As I only rarely watch live TV these days (mostly when I’m visiting my parents) my contributions to this blog are going to be mainly based around how I get my TV fix. That is to say, TV on demand and DVD boxed sets. So, in that spirit, and shamelessly inspired by a similar feature in a popular broadsheet newspaper, I’m going to give you my TV on DVD recommendations.
One of the truly great things about TV on DVD is rediscovering the television of your youth. Sometimes you know it’s not going to live up to your memories – as much as I loved it at the time, I’m fairly sure Knightmare wouldn’t do much for me now, for example. But sometimes you’re rewarded by a show being much, much better than you remembered. This was my experience with Roseanne.
Nic and I circled around the season 1 boxed set of Roseanne for ages when it was being sold in a local remaindered bookshop. I had fond memories of a show that was broadcast in the tea time slot on channel 4 throughout my childhood, but I honestly wasn’t sure how much of this was just nostalgia. When the set was reduced to a ridiculous £2.50, I couldn’t resist any longer. I’d spend more than that on Marie Claire, and that magazine always gives me a rage-induced migraine. Readers, that £2.50 was very well spent. Roseanne is nothing less than excellent.
Family life is at the heart of Roseanne, and this is obvious from the title sequence. I’m going to try to resist comparisons as far as I can, but I can’t think of another title sequence quite like this one. The camera circles around the family unit as they sit in the kitchen talking, laughing, arguing and messing about. It’s far away from the stylised dicking around that opens The Cosby Show, or the folksy charm of The Waltons. I have a soft spot the size of Chicago for the theme tune, as well. It was composed by that giant of theme tunes, W.G ‘Snuffy’ Walden, and it’s the perfect accompaniment to this scene. It’s almost impossible for me to talk about this with any detachment, because it reminds me so much of Saturdays in my home when I was growing up, even down to the free-from-a-gas-station plastic mugs with dogs on. My granny had those in her house! She probably still does, in fact.
I think I’m always going to be drawn towards family narratives, and Roseanne does this well. The Connor family are very recognisable, and their family dynamic feels very real. I have two sisters and a brother, and the squabbling between Becky, Darlene and DJ is really realistically written. Okay, Darlene is a lot more witty than I was at 12, but the near-constant name-calling and tickling and tattletale-ing, well that’s part of family life and Roseanne doesn’t leave it out. It feels very inclusive to watch, somehow. This is extended to the adults, as well. Roseanne and her sister Jackie are close as sisters can be, they’re best friends but this relationship isn’t written with much sentimentality. Their love for one another is evident, but they bicker and argue as much as Becky and Darlene do.
Roseanne’s marriage to Dan, her childhood sweetheart, is the other backbone of the show. Maybe it’s because I’ve come back to this as an adult that I’ve started to appreciate it, and maybe it’s because of an indepth knowledge of Sex and The City and other shows where characters exhibit a Charlotte York style desperation to get married, but I love that the marriage is not totally glamorous and glittering. Again, it’s clear that this is a happy marriage as Dan and Roseanne trade quips like screwball pros, but they argue about money, and chores, and parenting. Their marital bed is covered in hideous candlewick blankets and they go to sleep in ratty pyjamas. It’s life. It’s not a gritty portrayal, but there’s a truth there that I find really appealing and their relationship provides comic moments and moving exchanges in equal measure. I adore John Goodman, and he makes Dan such a joy to watch.
This was all the stuff that I remembered, but there’s a lot more to Roseanne than just this. Roseanne is a really politically minded show. You could probably even call it radical, at least in its earlier seasons. It’s not concerned with party politics, but Roseanne has its eye firmly on class and gender relations, and approaches this in a variety of ways. Season 1 is really interesting in this respect as it examines labour politics. Roseanne, Jackie and Crystal all work on the assembly line in Wellman Plastics, under their flaky but generally okay line manager, Booker (an early role for George Clooney.) You see the women at work, joking about how crappy their jobs are and dealing with piggish male colleagues and management. After Booker leaves, and a new manager increases quotas to an unachievable level, the women react. Roseanne tries to submit to the boss’s sexist demands by subduing her personality, and when this doesn’t work she leads a walk out. That episode is incredibly tense, and while it doesn’t overtly engage with a discourse around unions and labour, this is what its focus is on.
Roseanne could also be considered a feminist TV show, and its interest in gender relations runs right through the series. Roseanne herself has often been pilloried for her own particular brand of womanhood, and this is such a shame, because it misses the point entirely. This is not the Daily Mail-feared brand of man-hating feminism at all. Roseanne is a series about sisterhood, in all of its flavours. There’s the very obvious sisterhood – the familial relationship between Roseanne and Jackie, but there’s a wider idea of it as well. Largely, the women in Roseanne are co-operative and supportive of one another. Roseanne and her female friends aren’t competing with one another, but supporting one another through a life where they’re responsible for others. Roseanne’s relationship with her daughters is interesting in this respect as well, because there are so many times when she urges them to celebrate their female-ness, most notably in a later episode when Darlene has her first period.
Roseanne’s feminist slant is also explored through Roseanne’s hopes and dreams for herself. She’s a good and involved mother – she loves and understands her children, but she doesn’t live her life through them. She wants things for herself, too, even if this isn’t always achievable. As someone who is ambivalent about the idea of parenthood, I find this really interesting and appealing.
Best of all, Roseanne is funny. It’s funny, thoughtful and brilliantly written. Roseanne is a witty and engaging performer, and she’s gracious enough to give the other stars space to shine as well. The series is full of banter and wise-cracks, slapstick and sight gags – it surprised me on rewatching, how much it made me laugh out loud. Since our £2.50 investment, Nic and I have bought and loved seasons 2-5, and season 6 is on the wishlist. The quality of the show does decline a bit towards the end – and I believe it’s almost unrecognisable by the end, but I think that the first seasons are among the best sitcoms I’ve watched. You should pay the Connor family a visit, I don’t think you’ll regret it.