Another Helping of ‘Roseanne'

The latest return of an old show reflects a growing appetite for TV comfort food amid discomfiting times. But will it be too much to swallow?

In a recent promo for the return "Roseanne," Becky throws out old photos of her parents, declaring, “I’m getting rid of the one where you guys were fat.”

“Those are the only ones where we look happy!” Roseanne snaps back.

Impressive weight loss will be low down on the to-explain list when Roseanne Barr’s classic ABC sitcom about a blue-collar Illinois family makes a March 27 homecoming, nearly 21 years after leaving the air, seemingly for good.

More pressing questions beg answers: Why are both actresses who played Becky back (one in a new role) and won’t that get confusing? How did Conner family patriarch Dan rise from the dead? And why bother returning at all?

The last question also could be put to the creative teams of a bunch of TV shows revived with, mixed results, in recent years – among them “Gilmore Girls,” “Twin Peaks” and “The X-Files,” programs that, in the “Star Trek” vein, enjoyed beyond-cult followings.

“Roseanne” is the most successful network program to attempt a comeback, following the ongoing encore of past ratings-grabber “Will & Grace” and preceding the impending resurrection of “Murphy Brown,” a hit that debuted in 1988, the same year as Barr’s breakout show.  

As biggest returnee of them all, “Roseanne” teeters on becoming either the biggest disappointment – or the best fit. Barr and John Goodman’s weight loss aside, “Roseanne” offers the tantalizing promise of TV comfort food for discomfiting times.

But will it be too much to swallow?

Hopefully not. The show, which came out of Ronald Reagan’s America, a period of decline in union power, bodes to have something to say about life in the Trump Era, when news and entertainment media seem unable to get a handle on the working class.

That’s not helped by a lack representation, especially on TV – “The Carmichael Show,” a smart comedy with blue-collar streaks of “All in the Family” and “Roseanne,” recently ended its too-short run on NBC.

Barr, for all her eccentricities, proved she could connect with mainstream audiences, via a relatable family drowning in love, laughter, conflict and bills. “Roseanne” soared while rooted in reality – save for the final, out-of-place fantasy season, with its sad death-revelation capper. 

Barr, Goodman and Co. have a fresh opportunity to make up for the odd ending with the new, nine-episode run on ABC. They also have a chance to extend the legacy of “Roseanne” at a time when we could use a comedy about a resilient, scrappy family that punches above its weight.

Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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