Dan and Roseanne Conner are fat. They are old. They are not genetically-blessed. They have never made more than lower-middle class wages. They are still working in their 60’s. They have severe health problems. And they live in an uncool city in a less-cool state that doesn’t touch an ocean.
In other words, they are the Morlocks in a (TV) sea of Eloi. In terms of contemporary television standards, they are radicals. Even among other “conservative-leaning” TV shows like “Last Man Standing” or “Duck Dynasty” they are alone in that their politics actually aren’t conservative. Ironically, while liberals can’t stop complaining about the series, you get the sense conservatives probably wouldn’t like it that much if liberals didn’t hate it. [There’s been some very quiet grousing in Alt-Right circles that the series isn’t even close to conservative enough.]
Just take a look at some of this season’s plots: Aside from Roseanne Conner’s Trump-support (which liberal Aunt Jackie counters nicely) in the pilot, the season’s other episodes have followed Roseanne’s support for her gender-fluid grandson, the divorced co-parenting situation of her daughter’s estranged husband, and (eventually) her Muslim neighbors. Roseanne the character is complicated, and “Roseanne” the TV show’s real “ideology” is that families are complicated. Aside from Trump-loving Roseanne Conner and liberal Aunt Jackie, it’s implied that Darlene (and most likely her kids) are also liberals, most of Roseanne’s friends are either liberal or apolitical, and Dan, Becky, and DJ are likely in that half of the country that doesn’t vote. [Her mother’s politics aren’t directly addressed but her boyfriend–played by Christopher Lloyd–sure looks like Bernie Sanders.]
“Roseanne” is one of the very few entertainments that people who love Trump, and people who hate him can probably watch. Like many of the great 70’s sitcoms, it has different personalities and views culture clashing on a soundstage, squaring off over lax parenting, hiring illegals vs. union workers, automation of jobs (Roseanne’s technical shoplifting at self-checkout registers is her “wage” for doing the cashier’s job), painkiller abuse, healthcare costs, the cost of an elderly parent, and the endless drip of working-class anxiety with poverty forever knock, knock, knocking on the door. The series is talking about working-poor problems rarely–if ever–discussed on television in a gritty, bare-bones style that could be called “sitcom grindhouse.” [I never got into “The Middle” because it largely felt like a typical sitcom’s writers were slumming it more than anything close to authentic.]
And liberals supposedly hate it. Some call for boycotts of the series. Most say they refuse to watch it. Almost all have a problem with Roseanne Barr’s Twitter feed. And I think they’re falling into a classic conservative trap (minus the Twitter feed, which isn’t must-see viewing). Liberals critiquing or–much worse–shunning the series rather than championing its working-class message and ambiguous politics are playing right into the conservative trap that says coastal elites and “news” blog snobs don’t care about working-class Americans. [Some of the always good-for-a-laugh “news” blogs heavily critiqued the season finale because the Conners’s politics were “inconsistent,” saying their Trump love didn’t square with their immediate financial needs. As if that’s not true of most Trump voters.]
In the season finale, the Conners (and heart-breaking patriarch Dan, who’s so cash-strapped he might betray friends and principals alike) are saved from economic ruin by a flood. Cue chortling/outrage from liberals about the hypocrisy of their needing “EPA Superfunds” to save their (literally) underwater home. The overall emotional feel of seeing the college-educated Darlene waitressing at a sleazy casino, DJ struggling to adjust to post-Army life, Becky ready to sell her eggs for money, Roseanne addicted to pain killers to deal with a knee she can’t afford to properly fix, and construction contractor Dan getting undercut at every bid by immigrant workers far outside the union was completely lost to people that kept wondering why “Roseanne” didn’t turn into CNN and also make counter-arguments about Trump making all these problems worse.
Many have said that season 2 should have a plot about Roseanne becoming disillusioned with her Trump support. And although I definitely agree it would be factually-accurate, seeing how little support Trump has lost with his delusional base makes me wonder if such a plot would even be realistic. I’m thinking it more likely things stay roughly as they are, and the culture wars bubble up over a new set of problems that fall more along class-lines than perhaps some liberals are comfortable with.
Yes, it’s true Republicans screw working people. Yes, it’s true they’re the party of Big Business and Big Corporations. Yes, it’s true Trump will likely make Dan and Roseanne’s life even worse by the time he’s through. But I’m not sure if that feels true if liberals aren’t even willing to watch a show about people whose lives depend on a flood to get better. Then, all of the conservative critiques about “elitism” and “coastal supremacy” begin to feel…kinda, sorta, maybe…a little accurate. And that’d be a real shame if liberals are once again baited into taking the snob side. Grade for Season Finale: A…Grade for Season: A-