TVRG Snapshot: Roseanne Season 1 (1988-89)

Looking for an established show to binge or relive old glories and blunders?  If mild spoilers don't deter and readers like a preview of what they can't wait to see, take a glance and locate a new series to add to your collection.  Look back  and explore the parent series for The Conners, Roseanne, which enjoyed 10 successful seasons from 1988-97 and a 2018 singular season revival.


Working Class struggles were forefront in ABC's latest offering of sitcoms offered with complimentary canned laughter.  Roseanne Conner (Roseanne Barr) is a 30-something Midwestern woman living the American dream.  She lives in a dying town in America's rust belt, and spends glorious afternoons stamping plastic in a factory instead of fretting over her stories.  Her and drywaller husband Dan (John Goodman) play tug of war over household duties to keep the place running for their children -- teenage Becky (Lecy Goranson), pre-teen smartass Darlene (Sarah Gilbert) and precocious DJ (Michael Fishman). 

Rounding out the adult case is free-spirited single sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf), and Roseanne's well-meaning yet mocked best friend Crystal (Natalie West), both of which whom are employed at Roseanne's factory Wellman Plastics.  The first season delivered blue collar laughs bolstered to new heights thanks to Roseanne's quick-witted and loud humor.  The majority of the action centered on the household, with Wellman peppered into the background.


Prior to debut, Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner of Carsey Werner productions conceived the idea of a sitcom centering on a working mother.  Werner paid notice to comedienne Roseanne Barr after she was profiled on entertainment tonight.  Producers cited Barr's ability to embody the voice of a domestic goddess, yet enabled the voice of a working class heroine they desired.[1]  Set in the exurbs of Illinois, Co-Executive Producer Matt Williams modeled the exterior shots of Lanford, Illinois after his hometown of Evansville, Indiana, basing the prized home blocks away from his Alma Mater.  

Unlike fledgling FOX in 1988 (ironic for 2020), ABC sitcoms were presented with delicacy, grace and middle class.  Roseanne's premise profiled the blue collar culture.  Not the typecast trailer trash, but the salt-of-the-earth industrial workers.  The core units may not have enjoyed gourmet meals like the commercials, but they enjoyed the view and recorded them on their VCR.  While 8PM's Angela Bower on Who's the Boss fretted about where to entertain her latest client to stay in trend (read about that HERE), Roseanne Conner fretted feeding her family of five a meal for $12 they wouldn't be biting her ankles and complaining about.

Co-Executive Producer, who initially dubbed the sitcom as Life and Stuff, was released inside 13 episodes at the insistence of Barr [2].  Barr pushed aggressively to have the sitcom self-titled and succeeded.  A risky venture given behind the scenes wranglings of the entertainment industry at the time when stars exhibited extreme power with consequences.  Earlier that year, Valerie Harper won a wrongful termination suit after being fired from her NBC sitcom Valerie (later evolved to The Hogan Family).  After 13 episodes (and ratings soaring to regular top-5 placement in each showing), Barr delivered the ultimatum either Williams goes, or she would walk.  Williams ultimately exited.  It appeared to be a dustup between a star and producer, but rather an ominous warning of what was to come with this enchanting yet cursed franchise.


Plotting for the pilot season remained simplistic.  The initial episodes profiled domestic strife as Dan and Roseanne divvied up/sparred over domestic duties.  Plenty of familial issues were addressed such as Becky's dating woes at 13, Darlene receiving her first period, a day at the samm family style and Dan and Roseanne conspiring for the ideal post-Honeymoon after three sniping children.  A healthy dose of diversion occurred at the ladies' place of employment, Wellman Plastics, where "spinster" sister Jackie romanced supervisor Booker Brooks (some unknown actor named George Clooney).  A whole year reigns by through familial and romantic issues, and Booker gets replaced by a nasty foreman, Keith Faber (Fred Thompson), leading to a Norma Rae revolt. 

(Curious who Norma Rae is?  Google Sally Field before Mrs. Doubtfire and Steel Magnolias and learn of a great social relevance piece)


Initial seasons of Roseanne featured the best spatial relationship among the principle cast of six, peppered with a couple recurring characters (George Clooney, Natalie West) and a slew of guest stars appropriated.  Roseanne (the character) naturally took the lead, as Goodman and Metcalf balancing the adult front.  The children peppered in appropriate stories as needed, and plenty of space was had by all.  

Such space was valued by the time seasons 6-10 came about as all struggled for consistent display as the cast exploded to a strong recurring roster and cast changes were addressed.


The series became a herald for addressing blue-collar issues.  Earlier seasons kept it simple. tackling less controversial issues such as insurance and healthcare issues, workplace for the modern women and typecast teenage issues.  Becky delved with dating, while sarcastic troublemaker Darlene stole cigarettes and delivered the series' first gut-punch episodes as a ruptured appendix left the family not only frantic but dealing with insurance heckling.


The debut season of Roseanne arrived in late October 1988, on of the worst years in broadcast television history as the WGA Strike of 1988 delayed production [for more about that messin a Hollywood dress, click HERE].  Unlike many ruined/established shows, Roseanne offered a fresh pallet of working class humor. Just like the polished, peppy and pretty shows like Dynasty and Dallas, Roseanne offered up oodes of domestic drama.  The difference lie in the fact that Roseanne packed canned laughter to remind folks when to take a toke, err I mean joke and run with it.  

Roseanne's debut season dealt with a less than ideal cast showcasing impoverished does't equal inadequate.  Mall drama of appeasing a 14-year old transcends rich or poor.  Tornadoes make middle-aged me heroes as they shield their wives spouting jokes about houses by to cut down telephone bills.  And that spinster sister, who's quite occupied with her taken boss is something which can happen to all, classes, even the industrious working kind.


Natalie West is a capable performer, but her infusion as Roseanne's zany friend Crystal Anderson was not quite a joke, but the butt of the series' initial seasons.  Thrice divorced and tragically widowed, Crystal Anderson had a midlands twang to her vocals and was designed as the scene stealer.  The indirect foil came about when Roseanne's energetic and single sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) filled this partial need, rendering Crystal obsolete. Writers persisted and continued to integrate Crystal with an emotional episode explaining her last husband's untimely death in an industrial accident leaving him entombed in a cement pylon in town.  This flattened gut-puncher episode delivered on paper a blockbuster back story, yet failed as it was played for comic fodder vs. dramatic character development


The Conners evolved from a dynamic series.  If one can discern art from artist, enjoy Roseanne repeats on local affiliates  and lead into The Conner's strong following.

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