I was not surprised when I heard that ABC was re-booting Roseanne Barr’s hit ’90s sitcom Roseanne. The ’90s are back, if they ever left us, and reboots are huge. I was not surprised when this decision was greeted with controversy. Roseanne the person, and to an extent, the show, thrived on controversy. I wasn’t surprised when Roseanne said that the Conner’s would be Trump supporters, even as many of my friends who saw Roseanne as a feminist icon were appalled. I wasn’t surprised that this controversy netted the reboot a lot of press and I wasn’t surprised that the show was a hit. I wasn’t surprised that reviews, while not unanimous, were generally positive; Roseanne is pretty awful on her socials, but she’s also talented and surrounds herself with people who know how to make good television. I wasn’t surprised when Roseanne continued to be a far-right provocateur, nor when the showrunners tried to distance Roseanne Barr, the celebrity who tweets Nazi salutes at survivors of school shootings and Roseanne Conner, smart, strong, conservative matriarch. The one who is supposed to be leading a very important dialogue. I wasn’t surprised that tons of (mainly white) people were willing to watch the show in spite (because?) of the star’s polarizing figure.
And I definitely wasn’t surprised when Roseanne tweeted an ugly, racist joke at Valerie Jarrett, a black woman who’d worked in the Obama administration. I was disgusted, but I was hardly surprised. I wasn’t surprised also, at all the white people who were shocked– SHOCKED— that Roseanne was an unhinged racist. I found it depressing, but I wasn’t surprised. White People gonna constantly, disappointingly White People.
BUT THERE WAS ONE SURPRISE
I was, however, surprised, that Roseanne lost her show. I did not expect that.
I expected a slap on the wrist in the form of a scripted apology, and maybe a fine that wouldn’t make much of a difference to a TV star. Season two would probably see an episode in which a high profile black celebrity appears, and there’s some sort of minimal lesson about everybody being nice to each other.
But an actual, honest-to-God consequence? One that has reprecussions beyond a rote apology (if that?) Damn. It feels good to be wrong sometimes.
To be clear: I don’t have an emotional stake in whether the Conners appear on TV screens. I never watched the original, and haven’t made time for the reboot. But in theory a show like this, one that deals with the rather stark realities of a politically divided family trying to make it paycheck to paycheck. . . well that could be good. It could even be one of those shows that writers at Slate say “is what America needs right now.” And there are people with way more at stake than me cultural-representation-wise who engaged critically and thoughtfully with the new Roseanne.
But the idea that at any point in the last ten years the person to bring that dialogue to America was Roseanne Barr was, frankly, ridiculous.
I’m not celebrating that the show itself is gone; but I’m glad that it’s creator, who for too long got away with posting the worst sorts of conspiracy theories, racist invectives, and general cruelty, is facing consequences.
Sometimes it’s good to be surprised.