Roseanne Revival

Hit show returns 30 years after premier episode

By Bill Brioux

Believe it or not, it has been nearly 30 years since Roseanne premiered on ABC. That was back in 1988, when Ben Johnson won – and then was disqualified from — the 100m gold at the Seoul Olympics; Ronald Reagan was still president of the United States and Brian Mulroney Prime Minister of Canada.

Donald Trump? The billionaire real estate developer was still on his first marriage.

The blue-collar sitcom was a No. 1 hit and ran for nine seasons but its controversial star, stand-up comedian Roseanne Barr, always wanted a 10th. She finally gets her wish starting March 27 as a nine- episode revival of the series begins on ABC and CTV.

Every one of the main cast members is back, including star and executive producer Barr, John Goodman (husband Dan Connor), Sara Gilbert (daughter Darlene as well as an executive producer on the revival), Laurie Metcalf (sister Jackie), Michael Fishman (son D.J.) Lecy Goranson (daughter Becky) and Ottawa-native Sarah Chalke (also Becky).

Wait a minute, you’re saying; Dan died in the original series, and how are they going to resolve the two Beckys? The answers: he didn’t really die (according to Barr) and the Becky solution is brilliant.

In some ways, Barr has changed from the ‘80s. For one thing, she’s now a 65-year-old with six grandchildren.

“I think that I’ve grown up,” she told reporters attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour earlier this year in Pasadena, Calif. “I think everybody who hits 65 is more mellow than they were in their 40s.”

In other ways, however, she’s still the same feisty firebrand who woke up North America three decades ago with a cackle.

Take Trump for instance. Barr wades into the politician storm at the centre of America today by making the 45th president a central – if unseen – character on the revival. Roseanne and Dan, we learn, are big Trump supporters. The struggling couple embraced his campaign message to make America great again.

Reporters jumped on that plot point at the ABC press conference. In real life, Barr has defended Trump many times on Twitter. (She admitted her own children had recently taken away her Twitter password.) She was repeatedly asked if the new storylines were inspired by her own support of the president.

“You know, I’m not a Trump apologist and there are a lot of things he has said and done that I don’t agree with — just like there’s probably a lot of things Hillary Clinton has done and said that you don’t agree with. And so nobody is brainwashed into agreeing with a hundred percent of what anybody says, let alone a politician or a candidate.”

Executive producer and showrunner Bruce Helford was more diplomatic.  He explained that the goal for the Roseanne revival was for this particular TV family to get this debate going in a very honest way.

“There’s no agenda on anybody’s part,” he said, just a determination “to get honest feelings out there, within a family that’s relatable, and there’s really no show we can think of that’s dealing with it in the same way.”

“This is a time when our country is very divided,” added Gilbert, also a co-host and executive producer on the daytime series “The Talk”. “So, to me, it was a great opportunity to have a family that can be divided by politics, but still is filled with love.  And what a great thing to bring into this country right now.”

Prodded for more comment, Barr made clear what side of the debate she was on.

“I have always attempted to portray a realistic portrait of the American people and of working class people,” she said, insisting that it was “working class people who elected Trump. So I felt that, yeah, that was very real, and something that needed to be discussed.  And especially about polarization in the family, and people actually hating other people for the way they voted, which I feel is not American.  And so I wanted to bring it right down the middle, and we did.”

Any notion that Barr had mellowed very much, if at all, disappeared as she ended the press conference by suggesting it was “time to close ranks” and called for “an end to hate-triotism in this country.”

After the session, the Canadian in the cast – Sarah Chalke – said there was never any political discussion on the set. “The show does a really good job of incorporating the effects of president Trump’s presidency on Middle America specifically. It’s woven into the stories in ways it affects people’s lives.” Chalke praised the writer’s room, which includes Roseanne but also original executive producer Tom Werner, Canadian comedian Norm Macdonald and producer/comedian Whitney Cummings (“2 Broke Girls”).

The series is one of several re-boots of old favourites, a trend that gained momentum last fall with the successful return of “Will & Grace”. Remakes of “Murphy Brown”, “Cagney & Lacey” and “Magnum P.I.” are in the works, as are updated versions of “Party of Five”, “Charmed” and “Roswell”. Netflix has also gotten into the act by ordering a re-launch of “Lost in Space”.

Barr says she hopes audiences are ready to welcome back the Connors, who will now have a few grandchildren in the mix. “I think we were friends to a lot of people, if you can be friends on TV.  But they did let us into their homes and maybe they missed us, and they’re happy to catch up with us again, I hope.”

Beyond the main cast members, several other players from the original show will be coming back as guest stars, including Johnny Galecki (“The Big Bang Theory”), Sandra Bernhard, James Pickens, Jr.,  and Estelle Parsons.

The new season is not just about nostalgia however, says Werner. “As people know, this was a show about female empowerment, about people speaking their minds.” He sees the nine new episodes as an opportunity to do what the series always did, which was tackle relevant issues. And not just Trump, but things like the opioids crisis, aging parents and health care.

But, yes, it will also be about Trump. Barr was asked what she thought about Oprah Winfrey maybe taking a shot at the presidency in 2020.

“Of course I love Oprah,” says Barr, “but you know what? It was time for us as a country to shake things up and, you know, try something different.”

Such as finally electing a female president? Asked if she would support outspoken actress Susan Sarandon for a run at the White House, Barr snapped back, “Actually, I think I would be a better president than Oprah and Susan Sarandon, possibly even President Trump.”

Cue the cackle.