Roseanne Barr’s TV character doled out insults like sitcom moms before her doled out heaping portions of casserole with a smile. This was not the usual TV spin on an American family’s home life, with beautiful people and convenient wisdom and problems that were tied up neatly by the time the closing credits rolled. Though Roseanne was a working class comedy with roots in shows like All in the Family and The Honeymooners, it was taken to ribald new white trash heights by its star.
Roseanne worked out her “domestic goddess” comedy routines while waiting tables in Denver, where she was also a wife and mom to three kids. The first time she got up on stage to perform as a stand-up was at a biker bar, fittingly enough, but a slew of stages followed. A famous breakthrough appearance on The Tonight Show in 1985 and an HBO special made her a comedy name, and in 1988, her show debuted.
Roseanne was an immediate hit, both for its novelty and its reality—for the way it combined all that was tough and all that was reassuringly wonderful in the course of a typical family’s days. Barr’s Roseanne Conner worked at a plastics factory, her husband Dan was a building contractor, and with their combined incomes, well, they just scraped by. Their suburban Lanford, Illinois home was often messy, and that afghan on the couch, like the rest of the house’s décor, wasn’t exactly chic. The three Conner kids—budding teen Becky, dour Darlene and precocious tyke D.J.—had streaks of cuteness, but only streaks…they were more frequently given to sarcasm and good old-fashioned teen angst.
Along for the Conner’s bumpy family ride were Roseanne’s sister Jackie, who would be confounded by a number of men, finally get married to Fred, and then, as the show’s twists and turns became more frequent and endlessly more twisty, Roseanne announced that Jackie was gay all along. There were other reoccurring gay characters as well, played by Sandra Bernhard and Roseanne’s diner boss Martin Mull, and plenty more that came out of the closet as the show progressed. In 1994, television’s first on-air, same-sex kiss, between Roseanne and Mariel Hemingway, made viewers raise their collective eyebrows, which of course, is usually Roseanne’s very point.
The Conners lengthily parodied The Patty Duke Show in one episode, which is emblematic of the way Roseanne subverted old-school sitcom paradigms. There was teenage sex, pregnancy, elopement; the adults didn’t come home from work with a spring in their step—they often came home exhausted and grumbling about their various incompetent bosses. Roseanne went from the plastics factory to a brief gig in a beauty salon to waitressing at a coffee shop, but no job paid well. Life wasn’t easy for the Conners (until the bizarre tangential plot twists of the final season saw them winning the lottery—though even that luck would prove too good to be true). Life also wasn’t pretty, well-mannered, or in the least bit predictable.
In the late eighties, the show’s highest ratings ensued, it the number two rated show in ’88-89 and number one in ’89-90. Critics alternately criticized and assigned adjectives like “groundbreaking” and “realistic.” Fittingly, the show had more than its share of behind-the-scenes melodrama. Hoards of writers and producers came and went, as did Roseanne’s marriage to first husband Bill Pentland and second mate comedian Tom Arnold, as did her cooperation with her network colleagues. Everything about it—appearance, production, and subject matter—was rough around the edges. But it’s those edges that people remember.
On one occasion there was a crossover in which the characters of Patsy and Edina from the British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous appeared (played by Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley).
The family lived at 714 Delaware Street.
USA / ABC/Wind Dancer Prod. – Carsey-Werner Co – Full Moon and High Tide / 218×25 minute episodes 2×50 minute episodes / Broadcast 18 October 1988 – 20 May 1997
Creator: Matt Williams / Idea: Roseanne Barr Arnold
Roseanne Barr as Roseanne Conner
John Goodman as Dan Conner
Lecy Goranson as Becky Conner (1988-92; 1995-96)
Sarah Chalke as Becky Conner (1993-95; 1996-97)
Sara Gilbert as Darlene Conner
Sal Barone as D.J. Conner (pilot)
Michael Fishman asD.J. Conner
Laurie Metcalf as Jackie Conner Harris
Johnny Galecki as David Healy (1991-97)
Glen Quinn as Mark Healy (1990-97)
Estelle Parsons as Beverly Harris (1989-97)
Natalie West as Crystal Anderson
George Clooney as Booker Brooks (1988-89)
Ron Perkins as Pete Wilkins (1988-89)
Evalina Fernandez as Juanita Herrera (1988-89)
Anne Falkner as Sylvia Foster (1988-89)
Ned Beatty as Ed Conner (1989-96)
Tom Arnold as Arnie Merchant (1989-94)
Martin Mull as Leon Carp (1991-97)
Bonnie Sheridan as Bonnie Watkins (1991-92; 1995)
Shelley Winters as Nana Mary (1991-97)
Michael O’Keefe as Fred (1993-96)
Sandra Bernhard as Nancy Bartlett Thomas (1991-97)
TV, ABC, Sitcoms, Roseanne Barr, John Goodman, Sarah Chalke, Johnny Galecki, Laurie Metcalf, Estelle Parsons, George Clooney, Ned Beatty, Tom Arnold, Shelley Winters, Sandra Bernhard,
Sitcom. Day to day episodes in the working class life of the Conner family in Lanford, an American mid-western town.