Can a person with offensive opinions be redeemed? That’s the question posed by this week’s episode of Roseanne, “Go Cubs!”, which finds the Lanford, Ill. matriarch unnerved by the new Muslim family that moves in next door. It’s an interesting parallel to the debate many viewers are having about the show’s creator, Roseanne Barr — which might be why ABC sent “Go Cubs!” out to a “select group of press” for coverage consideration. As you might imagine, though, bridging the ideological divide is a lot easier for the fictional Roseanne, who learns by the end of the 22-minute episode that Muslims are Just Like Us™.
“Go Cubs!” opens with Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) chiding her sister for spying on her new neighbors, but Roseanne is convinced the family is dangerous because a) they’re Muslim, and b) they have a “crazy amount of fertilizer” stacked up by their garage. “I’m telling you, this is what people from Iraq and Talibanistan do! They hide out in neighborhoods like Lanford. Don’t you watch the news?” It’s worth noting that Jackie’s response to this question — “You don’t mean the news, you mean Fox News” — gets the episode’s biggest laugh from the studio audience; as much as they love Roseanne’s ignorance, it seems they find the show’s shots at her ignorance even more rewarding.
The idea for “Go Cubs!” came from Barr herself, according to Roseanne co-exec producer Dave Caplan, who says the star wanted to make sure her character received the “comeuppance” she deserves for her xenophobic views. To be sure, almost every other character in the episode scolds Roseanne for assuming her neighbors are terrorists (“They’re probably just regular folks who want to make a home here,” Dan tells her). And in typical sitcom fashion, Roseanne finds herself in a predicament halfway through the episode, and the only people who can help are — you guessed it — her Muslim neighbors Fatima (Anne Bedian) and Samir (Alain Washnevsky). Their middle-of-the-night encounter is a successful blend of humor, tension, and good old-fashioned new-neighbor awkwardness, thanks in large part to the nuanced and funny performance of Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Bedian. Here’s hoping this isn’t the last we see of Fatima.
It will probably come as no surprise to you that Roseanne Conner undergoes a 22-Minute Transformation — a long-standing TV tradition — and ends up vehemently defending Fatima after a supermarket cashier assails her with bigoted insults. “You are ignorant,” snaps Roseanne. “That woman is twice the person you’ll ever be.” It’s facile in the way lessons learned on sitcoms are always facile, but for the Roseanne reboot, it’s also a brilliant maneuver. The #BoycottRosanne movement is fueled by viewers who are offended by Barr’s support for Trump, her embrace of extremely dubious pro-Trump conspiracy theories, and her often-incendiary Twitter feed. This episode will no doubt cause plenty of angry, anti-Roseanne (the person) commentary online — but the sweet, “can’t we all get along” ending is essentially fury-proof. “Go Cubs!” also allows Roseanne to speak to the “working-class people” who elected Trump, a group Barr has often said she’d like the show to reflect. So Roseanne Barr gets to have her right-wing cake and eat it, too.
It will be interesting to see how much attention the episode’s secondary storyline gets: Dan and his partner lose a construction job to a contractor who decides to use, in Dan’s words, “illegals” instead of union workers. He, too, is admonished for using the offensive term — but because it’s John Goodman, not Roseanne Barr, uttering the line, will viewers find it less offensive? Perhaps the best way for we as a TV-viewing nation to move forward is to respect people who find Roseanne funny — some of whom likely find Barr’s politics abhorrent, as I do — while also respecting those who choose to protest Barr’s beliefs by boycotting the show.
The “Go Cubs!” episode of Roseanne airs Tuesday, May 8 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.