This is the second of five entries that will feature sitcom mothers in the spotlight for the month of May, and looking back on the two years that I have written this blog, it boggles my mind that I have not done a single blog entry on today's show. It was a show that ran for almost a whole decade, and for years was ranked as one of ABC's highest rated sitcoms. And, the star of the show was a female comedienne who had quick wit, fantastic comic timing...and, a little bit of controversy on the side.
But, hey. Controversy sometimes adds an extra bit of flavour to otherwise bland television programs.
Not saying that this sitcom was by any means, bland. The show frequently pushed buttons, and got people talking. Many people said that the family that was featured in the show was the perfect representation of the average blue-collar family. As someone who grew up in a similar sort of background, I could definitely see some similarities between my family and the family featured in today's blog spotlight. Heck, even the birth order of the children on the show was the same as it was in my own family!
So, I hope you'll join me on a trip to the fictional community of Lanford, Illinois and drop by the Connor family residence. Just try not to be fearful of the lady of the Connor manor. She may appear to be boisterous, sarcastic, and a complete battle-axe, but trust me...she's a really great mom when she needs to be.
Today we're going to shine the spotlight on the television sitcom “Roseanne”, which starred Roseanne Barr Pentland Arnold Thomas. But, you can call her Roseanne, if you like. And, before she decided to go nuts, she starred in one of the most successful sitcoms of the 1990s. Seriously, when the show debuted on October 18, 1988, it didn't take long for the show to rocket to the top of the ratings, actually ranking at the top of the Neilsen ratings scale during 1989-1990. And, even though the show eked out a nine season run before concluding its run on May 20, 1997, the finale attracted a respectable sixteen million viewers.
So, the premise of Roseanne deals with the trials and tribulations of an American working class family, which at the time of its 1988 debut was quite daring. I mean, let's face it. When you go back in time 25 years, one thing that you might have seen in sitcoms back then was the fact that most sitcom families were at least living a middle class lifestyle. The parents all had good jobs, they lived in beautiful homes, the women were clad in size 4 outfits, and everyone was decked out in the finest 1980s fashions.
Not so with Roseanne. Roseanne was a heavy-set, trash-talking, flannel wearing kind of gal who lived in a house that wasn't very fancy, but looked surprisingly cozy.
Because Roseanne was set in a small town in which the vast majority of the residents had to work jobs in the manufacturing and retail fields, Roseanne and her husband Dan (John Goodman) worked whatever jobs they could to provide for their kids.
In the nine years that the show was on, Roseanne worked a variety of different jobs. She started off the show working for a plastics manufacturer, but when she walks off the job following a battle with a new foreman, she took on a variety of other odd jobs, including telemarketing, secretarial work, bartending, and sweeping hair from the floor of a salon. She also works as a waitress at a diner within a department store, and when that business folds, she teams up with her sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf), her mother Bev (Estelle Parsons), and her friend Nancy Bartlett (Sandra Bernhard) to open up the Lanford Lunch Box.
Wow...from a line worker at a plastics company to owning her own business. Now that is a real role model for working class mothers all over the world, wouldn't you say? I guess it shows that with enough determination, anybody can open up their own business.
But hey, the fact that Roseanne was willing to go out into the workplace and try new things just showed us how awesome she was. Sure, she could have stayed home and did the household duties while Dan brought home the bacon, but as we saw on the show, sometimes this wasn't always feasible. After all, Dan seemingly had just as hard of a time keeping a job as well. Truth be told, I don't think that Roseanne would have been content being a stay-at-home mom.
In fact, the show was also unique in that Roseanne was always portrayed as a strong matriarchal figure. If anyone wore the pants in the Connor household, it sure as heck wasn't Dan most of the time! Roseanne ruled the roost, and that was exactly the way that she liked it.
Of course, Roseanne's children caused her many frustrations as well, which likely aided in sculpting her overly cynical personality. Son D.J. (Michael Fishman) was the youngest child of the Connor family for many years (prior to the birth of youngest Connor child Jerry Garcia towards the end of the series), and he often got busted for mischievous behaviour and playing tricks on his older sisters. Believe me, I could relate to D.J. Connor a lot. In fact, Michael Fishman and I were born the same year, so it was kind of like watching myself on screen sometimes!
Middle child Darlene (Sara Gilbert) could be considered a junior version of Roseanne). She was loud, she was crass, at times she got into screaming matches with her siblings, and she would rather be seen in football jerseys than sundresses. Darlene does have her good moments though. Contrary to what some might think, she actually acts as the voice of reason within the sometimes dysfunctional Connor family. She also has a keen interest in art, and her dream throughout the whole series is to get out of Lanford so she can make a career out of her art in a larger city.
And, eldest child Becky was the child that probably gave Roseanne and Dan the most ulcers. On the surface, she did seem to be the perfect child. She was intelligent, she was beautiful, and she had the whole world on her shoulders...until she met her boyfriend Mark (Glenn Quinn), left home and eloped in Minnesota.
Oh yeah, there was that annoying thing with Becky being played by two different actresses. For the first four seasons of the show, Becky was played by actress Lecy Goranson. Then beginning with season five, Canadian actress Sarah Chalke took over for the next three years. Lecy Goranson returned to the show for season eight, but on episodes in which she wasn't available, Sarah Chalke filled in. Finally by season nine, Lecy had left once more and Sarah Chalke filled in for the remainder of the series.
No wonder Becky caused headaches for Roseanne and Dan. You never knew which one would show up!
CONFESSION: While I liked both Becky's, I actually grew to like Sarah Chalke's portrayal slightly better than Lecy Goranson's. Maybe it's because Sarah brought a little bit more warmth to the character. I could be the only one who feels this way though.
But you know, I have to give Roseanne Connor a lot of credit. She did her very best to see that her children were fed, clothed, and had a warm place to sleep...even if they didn't necessarily show their gratitude all that much.
Like...take D.J. Connor for example. Roseanne sometimes had to tread very lightly around D.J., as he was somewhat sensitive. When Darlene told D.J. that he was an accident, Roseanne eased his worry by telling him that he was a “surprise” (which prompted Dan to admit bluntly that Darlene was a disaster!).
And there was one episode in which D.J. stole a car and Roseanne reacted by giving him a spanking, which opened up a huge discussion about how Roseanne's father used to discipline her and Jackie the same way. It also opened up a frank discussion about abuse in the household, and the way that Roseanne and D.J. talked it out was not only groundbreaking, but honest. I thought that it was an ingenious way to tackle the subject, and Roseanne's remorse over what happened showed exactly how much she loved her son.
Roseanne also had a rather difficult relationship with Becky as well. In many ways, Roseanne and Becky had kind of a love/hate relationship, especially in the days when Lecy Goranson played her. Becky and Roseanne were like oil and water, clashing every step of the way. And, when Becky began dating Mark, it only served to increase the tension between mother and daughter. Take a look at this instance in which Becky wants birth control.
But here's the thing. Roseanne was there for Becky in many ways. Roseanne tried to help Becky deal with the embarrassment of passing gas during a speech she was making at the school. It didn't exactly work out all that well, but at least she tried. When Becky elopes with Mark, it takes Roseanne some time to adjust to the news, but she eventually welcomes Mark into the family, no questions asked. And, Roseanne is very supportive of Becky when she begins to have second thoughts about the life she has chosen for herself. Sure, Becky and Roseanne's relationship may have been a bit rocky, but deep down inside, they love each other.
And, you can also say the same about Darlene. Part of the reason why Roseanne and Darlene butted heads so much was because they were too much alike. And, Darlene certainly caused Roseanne stress, from handing in a term paper that Becky actually wrote to arguing with her in almost every single episode of the earlier seasons.
However, Darlene's boyfriend David (Johnny Galecki) helped bring mother and daughter closer together, oddly enough. It all began when Darlene spent the day at David's house and witnessed his mother being abusive towards him. Darlene was genuinely concerned about David's welfare, and asked Roseanne if David could move in with them. Of course, Roseanne was completely against the idea, and refused to hear Darlene out.
That is until Roseanne saw how bad things were for herself...
Needless to say, David moved in with the Connors, became an honourary family member, and enjoyed an on-again, off-again romance with Darlene for the remainder of the series. And, I should note that Roseanne's kindness towards David seemed to rub off on Darlene, as their fights were less and less frequent.
Maybe David was the Prozac that kept the family together.
I'm not exactly saying that Roseanne Connor would ever win the “Mother of the Year” award, but given the circumstances, she tried her best. None of her children ended up dying, or getting severely punished by the law. They actually ended up somewhat normal! And, I credit that to the fact that Roseanne laid her feelings out on the line, and was open and honest about everything. She never sugarcoated anything. Instead, she offered up doses of tough love and sarcasm to teach morals and ethics...and for the most part, that bizarre formula worked splendidly.
But, of course, there were some lapses in judgment along the way. And to close off this entry, I thought I'd post one final clip of one of Roseanne's...um...less than finest moments.
Oh, and just to keep in the spirit of Mother's Day, click on this link to watch the episode where five classic sitcom moms pay Roseanne a visit!