Saturday, 31 March 2012

Roseanne and sex

"Sex. She told me it was something people did in Europe."
-Roseanne Conner

Though the show didn't repeat the huge leap forward in quality it did in season 2, Roseanne still changed its attitude a bit coming into season 3. Suddenly more social issues than ever are being addressed, and being put under the show's usual acerbic lens. After seeing the comparatively squeaky clean Mary Tyler Moore and Cheers, it's kind of a shock to hear sitcom characters talking about perverts and homosexuality and boob jobs. Season 2 featured some well-needed deepening of the characters, and absolutely perfected small-scale domestic storylines, but I feel like the broader social conscience introduced in these episodes is what really made Roseanne unique. "Like a Virgin," the third episode, was especially successful at this. It built on the strengths of season 2 by telling a family story where neither side is right or wrong, but this time it concerned sex and birth control. What at first seemed like it might turn into a hacky morality tale (but then I should trust the show more at this point) instead became a very mature take on teenagers and sex, and eventually was turned on its head in that amazing ending when Roseanne's daughters hijack "the talk" she was trying to give them. I still don't think Roseanne has reached the point where every episode will be amazing ("Friends & Relatives," while it ended in a lovely moment between Dan and Jackie, was a bit too jokey for my taste), but I'm glad that after a fantastic second season, the show isn't even considering starting to coast yet. And I know I mentioned it before, but Sara Gilbert and Lecy Goranson have only gotten better in their roles of Darlene and Becky, and they're delivering truly wonderful work here. The last few episodes of season two soured me a little on the show, but I'm glad it's hit the sweet spot again.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Roseanne late season 2

Just a quick update to say that I'm less than thrilled with the two major plot developments of the last third of season 2, Roseanne's new job at the hair salon and Jackie's new boyfriend Gary. The former rubbed me the wrong way due to each of Roseanne's coworkers and customers being one-dimensional stereotypes, as well as leading to a grating story about Dan belittling the job. The latter seems to be doing a little better in terms of creating interesting storylines, but I wish they could've centred it around a less dull character. Hopefully these will be dealt with gracefully in the last few episodes.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Roseanne and different kinds of emotions

"I have to watch myself before I pay you a compliment. You're not used to hearing that from me."
-Dan Conner

Generally, sitcoms work better when their characters like each other. Now, obviously that's not true for every type of sitcom, and conflict is always necessary in stories. But for a mostly positive genre like the sitcom, there has to be some measure of love between the characters. This is why Jackie didn't work for me in season 1 of Roseanne. Her main character trait was being overbearing, as indicated by her awful catchphrase, "You know what your problem is?" Her first episodes positioned her as a villain for Dan, which makes sense with family dynamics, but doesn't suit a regular character. Their altercations quickly grew irritating, and I found myself wondering why she was even on the show (this is no fault of Laurie Metcalf, who played the character very well from the start). I was somewhat relieved, then, when the first half of season 2 basically ignored Dan and Jackie's relationship (and Jackie's catchphrase). It wouldn't be out of the ordinary for that aspect of their relationship to be dropped entirely, but instead, without warning, we got a whole episode devoted to it. And it was, as most episodes have been this season, wonderful.

Roseanne has quickly proven itself surprisingly adept at telling emotional stories this season, but what's surprised me as it's gone on is just how good it is at telling different kinds of emotional stories. As I talked about before, this is what is setting it apart from Cheers and Mary Tyler Moore in my mind. While those shows hit emotional notes expertly, they didn't vary them too often. This season alone, however, Roseanne has addressed a great spread of emotions, from the tense family dynamics in "No Talking," to Darlene's quiet sadness in "Brain-Dead Poets Society," to Roseanne's disarming breakdown in "Guilt By Disassociation." And "An Officer and a Gentleman" is just as interesting in its exploration of two people slowly realizing their true feelings for each other. With Roseanne off to tend to her father, Jackie runs the house instead. Much of the episode is devoted to her and Dan coming to terms with the fact that they like and respect each other much more than they let on. It's handled so deftly, from Dan pretending he doesn't remember where they first met, to Jackie forcing Dan to turn a backhanded compliment into a legitimate one. The story it tells is a fully adult one, but it's delivered just as well as previous episodes did stories about the Conner children. Of course, this is a sitcom, and nothing truly revolutionary happens: as Dan says to Jackie, "I still get on your nerves." But the important thing is that the episode makes it feel like some real progress has been made between these two characters.

And yet, even though this season has hit so many emotional highs, I haven't yet gotten hooked by it as easily as I had Cheers. I'm still at the stage of being surprised by how good each episode I watch is, even though this season's track record is so good. Maybe it's because I was so put off by the first season, but I'm having trouble really giving myself over to the show. I hope that'll pass soon. Because this is really wonderful stuff.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Roseanne revisits straw antagonists

I know the main pull for Roseanne was Roseanne's irreverent attitude, and I imagine it was quite a rare thing when the show was on the air, but I think my least favourite part of the show is whenever Roseanne chews out some minor character on behalf of the audience. So far this season, I've been impressed by how little the show has been using straw antagonists, which made me a bit disheartened when I realized "Chicken Hearts" would be using that character type again. But in another improvement from season 1, the show used this plot a bit more deftly. Brian, Roseanne's boss, was a little more developed compared to previous straw antagonists, having some measure of a personality instead of existing only to be unsympathetic. The show even briefly gets into his motivations for his actions, which deepens him just a little. And though at first the show seemed to be building to some big comeuppance for Brian, Roseanne ended up losing in the end. She got the final sassy word, complete with overly enthusiastic applause from the audience, but she's worse off than she was when the episode started. This episode wasn't as good as the season's best, but I'm glad the show's still trying to better itself from season 1. And though it could be seen as unnecessary, I like that the show is trying to improve everything it's doing, even the stuff that didn't work before. As much as I'd love a season of 24 "No Talking"s, this approach certainly makes things more interesting.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Roseanne's best episode yet

And of course, right after a string of mediocre episodes, Roseanne delivers easily its best yet, "No Talking." It's a shockingly mature take on a mother-daughter disagreement, with both sides treated fairly and realistically. Neither Roseanne nor Becky are turned into stereotypes in their embodiments of the nagging mother and rebellious daughter archetypes, and the show gets into each of their heads to show their motivations for their actions. I haven't mentioned it yet, but season 2 has been very kind so far to Sara Gilbert and Lecy Goranson, who are absolutely wonderful whether they're making silly jokes or dealing with pretty deep material. "No Talking" is essentially my ideal Roseanne episode, using all of the main cast and no guest stars, exploring the Connors' family dynamics in a dramatic way, and being often disarmingly funny, as in that wonderful final shot of Roseanne revealed in her daughter's closet. I understand that they can't all be like this, but I can still dream.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Roseanne's sophomore slump

I was super excited about the first three episodes of Roseanne's second season, but that's been deflated a bit by the next few. "Somebody Stole My Gal" was derailed by a broad guest star, "Five of a Kind" came off extremely dated when it came to gender issues, and "Boo!" was just a bit too gimmicky for me. The worst was "Sweet Dreams," one of those bizarre, awful fantasy episodes I dread in a good sitcom. I was sure Roseanne would be on top for good, but now it looks like I'll have to wait a bit longer for the show to really find itself.