[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for “Roseanne” Season 10 Episode 3, “Roseanne Gets the Chair.]
In Tuesday’s new episode of “Roseanne,” “Roseanne Gets the Chair,” Roseanne and Dan Conner (Roseanne Barr and John Goodman) find themselves in a situation any hardworking couple of a certain age has experienced: Waking up from an unplanned nap on the couch, disoriented and shocked to have dozed through the entire evening.
“What time is it? Did I miss dinner?” Dan asks.
“It’s 11,” Roseanne says. “We slept from ‘Wheel’ to ‘Kimmel.'”
“We missed all the shows about black and Asian families,” Dan says.
“They’re just like us,” she says. “There, now you’re all caught up.”
Yep, credited writer Sid Youngers and the producers of “Roseanne” chose, with just their third episode on the air, to get snarky towards parent network ABC, the channel Dan and Roseanne clearly fell asleep watching (given the mention of “Jimmy Kimmel Live”). However, that snark wasn’t exactly directed towards ABC — it was aimed at the network’s only two minority-led family sitcoms: “Black-ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat.”
“Black-ish” and “Boat” are currently the only two ABC comedies featuring all-minority leads — the rest of their family-oriented line-up is focused on white families (though “Speechless” does feature a teenager with cerebral palsy, and “Alex, Inc.” features a mixed-race family, with Zach Braff playing dad). But like much of “Roseanne” as a series, it’s a bit of comedy that starts out relatable and then takes a weird turn, as Roseanne’s blanket statement of “they’re just like us” really does rankle.
As viewers, we’re continuing to grapple with the public perception of Roseanne Barr versus rough-talking but good-hearted working class Roseanne Conner. And while both do share a common characteristic — they’re Trump supporters — one argument that’s been made by producers in the publicity surrounding the show is that beyond the season premiere, politics will be much less of a factor in terms of the plotlines.
But to use screen time to flat-out say that the problems experienced by white families in America are just like the problems experienced by non-white families isn’t just unfunny — it’s myopic as hell, a line that seeks to entirely discount the real-life prejudices experienced by underrepresented people in this country.
It’s even more offensive when you consider that both “Black-ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat” aren’t just family shows that happen to feature non-white families; both series are deliberately rooted in their time and place, and explore the ethnic backgrounds of their characters as one aspect of their experiences living in America. The problems of Dre (Anthony Anderson) and Louis (Randall Park) on those shows are at times very different from Dan’s, and that’s a fundamental part of their existence.
(Also, has the writing staff of “Roseanne” ever actually watched an episode of “Black-ish”? Because actually, the problems experienced by the Johnsons are quite different from what the Conners are going through, because the Johnsons are in a much higher tax bracket.)
That said, the real wrinkle here is that there’s a glimmer of truth to “Roseanne’s” statement — and actually, ABC has made it a point that shows like “Black-ish” and “Fresh off the Boat” are meant to be relatable to all audiences, including white viewers watching a show starring casts of color, by pointing out that stories of family and relationships are indeed universal — so that people don’t see those families as just “black” or “Asian.” But framing that positive message with Barr’s signature sarcasm (almost a jab at ABC’s noble attempts to normalize diversity) just reveals just how poor the writing of the show is in comparison to those other series.
“Roseanne Gets the Chair” focuses on Roseanne’s relationship with her 15-year-old granddaughter Harris (Emma Kenney), and how Roseanne feels Harris’s mother Darlene (Sara Gilbert) doesn’t discipline her properly. As a demonstration of this, following a nasty fight between the two, Roseanne chooses to grab Harris, shove her head into the sink and hold her down while she sprays her with a hose.
The studio audience may roar with laughter at that moment, but it’s hard to watch — especially after the Conner family had talked earlier about the ways in which Roseanne and Dan used to discipline their kids. “A lot of it did not work and some of it was against the law,” Darlene says.
“Yeah, it’s against the law because your generation made everything so PC” is Roseanne’s snappy reply, once again making the Barr-Conner confluence difficult to navigate.
It stands in sharp contrast to when “Black-ish” took on the subject of spanking (or “whoopings”) in its first season. The episode “Crime and Punishment” was almost entirely devoted to the complicated feelings we have today about the idea of punishing children with physical violence, letting every character have an opinion on the subject that comes with some degree of insight and nuance.
“Roseanne” is a blunt instrument of a show so far, slamming its big points home with bratty teenagers and pussy hats. But it’s becoming clear that we’re going to have to keep an eye on its more subtle undertones — because one thing is clear right now: “Roseanne” is not like other shows on TV.
Note: This article misstated the name of “Fresh Off the Boat” star Randall Park. The error has been corrected.