‘Roseanne:’ The reboot America needed

Reboots of ’80s and ’90s sitcoms have pervaded streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu. “Full House,” “One Day At A Time” and “Will and Grace” are just a few of the shows that received such treatment, which includes higher production values, louder laugh tracks and several layers of HD makeup.

Having grown up on these sitcoms, I was excited about the trend at first. How would these shows tackle huge topics in America right now? School shootings, political divides and radical changes in internet culture have made navigating everyday conversation overwhelming and confusing. How would these reboots show that?

The thing is, most of them didn’t. “Fuller House,” while edgier and more racially diverse than its 90s original, seems to have completely missed the #MeToo movement. In their world, everyone is basically good at heart, and a vet’s salary is enough to heat that enormous house, a reality not seen by a large chunk of Americans.

Because of this, my expectations were low for the “Roseanne” reboot. I worried that even the nostalgic, and now-famous afghan hanging from the back of the couch wouldn’t be enough to cover up the unavoidable truth: the world is simply different now, and maybe sitcoms don’t have a place in it.

The pilot episode changed my mind on that. The Connor household is as relevant today as it was in 1995.

When we open on them, Dan and Roseanne, now aged, are dividing antidepressants from previous prescriptions because neither can afford to go to a doctor. They nearly lost their home in the 2008 stock market crash, Roseanne has to drive Uber to pay the bills and retirement has now become a pipe dream. After divorcing David, Darlene is forced to move back home with her two kids, the rebellious Harris and Mark, a non-binary child.

Early on, we find out the reason Aunt Jackie is absent from the opening scene is that she and Roseanne haven’t spoken since the 2016 election. Throughout the pilot, Darlene’s return forces them to have an uncomfortable reunion. In an unusual display of vulnerability, Roseanne apologizes for making her Democratic sister feel less-than because of politics.

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This scene, while short, reflects a conversation going on in millions of American households today. With the election having been so tense, many of us have had the realization recently that we cannot boycott our racist grandparents’ birthdays forever. We cannot avoid the reality that we are stuck with these people, for better or worse, awkward post-Trump discussions with them are inevitable.

Beyond politics, “Roseanne’s” inclusion of a non-binary grandchild does not feel forced or gimmicky. While other shows may have been scared to comment on this relatively modern identity, “Roseanne” tackles it head-on. The Connor grandparents, while loving, just don’t quite “get it.” This is most expertly shown in a scene where Dan tries to bond with Mark in the kitchen.

Mark: “I like your nail polish, Grandpa!”

Dan: “That’s drywall, son.”

While it never tries to be sensitive, the strength of “Roseanne’s” comedy is that it always punches up. The punchline is not the fact that Mark is non-binary; the punchline is the fact that none of us quite knows what to make of that.

No matter what someone thinks of Roseanne Barr herself, the show is important and relevant, even 20 years later. Its viewership is a testament to this, as it held strong in the 18-to-49 demographic that TV networks aim for. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the back-to-back pilot episodes attracted over 25 million viewers in its first week on air. The majority of these viewers come from the Midwestern states, a demographic that is often overlooked on TV.

As of now, it looks like Roseanne, in all of her opinionated, no-nonsense, tactless splendor is here to stay, and maybe that’s something America needs right now.