The most talked about new show of the season wasn't supposed to be a new show at all; it was supposed to be the second season of the revival of one of the most lauded and successful sitcoms of all time. Now, it finds itself in the middle of a partisan battleground as if the fate of the country hinged on its success or failure.
Last week's premiere was a no-brainer. People were definitely going to tune in to see how the show wrote off Roseanne Barr's character after the actress was fired for sending a racist tweet over the summer. The real test comes this week. With their curiosity sated, will anyone come back to hang out with the Conners week in and week out?
It was a smart move bringing Galecki back for this sophomore effort of the hastily-assembled spinoff series, paired with his hippy girlfriend, Blue, played by Juliette Lewis. The star of the top-rated sitcom is always going to be a big draw, and the ratings definitely saw a boost for his appearance during last season's "Roseanne" run.
The episode was also important for the episode to show us just what kind of show "The Conners" is going to be. Without the brash and opinionated Roseanne Conner at the fore, would it try to be a vastly different show, or would it remain the topical, current and potentially controversial show it always was.
The biggest difference without Barr is more than just the absence of the family matriarch, it's the absence of her point of view. In the revived show, Barr represented the MAGA-touting Trump supporters of middle America, which put her at odds with much of her family. And while this didn't dominate every moment of every episode, it was still there.
The absence of that voice has only served to rile up the conservative right against the show, with many condemning it sight unseen. But at least the writers didn't take the opportunity of her absence to shift "The Conners" into a liberal Trump-bashing machine. Instead, they've avoided politics altogether, thus far.
The Social Network
Trump support notwithstanding, though, "Roseanne" and Roseanne were always very open-minded and more liberal when it came to social issues, and that appears to remain at the forefront of this new series, which has it looking very familiar to long-time fans of the show.
In this second episode alone, the writers dug into the challenges of co-parenting after a separation or divorce, alternative parenting styles, subtle sexism in blue collar industries, underage sex and alcoholism. None of these topics were handled lightly, with the latter laying the groundwork for a possible extended storyline for Lecy Goranson's Becky.
The co-parenting struggles between David (Galecki) and Darlene (Sara Gilbert) rang especially true when Blue (Lewis) stepped into a sensitive situation with their daughter Harris (Emma Kenney) as she explored her first sexual encounter.
These are delicate topics for any family, but only made more complicated when parents are separated and one or more of them is in a relationship. What is the role of that boyfriend or girlfriend in parenting? At what point do they earn a say? Who makes that call? The new dynamics of the show allows for this very modern exploration of parenting.
Gilbert more firmly established herself as the new lead of the show, commanding the set and the Conner house like it's hers. And she proved up to the task of leading a sitcom, with an able assist by the powerhouse duo of John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf.
And the recipe was already there for her to slide into the center of this family show, with Gilbert having moved back home with her two kids. On top of that, she already had a similar personality to Roseanne, but hers is a story that resonates more with modern America.
Most kids these days are from broken homes and more young adults are finding themselves having to live with their parents longer as housing costs remain out of reach. Especially in a community like Lanford, Illinois with lower wages, education levels and career opportunities. Moreso than Roseanne, with her nuclear family, Darlene is all of us today.
The Final Verdict
Roseanne Barr allowed this show to come into existence, no matter how she feels about it now, because she cared about the people working on it, both in front of the camera and behind it. She should be proud that it appears ready to carry on her legacy of tackling relevant, current topics with sensitivity and humor.
Creatively, it would appear that ABC's gamble has paid off tremendously. Barr was never the strongest actress on the show, and she seemed somewhat disinterested last season. Even during the original run, she was generally outshone by Goodman, Metcalf and even young Gilbert.
Now those three are at the center of the show, with Goranson mostly holding her own. Only Michael Fishman, as DJ, seems a little awkward on-camera still, but his role was minimized from Day 1. Hell, this week he spent a whole scene jamming out silently to "Mamma Mia!"
The writing is proving as sharp as ever, thus far, with a healthy mix of poignant and meaningful moments, and solid laughs along the way. The shadow of Roseanne still lingers over the series, with Galecki's David even mentioning her absence this week, but that's as it should be.
Even in her absence, "The Conners" will always be a part of her vision and legacy. And in all honesty, it's not a bad chapter at all, if people are willing to give it a chance.