How 'Roseanne' Is Tackling Hot-Button Issues Rarely Touched on TV
By Leena Tailor
After breaking ratings records with its highly anticipated premiere, the Roseanne reboot returns with its second episode on Tuesday night and is set to continue addressing social and political issues rarely tackled on prime time television.
With the comeback comedy’s debut tackling gender nonconformity and surrogacy, ET spoke to cast and crew about how they decided what topics to delve into and the humor behind the often serious subject matter.
“We sat down and really tried to pick apart what [we] haven’t seen on television, what [we] have not seen addressed honestly or what this family uniquely could address in an authentic way,” executive producer Whitney Cummings told ET at the sitcom’s Los Angeles, California, premiere. “We wanted to dig right into prejudice; we wanted to dig into not having a retirement plan.”
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“What do you do when you don’t have a retirement plan and you’re 65 and you still have to work?” Cummings continued. “Roseanne’s driving an Uber when she can pick up shifts. We really wanted to figure out what would actually be happening. What happens when your kids have to move back in with you when they’re 40 and have their own kids? Real-world stuff and just making ends meet. That’s something I think a lot of television has lost -- the basic stakes of trying to pay bills.”
John Goodman, who plays Roseanne’s husband Dan Conner, agreed that the simple issue of making ends meet is a significant underlying theme of the series.
“Things that affect families in middle America, they're going to affect us and we want to be showing how it affects a family who are living paycheck-to-paycheck,” Goodman told ET at the premiere. “How they handle these things and how much they have to forget just to get through the day.”
“They have so much in common with other American families,” added Barr. “Everybody's mad at everybody. So, we'll find a way through and hopefully other people will too.”
Social diversity and the issues that can stem from it also remain prominent in the sitcom. Cummings said they hope to “mirror” modern-day America.
The actress and comedian pointed out that the sitcom was the first to address racism in “such an honest, uncomfortable way,” and referred to one of her favorite episodes, in which D.J, played by Michael Fishman, refused to kiss a girl because of the color of her skin.
“DJ wouldn’t kiss the black girl in the school play, and he’s now married to her, which is amazing and she’s on the show and that’s wonderful,” Cummings said.
“They have a Muslim neighbor who Roseanne is not particularly thrilled about, as a lot of people who watch Fox News aren’t,” she added. “And, the neighborhood is primarily Mexican now. We’re really trying to hold up a mirror. It’s not like we’re trying to be progressive and dogmatic; that’s just what our country looks like now.”
Cummings added that showrunners have been conscious of not blurring the line between the lead character, Roseanne Conner, and the actress who plays her, Roseanne Barr, too much.
“We live in the age of Twitter and YouTube and we know everything about everybody,” Cummings noted. “As writers, we really wanted to delineate the difference between Roseanne Barr and Roseanne Conner. There is a difference, so we want to make sure we got that right because we don’t shy away from project diversity in either of those realms.”
“We really wanted to stay authentic to where the Conners would actually be -- not where we wanted them to be or where we thought might be funny for them to be,” she added. “Given the economic circumstances of this family, the way things are in this country, and the way things have gone -- the city that they live in, Elgin, is now primarily Mexican -- [we’re] just reflecting what our country actually looks like now, 20 years later.”
Of course, it’s the comedy of Roseanne that also won viewers over back in the day, and as the reboot continues, the series will keep weaving in humor while tackling raw, real and often contentious issues.
During ET’s visit to the show’s set in October, Fishman praised the sitcom’s knack for “finding the funny in the tough moments.”
“At the base, it's about family, so it's about relationships and that's where the humor comes from,” Lecy Goranson, who plays Becky, added. “The teasing and the inside jokes -- that's the source of it. It's less about politics [and] more about personal politics, and I think that's really where the humor comes in.”