and Canadian cast member Sarah Chalke (above) — here at this story I wrote for The Canadian Press.

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