I'll admit that I never watched Roseanne when it originally aired from 1988 to 1997. However, the show was wildly popular in its time, and was lauded for its realistic portrayal of a white, working-class family. The show's creator, Matt Williams, and its star, Roseanne Barr, both grew up working class. The intent of the sitcom, was to "represent the people [they] grew up with - without condescending - and basically celebrate [a] working-class family with a husband and wife who loved each other." The titular character, Roseanne Connor, started the series as a factory worker and cycled through a number of working-class jobs when the show was on the air. Her husband, Dan, was an on-again off-again contractor who also tried his hand at numerous working-class jobs as the seasons progressed. The couple was raising a family with a tight budget in a working-class exurb of Chicago, they voted for Reagan, and they were overweight (anathema in Hollywood, even today). While the Roseanne portrayed a more conservative family, it still tackled a number of issues that were edgy for its time: feminism, abortion, homosexuality, racial prejudice, alcoholism, drug abuse, and sexual dysfunction were all addressed on the show.
The revival of Roseanne comes at an opportune time. While there have been a number of TV shows featuring working-class families in the past, few such shows are on TV today (even in the so-called golden age of television). This is especially surprising giving the renewed focus on the white working class in the aftermath of the 2016 election. Due to lots of promotion by ABC, and perhaps due to great timing, the premiere of the new season had blockbuster ratings, drawing 18.2 million viewers. The show has already been renewed for an additional season after just 2 episodes.
The response hasn't been all positive. Roseanne (the real person) has always been somewhat of a controversial figure, but she drew renewed derision from liberal media and commentators after publicly announcing her support for Donald Trump. Her Trumpian leanings have even carried over to her TV persona: in the first episode of the new season, it's revealed that Roseanne Connor is a Trump supporter. While liberals aren't fond of these developments, at least one person was tickled by the news. President Trump himself personally congratulated Roseanne on the premiere's success.
Roseanne isn't the only show to make a triumphant return to TV in the age of Trump. Will & Grace, a show about two gay men and their "fag hags" living in NYC also returned to TV this year. Will & Grace was a show I definitely watched growing up, and I've also watched every episode of the new season. It's proudly and profoundly anti-Trump. The only Trump supporters on the show are Karen, the wildly rich and ridiculously absurd socialite, and a random Nazi who buys a swastika cake to bring to a party for Trump. The show is comfort food for liberals (I'll admit, I continue to love its campiness and gay in-jokes). The main characters are liberal elites and every episode is basically an echo chamber for liberal ideas. No one who watches Will & Grace is outside of their comfort zone.
So why did I decide to watch the Roseanne reboot? Well, perhaps because of what I am currently learning in White Working Class & the Law, I wanted to see how white working-class Trump voters would be portrayed on TV today when not being treated as the butt of tragicomic jokes. I was pleasantly surprised.
The two episodes I watched were absolutely fantastic. Roseanne (the character) is indeed a Trump voter, but she is far from one-dimensional. In fact, she's complex... as I imagine the majority of Trump voters are. The first episode opens with Roseanne and Dan bemoaning the increased price of their many prescriptions, a struggle faced by working families everywhere. Their kids have returned home, and they are struggling with low incomes and joblessness. Along with the kids come grandkids, who are quite a surprise. One granddaughter is black, and a grandson is exploring the gender spectrum (wearing girls clothing to school). Dan and Roseanne are concerned, not that the grandson could be gay or transgender, but that he will be bullied at school.
As far as politics are concerned, Roseanne is feuding with her sister Jackie, a stereotypical Hillary Clinton supporter who makes her debut on screen wearing a pink pussy hat and a "nasty-woman" t-shirt. This is a family dynamic I expect is playing out in families across America. While they don't agree on much, the show hints at possible common ground. One storyline focuses on daughter Becky's decision to serve as a surrogate to make some extra money... both Roseanne (who is less-than-thrilled) and Jackie agree that the decision is Becky's to make because it's "her body, her choice."
While the show has a decidedly political bent, it maintains its humor without bitterness. It portrays Trump voters, not as bigots or idiots, but as regular folks who voted for someone they thought would "shake things up." Even though I personally abhor Trump, I found myself laughing ... and genuinely liking the Connor family. Perhaps shows like Roseanne are just what is needed today to help bridge the gap between liberal and conservative Americans - to see each other a regular people, rather than strangers or ideological opponents.