The revamped series, a spinoff of Roseanne (canceled in May by ABC following Barr's racist tweets), addressed Roseanne's fate in Tuesday's series premiere right off the bat -- and it wasn't at all a surprise. For weeks leading up to its premiere, there had been speculation over how the show would handle Barr's absence; returning star John Goodman hinted that the Conner matriarch would be killed off, while Barr flat-out said in an interview that Roseanne would die from an opioid overdose. Sure enough, that was exactly how Roseanne was written off.
The Conners' first episode, titled "Keep on Truckin'," picks up three weeks after Roseanne's funeral and the family is in various stages of grief (and enjoying the latest casserole dish given to them by concerned loved ones). According to various family members, they believe Roseanne died from a heart attack while sleeping in her bed. But the truth, they soon realize, is far more devastating than that.
When Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) receives a distressing phone call from a friend who works in the coroner's office about Roseanne's autopsy, she breaks the news to Dan (Goodman) about what really led to his late wife's death. It definitely wasn'ta heart attack, like they had originally thought, but rather that she "OD'd on opioids," Jackie says, stunned at the words leaving her mouth.
Juliette Lewis Shares How She Felt on Set Filming 'The Conners' (Exclusive)
Dan, in denial, doesn't believe what Jackie's telling him. Instead, he retraces the fateful days following the knee surgery Roseanne underwent, saying everything seemed fine. That Roseanne had only taken painkillers for two days after her surgery and then transitioned to ibuprofen. Only now they know she was definitely still taking painkillers in secret, having hidden pills all over the house, unbeknownst to her family.
Roseanne's true cause of death shocks everyone to their core. Jackie hypothesizes that Roseanne must have taken the pills that would later kill her right before going to bed -- “and with her health issues, it was enough to stop her breathing.” Making matters worse, Becky (Lecy Goranson) later finds a pill bottle in Roseanne's closet, only it wasn't prescribed to Roseanne but for a Marcy Bellinger (guest star Mary Steenburgen), an addict who supplied Roseanne with pills after she approached her for help following her knee surgery. Later, Jackie discovers a stash of pills Roseanne had hidden in an ice pack in the freezer.
So it wasn't just Marcy who is to blame for Roseanne's death. The problem, the rest of the Conners come to terms with, was far bigger than just one person.
Last month, ABC released the first official photos from The Conners' first episode taping. According to the official synopsis for the premiere episode, a sudden turn of events forces the family to face the daily struggles of life in Lanford in a way they never have before, which we now know was referring to Roseanne's death.
Goodman spoke to The Sunday Times in August, where he said that Barr's character will be killed off in the spinoff and that Dan "will be mopey and sad because his wife's dead." Barr revealed how, appearing on the YouTube show, Walk Away, in Septemberto say that her character dies from "an opioid overdose.” “It wasn’t enough to [fire me], they had to so cruelly insult the people who loved that family and that show,” she said at the time. “There’s nothing I can do about it. It’s done. It’s over. There’s no fight left.”
John Goodman Says Roseanne 'Gave Up a Lot' for Spinoff 'The Conners'
Roseanne was canceled in May, after Barr was fired due to a racist tweet against Valerie Jarrett, a former senior adviser to Barack Obama. “It’s an unknown," Goodman said of whether or not the spinoff will be successful, before referring to his beloved character, Dan, and what's to become of Barr's character. "I guess he’ll be mopey and sad because his wife’s dead.”
Goodman also said he hasn't been in touch with Barr, but did thank her for clearing the way for The Conners to move forward with ABC. He also said that he knew for a fact that 65-year-old Barr -- who intimated that she would be traveling to Israel when the spinoff premieres -- was "not a racist."
“She had to sign a paper saying that she relinquished all her rights to the show so that we could go on," he shared. "I sent her an email and thanked her for that. I did not hear anything back, but she was going through hell at the time. And she’s still going through hell.”
In addition to Goodman, Gilbert, Goranson and Metcalf, The Conners also stars Michael Fishman, Emma Kenney, Ames McNamara, Jayden Rey and Maya Lynne Robinson, who replaces Xosha Roquemore as DJ's wife.