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.

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