I don’t watch much television, but The Fabulous Wife and I have been following a couple of rebooted shows: Roseanne and Lost in Space. We enjoy both.
Although Roseanne Barr remains queen of her realm, she, John Goodman, and Laurie Metcalf are the show’s weakest links. She comes off as wooden most of the time. Goodman and Metcalf seem less than thrilled to reprise the roles that made them famous. The two daughters, Becky (Lecy Goranson) and Darlene (Sara Gilbert), really carry the show. It should be called Roseanne: The Next Generation as the sisters, so promising in their youth, return to the nest in middle age, defeated.
The show has made headlines because of Roseanne’s loud support for Donald Trump. One line in particular has raised hackles. Late in the third episode, Roseanne and Dan fall asleep while watching television. When they wake up, Dan notes that they missed the sitcoms about blacks and Asians. “They’re just like us. There, now you’re all caught up,” says Roseanne.
Every pundit I’ve read took that as dismissive, even contemptuous, of Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat, also on ABC Tuesday nights. That wasn’t my reaction at all. I saw it as an expression of solidarity: we’re all outsiders struggling to make it. But maybe my worldview clouded my judgment. I see everyone as vulnerable, and our actions as defense mechanisms against the threats presented by other people and an indifferent universe. Some groups face more challenges than others, for sure. But as someone who came of age during an integrationist era, when people emphasized the commonality of the human condition to combat racism, sexism, and economic inequality, I didn’t hear that line as an insult.
From my perspective there was a different inexcusable moment in that episode. When Roseanne’s granddaughter Harris acts like the vain, obnoxious teen she is, Roseanne responds by grabbing Harris’s hair, sticking her head under the sink, and giving her a nasty kitchen swirly. Sorry, but you don’t assault your grandchild (or any adolescent). It’s your job to be the adult in the room and not let her get to you. Roseanne Barr the artist should have known that even if Roseanne Conner the character didn’t, and there should have been a consequence. It would have been plausible for Harris to hit back, or for Darlene to take her kids and leave (Aunt Jackie might be crazy, but she has a roof over her head and is more sympathetic). But there was no consequence, which rang completely false.
I take that as evidence Roseanne’s talent has waned. But she’s still funny, she’s still nuanced and truthful about the realities of the white working class, and the characters she created are still worth caring about despite their flaws. So The Fabulous Wife and I will continue to watch.
We’ve seen only the first two episodes of the Netflix Lost in Space, but we’re hooked. The original series debuted in 1965 and, except for the robot, was a piece of crap even by Irwin Allen’s standards. Once Star Trek premiered in 1966, we switched space show allegiance and never looked back. At least not until adulthood, when we occasionally caught episodes on rerun stations like Me-TV. I’m not sure whether Jonathan Harris, who played the villainous Dr. Zachary Smith, was a gay man outing himself to a completely oblivious American public, or whether he was a straight man using gay tropes to highlight his character’s evil nature. I hope the former, but he was married for 64 years, so if I had to guess, I’d say the latter. Either way, his was the only interesting character in the bunch.
In the new version, they’re all interesting, and the special effects are much better too (how could they not be?). The mom and dad are on the verge of divorce; one of the kids is Maureen’s from a previous marriage to an African-American man; and Will Robinson didn’t pass the test to qualify for interstellar travel so Maureen does something devious to get him aboard. Oh, and also, the new Dr. Smith is female (Parker Posey) and the robot comes from a species with lethal animus toward humans.
I guess whoever said old age is second childhood got it right. Here I am, watching the same TV shows I did when I was a kid.