Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Binge-Watching 'Roseanne'

The cast of Roseanne
Cable networks are discovering the benefits of the binge-viewing craze. Since Netflix and Amazon started making every episode of their original series like House of Cards available at once and people have been watching all of them in a weekend, other outlets found that viewers have no problem gobbling up multiple episodes of their favorite childhood sitcoms for hours. A prime example is provided by WE and Logo which are running repeats of Roseanne and Will and Grace in four-hour blocks. I didn't watch these shows as a kid. I was in my 20s and 30s when they first aired and I did not follow them like I did The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in the Family, and The Bob Newhart Show when I was in high school (when I wasn't in a play, I had nothing better to do at night). So it's fun to catch up with these shows.

The two shows reflect different ends of the social spectrum, but each family unit has similar values of tolerance and inclusion. Roseanne came out of the stand-up comedy persona of its title character, but ultimately evolved into a basically truthful if slightly exaggerated view of American blue-collar families of the 1980s into the 1990s. The Connors were never financially stable, with both parents going through a series of unrewarding jobs in their small town of Lanford, Illinois. Their home was not the spotless suburban utopia seen on Father Knows Best or Ozzie and Harriet. The living room was always messy and full of clutter like most people's houses. Roseanne herself (the actress not the character) went through many changes including her marriages and was often seen as obnoxious. Remember when she sang, or rather screeched the Star Spangled Banner at a baseball game?

But Roseanne the character seemed like a real person dealing with real-life issues like alcoholism, teenage pregnancy, physical abuse, and accepting gays in the family (Estelle Parsons as her mother came out as lesbian late in the series.) It also helped that Roseanne who was essentially playing a version of herself was supported by two sterling actors like Laurie Metcalfe as her sister Jackie and John Goodman as her husband Dan. Lately, Goodman has been an Oscar good luck charm, appearing in back-to-back Best Pictures The Artist and Argo, and this year in Inside Llewyn Davis. He's brilliant as a drunken, handicapped musician sharing a cross-country ride with the unlucky title folk singer. He was also impressive in the 2002 Broadway revival of Waiting for Godot as Pozzo, a down-at-heels Sydney Greenstreet type encountering Vladimir and Estragon. Metcalfe was equally stunning earlier this Off-Broadway season in Domesticated.

In seeing the show as a whole, there's a weird through-line. In the later seasons, Roseanne's father dies. He was played by John Randolph in earlier episodes and the character seems to be your typical grouchy grandpa. But at the funeral Roseanne reveals her dad was abusive and her childhood was scarred by his beatings. Dan also later reveals his mom suffered from mental illness and eventually he has to commit her to a home. Both the Connor parents come from difficult backgrounds and they're not perfect themselves. I had always thought of Roseanne as a jokey sitcom, but it was a cracked and loving portrait of a struggling family.

What's interesting is when I watch Modern Family, I sometimes have the urge to mute the sound or change the channel. This happens when it's obvious the writers are throwing in a plot curve to sustain conflict or get a laugh--one that doesn't flow naturally from character. That almost never happens when I watch Roseanne, but there are too many damn commercial on both WE and LOGO. It's more fun on You Tube.

No comments:

Post a Comment