In defense of ”Roseanne”
Here in New York, the Great Exception, I’ve been hearing more and more people say that they don’t like Roseanne. Too negative, too mean and yucky — that’s what they say. So I looked at the ratings — Roseanne is still riding high. America likes the show. Then I watched a pile of recent episodes on tape. I still like the show. That leads me to one of two unpleasant conclusions: Either there’s a Roseanne backlash starting or I am spending too much time with a bunch of wusses.
What’s wonderful about Roseanne is that the show is negative and even nasty. Sitcoms from Beaver to Cosby alter life and make it pretty. Roseanne leaves life the way it is and finds its punchlines where it may. The show is a wry, raw, cynical, and honest chronicle of life today; it is — brace yourself for a heaping helping of hyperbole — a Three-penny Opera for the 90’s.
To pay her bills, Roseanne has to work for — and even suck up to — a ”dweeby little kid” in a fast-food joint; life’s a drag. Because she’s the fastest worker in the place, the kid makes her work Saturdays, even though he promised he wouldn’t; life’s unfair. When Roseanne refuses to be away from her family on the weekends, the kid fires her; life bites. So Roseanne has to go to work sweeping hair; that’s life.
Roseanne is the leader of a trendlette toward true-grit television. There are others. thirtysomething, as much as I despise it, at least acknowledges that life isn’t always prefect (the real trouble with the show is that it doesn’t just acknowledge problems, it celebrates them). Married…With Children and The Simpsons paint nothing pretty. China Beach and Tour of Duty kill characters off. Heck, even The Bradys aren’t all happy anymore. Politicians and marketers take note: Rose-colored glasses are out. Shades of gray are in. We’re growing up and part of growing up is learning that life can me a mess.
Some of the natterers who dislike Roseanne may do so because they dislike — or are getting sick of — Roseanne Barr herself. She has become such an object of both commerce and controversy that even the Wall Street Journal has taken to reporting on her private life and personality. Barr’s story is juicy and certainly hard to resist. But too often, we confuse entertainment with entertainers. Who cares if an artist is an ass if the art is worthwhile?
I like Roseanne because I like what the show says. And I suspect that’s the real problem with the anti-Roseanne natterers. They’re the same sort of people who always whine that the newspapers should give more good news than bad, that movies and books and shows should entertain and not enlighten. They don’t like honesty or reality. They are wusses.