Named after its producer and leading lady, Roseanne was one of the most ground-breaking shows of its generation. Now returning to our screens 20 years after its divisive finale, the ABC sitcom doesn’t appear to have mellowed with age. Here’s why the Roseanne reboot is already causing controversy before a single episode has even aired.
Based on the exploits of the Conners, a working-class family residing in the fictional Illinois town known as Lanford, Roseanne premiered on ABC in October 1988. The show instantly separated itself from other family sitcoms thanks to Roseanne Barr’s central role as a working mother. It also earned near-universal critical praise for its pioneering portrayal of blue-collar Americana.
Mom Roseanne, husband Dan and their three kids, Becky, Darlene and DJ, soon became America’s most-watched family. Indeed, its first season pulled in an astonishing 23.8 million viewers. By the beginning of the second season, Roseanne was beating The Cosby Show at the top of the Nielsen ratings.
The show was also something of an awards darling. Roseanne Barr and her on-screen sister Laurie Metcalf both won Emmys. The former and her on-screen husband John Goodman also picked up Golden Globes for their performances in the series. The People’s Choice Awards, American Comedy Awards and Peabody Awards also recognized Roseanne.
Roseanne’s mainstream success is even more remarkable considering it continued to push boundaries throughout its ten-year run. In season four, the show tackled depression; in season five, the show addressed domestic violence and in season seven, Dan and Roseanne discussed abortion at length. However, the show’s liberal attitude to homosexuality most angered its more conservative viewers.
In the sixth season, Roseanne and Jackie visit a gay bar with lesbian friend Nancy to help establish their cool credentials. But the former gets more than she bargained for when she’s kissed by Nancy’s girlfriend. Fearful of screening a prime-time same-sex kiss, ABC wanted to pull the episode before Barr pledged to take the show to a rival network.
Roseanne wrapped up in May 1997. But as with many of its previous 221 episodes, its finale was controversial. Turns out the entire ninth season was a figment of Roseanne’s imagination. This meant that the Conners hadn’t won the lottery, and far more devastatingly, Dan had actually died from his heart attack at the end of the eighth season.
There have been several attempts since to extend Roseanne’s shelf life. During the final season, Barr unsuccessfully tried to launch a spin-off. In 2009 she revealed where the Conners would be if Roseanne was still airing. Events included Darlene coming out, Roseanne and Jackie owning a medical marijuana dispensary and Dan coming back to life, having faked his death.
But the show will return for real after ABC’s decision to greenlight an eight-episode revival. Every member of the Conner family will be back, including both of the actresses who played Becky (Sarah Chalke will assume a different character). The Big Bang Theory star Johnny Galecki is also tipped to reprise his role as Darlene’s on/off boyfriend David.
The show’s belated tenth season will air on ABC in the spring of 2018 as a mid-season replacement. But, of course, Roseanne wouldn’t be Roseanne without some controversy. And one particular new addition to the cast has already got one notorious group of people in boycott mode before they’ve watched a single episode.
Indeed, fundamentalist organization One Million Moms have launched a protest after learning about one of Roseanne’s grandchildren. Nine-year-old Mark is described as “gender creative” and will exhibit both male and female qualities. Ames McNamara, plays the character, who is Darlene and David’s son.
According to on-screen mother Sara Gilbert, McNamara is one to watch. The actor told TVLine, “It’s inspiring to see so much talent at such a young age. Some people are born with abilities beyond their years. Ames is one of those people.” McNamara’s character will also have a 14-year-old sister, Harris, who was born during Roseanne’s previous season.
One Million Moms’ official website describes gender fluidity as a mental disorder. In a statement the group argued that the reboot is pushing forward a transgender agenda. “The victims of this outrageous program are the young cast members, not to mention any child who views the show.”
The statement, posted by group director Monica Cole, added, “DNA proves a female is female and a male is male. There is no gray area here and no such thing as ‘gender fluid.’ Confusing young viewers and child cast members with gender dysphoria is destructive.”
One Million Moms was formed by the American Family Association. Their main mission is to “stop the exploitation of children” by the media through boycotts of offensive advertising campaigns and TV shows. Their first major target was JC Penney after the company hired “open homosexual” Ellen DeGeneres as a spokesperson in 2012.
A year later the group protested against Glee for mocking Christianity, Disney’s Good Luck Charlie for featuring a kid with two mothers, and 666: Park Avenue for endorsing devil worship. They have also since accused GEICO of promoting bestiality and Campbell’s of normalizing sin. However, none of their campaigns has had even the least effect.
And that doesn’t look like it’s going to change any time soon. As of September 2017, the group’s “I will not watch” petition had amassed less than 7,000 signatures. Even Roseanne’s lowest-rated season, its controversial ninth, pulled in an average of 10.1 million viewers.
There’s been no official word from Roseanne about the boycott. But Out magazine did put forward a much more inclusive counter-argument. “What this character actually represents is a historic step forward for diversity. Mark will be the youngest gender-fluid character on television and, for a generation of kids who struggle with their gender identity, he’ll be a beacon of hope.”
However, speaking to EW in a Facebook Live interview, Sara Gilbert did say that the new Roseanne is a change for good. “It felt like the right time to put this working-class family on TV. That’s a voice that’s not been spoken for enough in this country and we feel hopefully that we can be a uniting force in that way.”
The first set of images from the Roseanne reboot, taken during a table read, were recently released by ABC. It’s still not yet known how Dan will return from the dead. But the man who plays him, John Goodman, has an idea, telling ABC News, “I think they’re just going to ignore it.”