Sometimes — when his hands don’t look so yellow from all the carrot juice he gulps and his knees aren’t jiggling from all the nervous energy he emits and he’s dressed in something other than his extensive collection of garments boosting his home state of Iowa — sometimes these days Tom Arnold looks disconcertingly like Warren Beatty.
The resemblance may come as a shock to those whose image of Arnold is still stuck in the Early Roseanne era: hefty and volatile and yanking on the coattails of the talented and powerful Roseanne Barr (as she was then named). Or mud-wrestling with his wife for the benefit of photographers (something Beatty would never do with the missus). Or coked-up and selling her secrets to the tabloids. Or overly disposed to mooning passersby and flashing his tattoos.
Today’s Tom Arnold still flashes his tattoos (which include a portrait of his beloved on one pec and a large Star of David on the other, ironically signifying his conversion to Judaism at her request — ironic since Jewish tradition forbids tattoos as mutilation). His wife’s coattails are still an important form of transportation. And the couple’s operative philosophy is still that the uncontroversial life is not worth living. But the renovated Tom — handsomer, trimmer, more capable of modulation — signifies a new sense of ease and control on the part of America’s most publicity-hungry couple. And only the naive would confuse the real man — 33 years old and three years sober — with his self-parodying character in The Jackie Thomas Show, an obnoxious, self-indulgent, mediocre Iowa-born stand-up comedian who inexplicably lands his own hit sitcom.
There is nothing inexplicable about Tom Arnold’s starring in Jackie Thomas, which airs in the sweetest spot on TV, following his wife’s own blockbuster, Roseanne, on Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. Ratings have been disappointing so far (30 percent of the Roseanne audience tunes out); nevertheless, bets are that after Jackie ends its season on March 30, ABC will bring it back in the fall. After all, with her show the No. 1 sitcom and operating this season at full creative throttle, with its previous three seasons making big money in syndication and with a sturdy deal for the Arnolds’ Wapello County Productions in place with ABC and Lorimar, the 40-year-old former Denver housewife is the most powerful presence in comedy television today. And she’s got Jackie exactly where she wants him.
”Yeah, I’m proud,” Roseanne says, dramatic in made-for-the-camera false eyelashes and chic makeup and sharing an ordered-in sushi lunch in her husband’s office (with its Iowa-influenced decor) on the Jackie Thomas lot — the two visit each other’s sets regularly. ”I feel that I built my career. And I feel like, you know, I mean, (Tom is) talented but, you know, I kinda discovered and built his, too.”
”There are a lot of guys that are as talented as I am that don’t get the opportunities,” says Tom right behind her, casual in a sweatshirt and jeans. ”But the truth is, every opportunity I got I made the best of. And I’ve become good at each thing I’ve done. And I think, with the average Joe, if they like Rosey, they’ll probably like me.”
As executive producers of each other’s shows and managers of each other’s careers and monitors of each other’s vitamin intake, the spruced-up, 1993 Arnolds are intertwined in their obsession with making canny use of the media that created them. Raised (without irony and without boomer nostalgia) on high-cholesterol heartland diets of TV and radio and movies, Tom and Roseanne Arnold now cruise the airwaves the high-flying way their cartoon images, strapped to a motorcycle, kick up dust in their animated Wapello County Productions company logo.