Is The Conners a final nail in Roseanne Barr's coffin?
US critics were impressed by the first episode of the sitcom without Roseanne
The world of TV and films aren’t exactly short on stories of stars whose careers were wrecked by egomania, excess, personal scandal or just simple lousy judgement.
In many cases, though, they recover — usually, once the notoriously hypocritical Hollywood establishment has decided they’ve served a long enough banishment and deserve to be let back inside the tent.
Mel Gibson sits at the very top of the infamy dung heap. Gibson’s drunken, anti-Semitic rant, later compounded by disgusting phone threats to his girlfriend that went public, sent his career crashing down in flames... or at least, so goes the popular myth.
The reality is that Gibson has never stopped working, even if the films are smaller than they used to be and the roles often supporting ones.
Charlie Sheen was supposed to be a pariah in Hollywood after his extraordinary implosion, yet he went on to appear in 100 episodes of a cable channel sitcom called Anger Management and still picks up minor roles in minor films — although in truth, he’s more famous these days for spouting anti-vaccine rubbish and spreading “9/11 truther” conspiracy theories on trash like The Alex Jones Show.
Being “finished” often has a different meaning in Hollywood than it does elsewhere. Michael Richards, who played Kramer on Seinfeld, was supposed to be dead in the water after a video of him unleashing a torrent of racial abuse at black audience members during a stand-up gig went viral in 2006.
And yet, he’s since appeared in Curb Your Enthusiasm (which milked laughs from the incident), joined old pal Jerry Seinfeld in Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and had a co-starring role in Kirstie Alley’s short-lived sitcom Kirstie. It’s amazing what a grovelling appearance on a late-night chat show will do for a disgraced actor.
At a time when Hollywood is more deeply mired in sexual assault scandals than ever before, the only star whose career and reputation have been permanently destroyed is Bill Cosby, otherwise known as inmate NN7687 of the Phoenix state prison. For everyone else, it seems, the door to redemption is always kept a little ajar.
Which brings us to Roseanne Barr, who had to sit at home watching as The Conners — which is basically Roseanne Without Roseanne — made its debut on ABC, five months after the network pulled the plug on the Roseanne revival in the wake of Barr’s racist tweet about Valerie Jarrett.
US critics were overwhelmingly impressed by the first episode. The Esquire critic wrote: “For the first time since 1997, Roseanne felt like Roseanne — and it was because Roseanne wasn’t a part of it.”
Several other critics echoed that opinion. I haven’t seen any of the new Roseanne episodes; no channel in this part of the world showed them, and it’s highly unlikely they’ll ever be shown anywhere again. In fact, all nine seasons from the original run have already been pulled from Hulu.
I did, however, watch The Conners (it’s not exactly hard to find on the internet) and the first episode, in which the family learns Roseanne died from an accidental opioid overdose and not the suspected heart attack, does a great job of pulling victory from the jaws of defeat.
In particular, John Goodman (Dan), Laurie Metcalf (Jackie) and Sara Gilbert (Darlene) do excellent work with a script that treads a fine line between humour and gravity. If you can forget for a half-hour that the character everyone is mourning was played by a woman who’s been a frothing right-wing basket case for years now, you’ll enjoy it.
Meanwhile, Barr’s campaign for rehabilitation has already begun. Yesterday, she issued a self-pitying statement, co-written with her rabbi, bleating about ABC’s inability to see past “a regrettable mistake, thereby denying the twin American values of both repentance and forgiveness”.
Hollywood has a short memory. Give it another five months and she’ll be back with a new series.