Much of the conversation around ABC’s Roseanne revival has pertained to politics – the conservative leanings of creator and star Roseanne Barr, and just how much those bleed into her Donald Trump-supporting character, Roseanne Conner.
The back half of the show’s comeback season, which culminated with Tuesday’s finale, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Roseanne Conner is indeed a familiar-seeming Trump voter, on par with the ones who have been profiled in major media outlets since the 2016 election in an attempt to make left-leaning voters understand their politics.
“I think Roseanne does definitely represent a Trump supporter. I think the family is a fair representation [of many political viewpoints],” showrunner Bruce Helford told reporters on a conference call ahead of Tuesday’s finale. “In a sense that we wanted to present all views, we definitely wanted to present her character as a character that supported the president.”
Roseanne is a quintessential Trump voter because, as the last few episodes of the season showed us, she’s a working-class white woman who unwittingly(?) goes against her own interests when she enters the voting booth.
In the penultimate episode, “Netflix and Pill,” it’s revealed that Roseanne’s dependence on pain medication is more serious than we initially thought. Dan (John Goodman) discovers that she’s been stockpiling pills obtained from other people she knows, as well as taking more pills than her own prescription requires. Noticing that his wife has a problem, Dan confiscates Roseanne’s existing stash – but then the audience sees that she’s got a backup supply hidden inside her ice pack.
“We could have easily put it onto any of the characters, but the fact that Roseanne is dealing with it is our way of speaking to the level of importance of this issue in America today,” Howell says. “It is an important issue to be discussed. … We want to be brave. We want to tackle things that other shows are worried they can’t either make funny or will make people uncomfortable.”
President Trump has effectively ignored the opioid crisis in this country. His responses to the pandemic have included proposing the death penalty as a punishment for drug dealers, appointing his onetime spokesperson Kellyanne Conway as “opioid czar,” and bringing the issue back to illegal immigration, promising that more secure borders will stop the spread of addiction. An “opioid commission” he assembled in 2017 put out a list of vague pledges and recommendations about how to combat the crisis last year, but beyond that, little headway has been made. Last month, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) sent a formal letter to President Trump requesting an update on the recommendations put forth last year by the commission.
“You declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency on October 26, 2017, but there has been little evidence that your Administration has taken advantage of the supplemental executive branch authorities and resources provided by this designation,” the senators wrote. “In recent months, you proposed slashing the [Office of National Drug Control Policy] budget by $340 million; nominated an ONDCP Director with no experience in public health or addiction policy; and have reportedly relied on aides with limited public health expertise to coordinate the White House’s opioid response.”
On Roseanne, the whole reason Roseanne’s developed an addiction to pain pills in the first place is because she and Dan can’t afford the surgery she needs for her knee, which also comes full circle back to her politics. Health care has been a central focus of Trump’s in the 17 months he’s been in office, particularly when it comes to the Affordable Care Act implemented by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama. In the wake of Republican efforts to repeal the law, several news stories emerged featuring Trump supporters who were staunchly opposed to what they called “Obamacare,” but were unaware that they themselves were dependent on it.
In the fictional Conner family, health benefits are treated like a white whale. The same episode that reveals Roseanne’s opioid addiction also features Dan chastising his daughter Darlene (Sara Gilbert) for turning down a full-time job she believes is beneath her, when taking it would ensure health coverage for herself and her children. In reality, the Affordable Care Act was designed to help families like the Conners who are struggling with health care costs. The new health care and tax policies Trump has advocated would undoubtedly make the Conners’ already precarious financial situation even worse.
For the time being, however, the crisis is averted, at least as far as the Conners are concerned. The finale ends with Roseanne finally in a position to get the surgery, thanks to a cash windfall she and Dan receive from the federal government after their basement floods during a storm and a state of emergency is subsequently declared. The money also presumably means that Dan can abandon his plan to hire illegal immigrants to work for him so that he could drive down costs in order to secure a new project contract. Apparently for right-wing voters like Roseanne, a big government handout is a sign the country’s heading in the wrong direction – unless those voters are the ones reaping the benefits. (As Helford points out, the show has not addressed Dan’s political beliefs or how he voted, if at all, in the election that’s so divided his family.)
The writers, and Barr herself, aren’t afraid to portray Roseanne the character in a less than flattering light when it comes to her personal beliefs. Regardless of what the writers’ and Barr’s intention was with Roseanne Conner’s flippant (and poorly received) joke about Fresh Off the Boatand black-ish, her attitude towards her new neighbors was less ambiguous. She believed them to be terrorists-in-waiting, simply because they’re Muslims who had a lot of fertilizer on their porch (the result of an Amazon order gone wrong, as it turns out). The thing that’s discomfiting about these admittedly funny jokes are that, chances are, viewers who identify with Roseanne Barr will be laughing with the character in this sequence, not at her.
Roseanne’s dependence on pain medication will likely be revisited next season, which will probably pick up sometime after Roseanne’s had her knee surgery, Helford told reporters.
“We are very much under a microscope, more so probably than any show right now,” he says. “We want to be brave. We want to tackle things that other shows are worried they can’t either make funny or will make people uncomfortable. We feel that in order to have an honest dialogue, sometimes you have to make people uncomfortable.”
Roseanne will return with new episodes in the fall.