The boffo ratings for the reborn Roseanne, with the title character back as an unabashed Trump supporter, are understandably a cause for celebration in conservative circles. As Entertainment Weekly reports, the “incredible 18.2 million viewers along with an equally impressive 5,1 rating among adults 18-49” qualifies the dual premiere episodes as “the highest-rated comedy telecast in any network in nearly four years.” And: “In the adult demo, it also trumps Sunday’s blockbuster 60 Minutes episode which featured an interview with Stormy Daniels.” Little wonder that President Trump himself, no stranger to the TV wars, called Roseanne personally with congratulations.
So, yes, the triumphalism is understandable, and so is the impulse to see this as a sharp, long-overdue stick in left-wing Hollywood’s collective eye. Like their news media counterparts, the big brains at the networks’ entertainment divisions, stand exposed as smugly contemptuous of the values and beliefs of half the country—having for years, decades, really, opted for programs (even comedies) that endlessly hector the benighted masses on diversity and social justice. All along, they’ve been passing up potential ratings gold.
Yet, I confess that, eager as I was to see the show, and pleased as I am by the numbers, as one who longs for a pop culture that would seriously take on the Left, I was more than disappointed; I was disheartened. For what we got, on the identity politics/social justice front, was very much Hollywood as usual, with just enough pro- and anti-Trump sparring to pretend otherwise.
Most of the sparring is between Roseanne and younger sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf), who shows up at the Conner home after an angry year-long estrangement wearing a pussy hat and sneeringly greets the family matriarch with, “What’s up, Deplorable?” By the book hilarity ensues.
“Aunt Jackie thinks every girl should grow up to be president,” Roseanne informs her granddaughter, in their most heated exchange, “even if they’re ‘Liar, liar, pantsuit on fire.”
“I think we know who’s a liar and who’s on fire, Roseanne,” counters Jackie.
Jackie doesn’t like it one bit when, before saying grace, her sister asks if she first wants to take a knee, and concludes the prayer by thanking the lord “for making America great again.”
But heaven forbid anyone get even the glancing impression that the Conners might be “bigots,” by liberal lights. To the contrary, with one black and one cross-dressing grandchild, theirs is as diverse as any family on the air, and 30 minutes is all it takes to allay the doubts of crusty granddad Dan (John Goodman) about allowing the nine-year-old boy to head off to school in a skirt. After all, as the child’s mother assures him, their whole family is “weird.” As the other subplot unfolds—daughter Becky’s to be a surrogate mother for the cash—one can only wonder if the baby will be transgendered.
These may not be the Trump voters in the pickup truck in the next lane, but they are Trump voters as liberals would like them to be—misguided, of course, as an unfortunate consequence of their lack of education and poor-as-dirt lives, but in their hearts, just like us!
It’s as if, in payment for the occasionally politically incorrect aside, the producers must offer the sort of absolving explanation that by now many conservatives offer up as a rote preface when we try to explain our views on affirmative action or feminist zealotry: “Well, of course we’re all for equal rights, and equal pay for equal work . . .” Co-executive producer Bruce Rasmussen is apparently so safely cocooned in his certainty that he comes right out and says it. “[Writer] Dave Kaplan and I were two of the people who had least understood that there are people who voted for [Trump] who aren’t misogynists or racists and who felt betrayed by other administrations,” he told Entertainment Weekly of the discussions that shaped the show. “Most writers, including me, are more liberal than we are conservative for sure. I’m no fan of Trump at all . . . We had to keep reminding people that this is not how we feel.”
One wonders: could they really not find any actual conservative writers in Hollywood? Have they all been blacklisted?
Comedy, when it works, is grounded in truth, and the bottom line about what’s afoot with Roseanne is that, for all its posturing and pretense of daring, it is false. I’m reminded, as I often am when watching network sitcoms, of the exchange in A Thousand Clowns between the manic children’s show star Chuckles the Chipmunk and the 12-year-old who stares expressionless as he flings himself around, desperate for a laugh. What’s wrong with you, demands Chuckles, pulling out an audience survey, “the routine I just did got 85 percent prolonged laughs.”
“You were not funny,” replies the kid. “Funnier than you is even Stuart Schlossman, who is my friend and is 11 years old, and puts walnuts in his mouth and makes noises.”
Who’s funnier than this new Roseanne, for conservatives looking to give the Left an occasional dose of what Colbert, Maher, Samantha Bee, and all the rest dish out from the other side? Almost no one who stands a chance of ever getting on the air.
But by way of example of what is theoretically possible: funnier, too—once—was, of all people, Jimmy Kimmel. Back when Comedy Central was worthy of its name, he cohosted with Adam Carolla the often juvenile, occasionally hilarious, and always intrepid The Man Show, which featured more than a few routines—starting with one in which the hosts got women to sign a petition demanding an end to “the suffrage of women”—that today’s Kimmel would probably pay big money to remove permanently from circulation.
Funnier, too, often, has been Larry David, who, afforded the protection of beloved liberal status, has been able to get away with bringing his patented truth-telling to all manner of progressive hypocrisy. When Larry and his friend Richard Lewis run into a black friend of Lewis’s whom he introduces as his dermatologist, for example, the ever-gauche Larry reacts with surprise. “Really?” he asks, in front of the guy. “Even with the whole affirmative action thing?”
All of which makes the new Roseanne, for all its apparent success, a major opportunity missed—the first and maybe only chance to tell the other side of the story on a major network, with laughs. Sure, for people like the Conners, the bread-and-butter issues are vital. But millions of us also care passionately about the Left’s unrelenting assault on the culture—its undermining of free speech and religious liberty, its poisonous identity and victimhood politics, its elite colleges that proselytize instead of educate, and all the rest, most of which, seen from the proper perspective, has always been laughable anyway. It shouldn’t be Jackie demanding “How could you?!” in reaction to Roseanne’s vote, but the other way around.
Roseanne Barr is surely the only showbiz Trump supporter who has that kind of clout, which is why it’s a shame to see it wasted on an enterprise that could have been so much more.
On the other hand, for those familiar with Roseanne’s bull-in-the-china-shop, to-hell-with-conventional-wisdom history, there’s at least small reason for hope. In the show’s first incarnation, Roseanne ended up taking on her original producer, who had a completely different vision. As Roseanne related to New Yorker writer John Lahr, the guy screamed at her during one of their knock-down, drag-outs: “‘I write what’s meaningful to me. I’m a f----in’ writer! I’m an artist!” Roseanne’s response? “Not on this show, by God. You’re gonna write what I tell you to write.” She characterized her fury as “so strong I could’ve sucked out his will to live with my nostrils.”
Now that sounds like the right answer to Samantha Bee!
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images