Friday, 27 April 2012

Roseanne and bowling

"Bowling" was kind of a weird episode of Roseanne. It initially seemed like a redo of season 1's "Lover's Lane," but after the first scene, the bowling storyline was continued only by Dan and Arnie. Meanwhile, Roseanne, Jackie, and Nancy see a friend's show, while Roseanne is jealous of Jackie and Nancy's new friendship. But the episode as a whole felt quite lopsided, with little time given over to any character based storylines like Roseanne's jealousy or Arnie's desire for a baby. Instead, much of the episode is devoted to the bowling tournament, which is as low stakes as these things get: Dan and Arnie's team has to win to stay out of last place... then they do. Dan and Arnie get into a fight in the meantime, but it's resolved just as flippantly. Similarly, the episode promises a trip to the skating rink early on where tensions are sure to flare, but instead Roseanne's conflict gets barely wrapped up at a scene at the bar, then is given a final nod during the episode's tag. The show kinda just... ends. The conflicts are resolved, but not in any meaningful way. If I didn't know better, I'd say this episode was the first part of a very boring two-parter. Even Mark's brother David (Kevin here), someone who will become very important to the show later on, is introduced with a shrug during the tag. And Crystal appears at the concert only to ask if the band is still playing. I know I've had issues with a lot of Roseanne episodes, but at least their failure wasn't for lack of trying. "Bowling" just seems lazy to me. It's filler the likes of which the show hasn't used before.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Roseanne and old habits

It seems like every season of Roseanne since the second has followed the same pattern: start up with a few confident, well-made episodes, fall off around episode five or six with ridiculous stunt episodes/wacky hijinks, then return in the winter with the best episodes the show's done yet, only to fall apart again by season's end. Now, I'm only halfway through season 4, but so far it's fallen into this pattern too. I was gearing up for an entire season of great television, but instead I was treated to another irritating Halloween episode (which I'm sure is a heretical sentiment for a Roseanne fan) and the strained family farce of "Thanksgiving 1991." Maybe I'm being too hard on the show, but when a season starts as strongly as this one did, it's just disappointing to see it fall into old habits again so quickly. It might just be that the things I love most about this show are different from the ones the producers love. And clearly they're crazy about Roseanne heckling Wayne Newton.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Roseanne and reservations

I should've known "Valentine's Day" was just a taste of things to come. I've been having reservations about Roseanne ever since I started watching it, even as it's been consistently surprising me by how good it is. And after I assumed that the ultra-consistent third season would be the high point of the show, already the season 4 premiere, "A Bitter Pill to Swallow," is something even more wonderful. It hit that sweet spot where every single joke works, and I'm laughing at every point the audience is. It's mastered the three-act structure, and ends every scene with a perfect button line. Most interestingly, it's perfected something I've seen hints of in the last season, where instead of being a comic story that culminates in a dramatic scene, jokes and reaction shots are woven into every scene, even when something dramatic is happening. And my god, those reaction shots! There's nothing as effective as a really great reaction shot, and this episode has so many of them. Roseanne (and Roseanne) has turned them into an art form.

It's looking more and more like Roseanne won't return to its season 2 model, of alternating comedic episodes with dramatic ones. But as much as I loved the darker moments in that season, I'm becoming more and more convinced that it's not the best model for the show. Season 2 put in a lot of work deepening the characters, and now that it's done, the show can focus on episodes like this one, which weave together comedy and drama so expertly it looks effortless. Honestly, I don't know why I'm consistently so skeptical of Roseanne. It's addressed every problem I've identified in it, and as a result it's steadily gotten better and better since it started. It made its characters worth caring about in season 2, and perfected its voice in season 3. And now, in season 4, it looks like it has no desire to slow down. I'm very excited about this season.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Roseanne and definition

A quick one: watching "Her Boyfriend's Back" made me realize that even though Roseanne is only defining its guest characters in fits and starts, its main characters are so well-drawn that their reactions to one-dimensional side characters can make an entire episode on their own. Then again, even Becky's anachronistically rebellious boyfriend Mark got a few more personality traits in this episode. But just a few.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Roseanne and being funny

As if season 3 weren't fantastic enough already, "Valentine's Day," the seventeenth episode, is without a doubt the funniest one the show's yet produced. Everything about it, from Darlene's flirting to Dan's meltdown at the lingerie store, was note-perfect. The humour was true to the show's characters and came from a place of honesty. Even Roseanne's comebacks were somehow more relevant than usual, and Tom Arnold's cameo was a perfect use of an often problematic character. Tie the whole thing up in a beautiful bow with Dan's incredible valentine to Roseanne and we have easily the best primarily comedic episode of Roseanne so far. It's also one of the few non-dramatic episodes of the show I've seen where the style of humour (as I mentioned in the last post) was up to the standards of its classics. It was wonderful all around. If I ever have to convince anyone of Roseanne's greatness, this would be the episode to show them.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Roseanne and expectations

Though season 3 of Roseanne is turning out to be better on the whole than season 2, it's taken until its fifteenth episode to really hit the high notes it did the year before. "Becky Doesn't Live Here Anymore" is the first episode this season that's really wowed me to the same level of classics like "No Talking" and "An Officer and a Gentleman." I guess it's no secret now that my favourite sitcom episodes are often their most dramatic ones, but what's so striking about Roseanne's dramatic episodes is just how funny they are. It's almost like there are two versions of the show with different senses of humour battling it out all the time. In one, the show is light and flippant, choosing silliness over any kind of deep insight. In the other, the show explores the deepest, darkest recesses of its characters and finds the humour in them. And in these episodes, the comedy is so on point, feeling true and earned—and most importantly, hilarious—that it's some of the best I've ever seen, which makes the "normal" episodes much more disappointing in comparison. Whenever Tom Arnold appears onscreen, or the show feels the need to lightly bend the fourth wall or indulge in some cartoonish aside, it's like I'm watching a different series entirely. I understand that the show wouldn't be able to sustain 25 devastating kitchen sink dramas a season, but I wish it weren't filling out the numbers with hokey material like "PMS, I Love You" and "Trick or Treat."

To be fair, this season's standard episodes are turning out much better than their equivalents in season 2, but I still feel like the show should be making episodes like "Becky Doesn't Live Here Anymore" more often. The cast is certainly game, with wonderful performances from (again) Sara Gilbert and Lecy Goranson matching the always-perfect ones from John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf. Roseanne herself has turned into a fantastic central hub for all these people, and is no longer just a sassy punchline machine. The writing is able to more often than not achieve a delicate balance between low-key sitcom storytelling and outlandish irreverence. But somehow, except for the occasional "Becky Doesn't Live Here Anymore," the show tends to feel like less than the sum of its parts. Maybe it's an unreasonable expectation, but I want this show to be as wonderful as it could be. And even though it's better than it's ever been at this point, since it hasn't yet figured out how to do it by season 3, I'm starting to think it'll never reach my lofty expectations.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Roseanne and Archer

It might have just been on my mind because the season just finished a couple of weeks ago, but the progress of Roseanne over its first three seasons is actually reminding me a bit of how Archer's been developing. The two shows are about as different as sitcoms get, but seem to be guided by similar goals, both in storytelling and characterization. Season 1 of both shows had good ideas that were often not executed as well as they should've been, and season 2 remedied this by looking deep into each character in order to determine their motivations and personalities. Both shows' second seasons were about equally divided into meaningful, character-based episodes and sillier ensemble-based ones (though still better than the examples of which offered in season 1). Season 3, then, sees both shows getting into a great, confident groove. I would give nods to both second seasons first (though I'm only just under halfway through Roseanne season 3), but there's no denying the sheer consistency of each show's third season. Roseanne has so far delivered ten absolutely hilarious episodes in its third season, and though it's spent less time exploring the relationships between its characters, every other aspect has been tightened considerably, turning the show into a well-oiled sitcom machine. I miss the more dramatic moments of season 2 (just like I've been missing the character-based episodes of Archer this year), but the fact that it's getting better and better at doing "normal" episodes makes the whole show much more enjoyable to watch. When a sitcom has earned a sense of confidence, there's nothing quite like it.