About a month ago, the magical, free-time-sucking beast that is Netflix’s “Watch Instantly” feature entered my life. As a result, I am reading less, getting seriously disoriented every time I have to go outside, and watching shit like “Legends of the Fall” – now, those Anthony Hopkins stroke-induced facial paralysis scenes are only a click away.
The upside? “Watch Instantly” offers all nine seasons of Roseanne, an example of the rarest thing you’ll ever see on broadcast television – a sitcom that is both wickedly funny and disarmingly realistic. As I started to retrace my steps through the Conner family saga, I wondered if it would still hold up after 20 odd years. Fact is, at its best, the show’s probably even more relevant today, thanks to a markedly un-gimmicky comedic formula. This isn’t a show about middle class Americans with jokes thrown in – the stresses and struggles actually set up the zingers, positioning Rosie and her brood as the kind of people who find their strength through their sense of humor. Instead of wacky misunderstandings, the hilarity stems from the stress of tax day, having a snot-nosed teenager as your boss, and telling your daughter that she doesn’t have a college fund. And as well-crafted as it all is, none of it would’ve translated without such a talented cast – John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf both turn in nuanced, honest and hilarious performances, giving Roseanne a foundation that allows her to just be herself, delivering sarcastic put-downs with a skill that’s yet to be matched by any sitcom star.
After the first five seasons, the writers started to stray from the formula, but some of these diversions are fun, especially a pair of season 7 clip shows that includes Roseanne comparing notes with June Cleaver, Ruth Martin and Norma Arnold, much to their dismay. The drama starts to get laid on a little thick when Dan’s father issues get the best of him, and Darlene’s on-again off-again relationship with David becomes a bit of a bore. But what more could you expect from a show in its seventh, eighth and ninth seasons? The only thing that’s tough to forgive was the temporary replacement of Lecy Goranson, the actress who played Becky, with Sarah Chalke during seasons 6 and 7. It’s never good when shows do this, and especially bad when the new performer changes the way the character behaves – Goranson’s Becky was smart and argumentative; Chalke’s was quiet and passive.
Much has been made of the final season’s lottery storyline and meta-confessional finale, and for good reason. It went against everything that made the show unique, and more importantly, the jokes just weren’t as funny. But taking this journey with the Conners for a second time, rooting for them as they take one step forward and two steps back through season after season, it still feels good to see their dreams come true.