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.

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