By the end of its first season, Roseanne was the second most popular show on television. By season two, it hit number one, beating The Cosby Show by 200,000 viewers. The ABC blue collar sitcom would stay in the top-10 until season eight, when it dropped to #16. That’s when things got weird.
Roseanne was one of three shows I loved growing up, right there with The Simpsons and Seinfeld, but what separated it from those two was that it was the first comedy where I distinctly remember something feeling different. That something was season nine, a bizarre middle finger to convention that had the Conners, a family that went through as many low-paying jobs as Roseanne did ugly shirts, winning the Illinois State Lottery. The prize: $108 million. It made no sense at the time, and didn’t for the next 22 episodes, until the series finale. In case you’ve forgotten: the Conners becoming millionaires? Never happened. Everything we witnessed was Roseanne coping with the death of her husband, Dan, who we all thought survived his heart attack from a season prior. Also, Jackie’s gay and DJ turned into a serial killer, probably. Here’s the voiceover that plays over the scene:
My writing’s really what got me through the last year after Dan died. I mean at first I felt so betrayed as if he had left me for another women. When you’re a blue-collar woman and your husband dies it takes away your whole sense of security. So I began writing about having all the money in the world and I imagined myself going to spas and swanky New York parties just like the people on TV, where nobody has any real problems and everything’s solved within 30 minutes. I tried to imagine myself as Mary Richards, Jeannie, That Girl. But I was so angry I was more like a female Steven Segal wanting to fight the whole world. (Via)
TV shows and movies about writers writing are typically a painful, self-serving slog (and the rest of her speech should have been trimmed), but this one kind of works. Here’s a woman who was deeply, painfully in love with her husband who she’s been with since middle school, but in an instance, he’s gone. She responds to the tragedy by immersing herself in a fictional world, one where Dan’s alive and they’re rich and…OK, it still doesn’t make up for everything before it. Things were getting too real there. (Even though Dan’s obviously alive in the revival, which is dealt with in a throw-away joke already in the trailer.)
To celebrate the 2018 Roseanne revival, let’s take a look back at a brief collection of the oddest scenes from season nine of Roseanne.
-Roseanne imagines herself in That Girl, I Dream of Jeannie, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
-Roseanne goes all AW HELL NO on The Jerry Springer Show.
-Roseanne and Jackie modeled for Playboy.
-Roseanne entered a beauty pageant.
-Jackie goes on a date with a prince played by Jim Varney.
-Roseanne and Jackie go to a rich person spa.
-Darlene gives birth to Satan.
-Roseanne fights women-hating terrorists on a train, meets Steven Seagal.
-Roseanne wore this thing.
-Roseanne dreams that she’s in Evita.
-Jackie wrestles Dot Marie Jones
-Dan’s mom keeps trying to kill her son.
And so on. It’s a deeply, deeply weird season. Roseanne knew this was it for her once must-see show, so she allowed herself, through her fictional on-screen persona, to act out her most preposterous fantasies, on ABC’s dime no less. Then she undid it all with the heartbreaking finale that almost made up for all the nonsense before it. Almost. Roseanne hasn’t really spoken at length about why season nine was so different from the eight before it, but possible explanations include:
-Ratings were sinking, so she resorted to cheap stunts.
-As the show went on, Roseanne’s wealth greatly increased. The Conners getting rich was meant to reflect what was happening to her in real life.
-But the best explanation for what the hell happened has to do with Princess Leia. One of Roseanne’s favorite shows at the time was Absolutely Fabulous, the much-beloved British comedy about two wealthy women who will do whatever it takes to remain hip, so she pitched an American remake. It was to star Carrie Fisher and Barbara Carrera (a.k.a. Fatima Blush from Never Say Never Again), but the networks wanted nothing to do with project. In retaliation, not only did Roseanne incorporate elements of Ab-Fab into the final season of her show (including an added focus on gay couple Scott and Leon), she even got Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley to appear in an episode.
That’s like if, during the final season of Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan wanted to Americanize Fawlty Towers, but AMC said no, so he ditches everything HEISENBERG in favor of the Whites working at a hotel. It’s insane, but don’t worry, there was a backup plan in place…sort of. In 2009, Roseanne took to her blog to explain where her characters would be today.
“D.J. gets published, Mark dies in Iraq, David leaves Darlene for a woman half his age, Darlene meets a woman and they have a test tube baby, Becky works at Walmart, Roseanne and Jackie open the first medical marijuana dispensary in Lanford, Illinois, and pay off the mortgage before the house is foreclosed on, Arnie becomes the best friend of the Governor of Illinois, Mom sells a painting for ten grand, Nancy and Arnie remarry, Jerry and the grandsons form a band like the Jonas Brothers, Dan shows up alive after faking his death, Leon has a sex change op, [and] Bonnie gets busted for selling crack.” (Via)
As long as John Goodman was around (another problem with season nine), I’d still watch. Hence why we’ll be back on board for the revival.
This is an updated version of an article that originally ran on November 3, 2014.