ABC made the right decision Tuesday when it responded to Roseanne Barr’s disgusting tweets by swiftly canceling her hit series. But in doing so, the network killed entertainment’s richest opportunity to facilitate a civil discussion on what divides us.
“Roseanne,” which returned in March after a 21-year absence, was network TV’s most unexpected smash in years. Executives fretted that viewers would recoil at its lead character’s support for President Donald Trump, but once again the media misread their audience. More than 23 million tuned in that first week, in large part because Roseanne Conner represented folks fed up with dead-end jobs, rising health costs and the country’s ever changing complexion.
But the series was far from an unabashed love letter for Trump, even if the president interpreted it as one. Roseanne was consistently challenged by her sister (Laurie Metcalf) and the reality that life hadn’t gotten any better with a change in the White House. By the second episode, Trump talk had been overtaken by hand-wringing over stacks of unpaid bills, followed by an addiction to painkillers and flooding in the basement. When husband Dan (John Goodman), knee deep in water in the season finale, lost his temper — and his best friend, whom he had to fire — many could relate.
Yet the Conners never let their bad luck get the best of them. Instead of allowing themselves to be brainwashed by cable-news pundits, they listened to one another. They evolved. At the start of the comeback season, Dan and Roseanne balked at their grandson’s decision to wear dresses to school, claiming they were worried about him getting bullied — although you knew they were just covering for their own prejudices. By the finale, they weren’t exactly taking him shopping at Talbots, but they were coming to terms.
In the best episode, Roseanne bristled when Yemeni immigrants moved in next door, searching for excuses to call them terrorists. But after she was forced to call on the family for a late-night emergency, she had a change of heart; by the closing credits, she was defending the wife’s honor at the grocery store. Not a “kumbaya” moment, but a verse from “Peace Train” wouldn’t have been out of place.
Barr was always an unlikely diplomat. The show’s original run, from 1988-97, preached tolerance, but behind the scenes its star was accused of bullying her writers. In 1990, she capped off an off-key rendition of the national anthem at a baseball game by grabbing her crotch and spitting.
Her recent tweet calling Valerie Jarrett, a former aide to President Barack Obama, the offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood and “Planet of the Apes” echoed a similar social media tirade in 2013 against former national security adviser Susan Rice. Both Jarrett and Rice are black.
The series lost more than half its fans over the course of nine episodes; maybe some viewers had hoped to see more of the real-life Roseanne. For the rest of us, “Roseanne” was a show to be applauded, the latest step forward by a network leading the way with such socially conscious series as “Black-ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat.”
Jimmy Kimmel joked Wednesday that his network should consider sticking with the series, but having it revolve around the sitcom’s other characters.
It’s not a terrible idea. Barr has no place on network TV; her show’s good intentions do.