I watched a lot more TV when I was younger.
Mostly because I was constantly grounded over something or other, but also because back then I’d no children to distract me and no book to be writing. Probably the biggest reason though, was because my mother and I shared the same taste in tv shows and had a weekly ritual that involved a lot of tea and our favourite programs. Now we’re talking pre -DVD boxsets, and definitely pre – Sky plus and Netflix so you watched it ‘live’ or you missed it. This kind of TV show dedication took planning, perseverance and the occasional dash to the VCR with a blank tape if someone – or something – had the audacity to interrupt us.
When I look back on those halcyon days, it’s hard to remember what exactly we did watch – the odd soap definitely, and the obligatory medical drama but definitely what we enjoyed the most was a good laugh, and man did we get that with Roseanne.
My mother loved Roseanne. At the time I may have found that slightly unusual – they wouldn’t exactly have a whole lot in common, my mother was a quiet woman, she wrapped her cloak of respectability tightly around her and definitely had a good sense of propriety whereas Roseanne Barr (or Conner as was her onscreen name) wasn’t and didn’t. But then my mother’s sense of humour never failed to surprise me – I’ll never forget the time she saw Falling Down for the first time and the convulsions of laughter when Michael Douglas shot up the whole of McDonalds when they wouldn’t serve him breakfast as he was two minutes too late. ‘Oh wouldn’t there be days where you’d love to be able to do that’ she said, bent double. ‘Really, Mam? You have those days often?’
The strangest thing is though, watching old re-runs of Roseanne now -since I had my own kids – it all becomes very apparent why it was such a hit with my mother. It has to have been the honesty; the dirty, depressingly uplifting honesty of it all. Prior to this any family ‘sitcoms’ we watched were happy, middle to upperclass people who had no sense of struggle, no money problems and definitely all seemed to like each other way more than any normal families I know. Classic examples of these type of shows that were favourites in our house were Family Ties and then a few years later The Cosby Show but, whilst we loved both, they didn’t ring true like Roseanne.
All great comedy is grounded in struggle, and boy did poor Roseanne and Dan struggle. In fact a lot of the themes of Roseanne’s show would be just as pertinent today as they were back in the 90’s. Back then the Celtic Tiger mayhem (that my mother never really did get to see) hadn’t even started and the bleak days of the recession of the late eighties had to have been very fresh in everyone’s head. My Dad was a post office worker and so like Dan Connors and Roseanne, any money my parents had went towards keeping the family afloat. It’s only really now that I can understand how a show about two people struggling to make ends meet and make it to the end of each day with a roof still over their heads, their kids still alive and them still talking to each other would have appealed.
This wasn’t The Brady Bunch, The Waltons or Silver Spoons – this was a real family with siblings that bickered and parents that traded insults and acted like they sometimes couldn’t bear to be in the same room, let alone the same marriage. This was a family where no one pretended that their life was exactly as they wanted it, where no one tried to hide how hard real life really can be. Being a mother is hard. There are days where you actually think that if someone asks you for something just one more time, you will not be responsible for your actions. So in episode one when Darlene responds to a comment from her mother with “So what do you want me to do? Throw myself off a bridge?” and you hear that mother reply “only if you’ll take your brother and sister with you”, you laugh. You laugh a lot actually because you can relate. And the fact that sometimes you honestly feel like you could not care less what any of them do, all of a sudden seems okay. It doesn’t mean you don’t all love each other, it just means that its normal for it not to be easy all the time.
There has to have been days that my mother felt like that. Back then a woman’s place was in the home and they were not meant to have any aspirations to have any kind of life outside those four walls. No wonder she found this larger than life, giant ball of bitter honesty so funny. To hear the thoughts that you daren’t voice aloud come out of someone else’s mouth and for people to nod in agreement and better still, laugh? How absolutely refreshing that had to have been. Because that was the absolute best thing about Roseanne. No matter how dire the situation, no matter how awful their circumstances – they laughed. They laughed and we found ourselves laughing too.
I could go on about all the other wonderful things about this show – it had a cast that was second to none– apart from the obvious comic genius of Barr herself (who incidentally coined the phrase ‘Domestic Goddess’ long before the lovely Ms Lawson) and indeed her onscreen spouse, John Goodman. It featured George Clooney as Roseanne’s boss in season one, a young Johnny Galecki who went on to the lofty heights of The Big Bang Theory, Sandra Bernhard as the indomitable Nancy, definitely one of the most interesting characters to hit our TV screens and a host of other perfectly cast characters. The relationship between Roseanne and her sister Jackie was another gem, going between light hearted normal sibling issues to the darker times of domestic violence. The show was also ahead of its time when it came to LGBT issues and featured one of the first ‘lesbian’ on screen kisses between Roseanne herself and Sandra Bernhardt’s girlfriend Marla. Despite the fact that this was not a ‘sexy’ kiss, ABC still threatened to pull the episode saying that it wasn’t right for kids to see two girls kissing. Roseanne Barr, however, got her way by threatening to move the show to another network and went on to show a wedding between her two male bosses the following year.
I’m going to start watching this show again now. Barr is 63 this year and actually looks better than ever, and my mother, well she’s not around for the re-run. But that’s okay, I know she’s probably far better entertained by looking at me struggling to get through each day often not knowing which end of me is up. And maybe when I hear the theme tune play at the beginning of each episode and listen closely to the bit where the bluesy sax fades off and you can hear that legendary Roseanne laugh – I’ll know that she’s laughing too. And if Roseanne has taught us nothing else, it’s that laughter will get you through just about anything…
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