Roseanne Barr responds to 'The Conners' debut
So, Roseanne was right.
Nearly five months since ABC's much-publicized axing of its "Roseanne" revival from its lineup, the network on Tuesday premiered "The Conners," a half hour spin-off framed around the fictional family of Roseanne Conner.
In the first episode, Dan (John Goodman), Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) and Roseanne's children are three weeks into dealing with the aftermath of her sudden death from what they believe to be a heart attack.
It doesn't take long, however, for the truth to come out: Roseanne died as a result of opioid abuse.
Roseanne Barr, whose Twitter tirade led to her dismissal from the show both in front of the camera and behind the scenes, said in September that this would be her character's fate. ABC did not comment at the time.
Initially, Roseanne's family is in disbelief, particularly Dan, who says defensively that he had flushed her pills.
A prescription bottle reveals, however, that Roseanne had participated in an exchange of sorts with neighbors in order to get pain pills. And later, her family finds Roseanne's small stashes of medication around the house.
When Dan later confronts the woman (Mary Steenburgen) who exchanged pills with Roseanne, she's anguished. The uninsured neighbors are used to helping each other out, she tells him.
"I never would have given them to her if I knew she had a problem," she says to him. "I know what it's like to have that problem, so I'm sorry."
This conversation helps Dan, who has been unable to sleep in the bed he once shared with his wife since she died, find an ounce of peace.
"She was going to do what she was going to do," he says at one point. "She never listened to a damn person in her life."
It's an eerie line considering the real-life circumstances of the show's one-time star, but also effective.
Barr posted a tweet on Tuesday night reminding followers she's not actually dead. She later released a joint statement with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach in response to "The Conners" premiere.
"While we wish the very best for the cast and production crew of 'The Conners,' all of whom are deeply dedicated to their craft and were Roseanne's cherished colleagues, we regret that ABC chose to cancel Roseanne by killing off the Roseanne Conner character," the statement read in part. "That it was done through an opioid overdose lent an unnecessary grim and morbid dimension to an otherwise happy family show."
By episode's end, "The Conners" makes it clear that the matriarch's presence remains important to the family but the reset button has been pressed. In new opening credits, Dan, daughter Darlene (Sara Gilbert) and Jackie take center stage.
With Dan now able to slumber, the show is eager it seems to put the drama that led to "Roseanne's" demise to bed as well.
TV has more work to do for the working class
After you see it once, you never quite forget the look and start to see it everywhere, especially on other people in line at the grocery store.
I remember wondering once why money never seemed to be a significant issue for the characters I spent a more-than-average amount of time watching on TV. I figured my family was just different; that most people, like my peers in my largely middle class school, don't have to worry about money.
The family on "Malcolm in the Middle" was among the first I remember noting was a brief exception to this. In one episode, the mom, Lois, lost her job and the family became financially strained for 22 minutes.
The episode ended with Malcolm, who had been the recipient of canned goods from his classmates after they learned of his family's troubles, going up to some kids at school and defensively yelling, "Look, we're not poor anymore. So I don't want any more of your stupid pity, ok?"
Television has gotten better about how it portrays members of the so-called working class. An explosion of options from streaming and premium services has offered a greater variety of views into American life -- the tradeoff being that mass-appeal hits, like the broad sitcoms of the past, are increasingly rare. The "Leave it to Beaver" comfort zone that sitcoms traditionally occupied has given way to greater multiculturalism and nuance.
In these fragmented times, niche storytelling is all the rage.
A wave of series from the first decade of the 2000s acknowledged the day-to-day challenges of economic insecurity and found stories within them. On "Everybody Hates Chris," for example, one episode addressed the stigma around food stamps.
"Raising Hope," and "The Middle," which just went off the air earlier this year, also baked the family's precarious financial situations into the fabrics of the show, standing out among other major-network TV families, who skew upper-middle class, like "Modern Family."
In recent years, shows such as "One Day at a Time," "Superstore," and even "Bob's Burgers," have also made mention of the nuanced challenges of America's paycheck-to-paycheck workers, without always making it the main focus of an episode. "Atlanta" and "The Chi" have been praised for highlighting the black working class.
In one scene from the animated series, matriarch Linda Belcher, who owns a burger restaurant with her husband, argues on the phone with the bank about which of her checks to let bounce. "Okay, so bounce the check to the power company, bounce the check to the relish guy, but make sure the beef supplier goes through. Without beef, the whole system falls apart," she says.
On Netflix's "One Day at a Time," Justina Machado plays an Army veteran who works as a nurse to support her two kids and mother, Lydia (Rita Moreno). The Alvarez family lives in an Echo Park apartment that has fewer bedrooms than bodies, so Lydia sleeps in the dining room, where a curtain acts as the door to her living quarters and hides her mattress. The show does not allow the characters to conveniently live beyond their means relative to their occupations and locations. (Looking at you, "Friends.")
Instead, it wordlessly reminds viewers of the family's situation. It's fact without judgment: they're a little cramped. So while every episode isn't about their economic situation, it looms over them as they deal with other aspects of life -- Penelope's fight to get help with her depression and anxiety or her daughter Elena's coming out, for example.
Other times, it takes center stage. One plot line had Penelope showing her son how to "have fun on a budget" while going to the movies.
"Sometimes people will scroll through things and then see a show about a family, but if it doesn't match what you look like then they think it's a show they can't relate to," Machado says in a recent interview with CNN. "But, we, people of color -- Latinos, African Americans -- have always had to watch white families on television, and we always found things to relate to because we're human beings and these are universal stories."
Machado's point hits at the heart of why, upon the cancellation of ABC's "Roseanne," there was some groaning at the assertion that working class families are unrepresented on TV. It's just not the truth.
Even if the criticism referred specifically to white families, there's Showtime's "Shameless," "SMILF," "Speechless" to name a few. (Though, the first two premium cable offerings are not recommended for family co-viewing.)
What is true is that "Roseanne" filled a void regionally and politically. Roseanne Conner was one of a very few conservative characters on scripted TV and the Conners live in the type of fictional Midwest town that's felt the burden of economic strife and saw Donald Trump as a way out.
George Goehl recognizes that type of town because he spends a lot of time in them as part of his work with People's Action, a nonprofit group that aims to unite poor working class people on the city, state and national level. He's originally from rural Indiana -- a place 40 miles away from the nearest town of more than 20,000 people, he says -- but eventually moved to Chicago, where he learned more about the urban working class and worked to organize communities of color. ("I think we heard after the election that Trump supporters...felt unseen and forgotten. And I think poor, working-class people of all races feel unseen and forgotten right now," he says.)
Most recently, the group executed a rural organizing outreach drive and conducted conversations with about 10,000 people living in those areas about issues ranging from health care and education to clean water and addiction.
He said that as much as a show like "Roseanne" represented an underrepresented sector of America, it had "blind spots."
"A lot of journalism and a lot of Hollywood work portrays people's world views as liberal, moderate, right [-wing], but I don't think people sit in buckets that are that clean all the time," he says. "I think you could be hanging out with a pot-smoking, born-again Christian who believes in Medicare for all and is a climate denier. I know that guy."
"The Conners," which premiers Oct. 16, is "Roseanne" without Roseanne. (You know why.)
In the family's quest to move on without its one-time star, it loses its conservative voice. Whether that's to the benefit of the series itself is ultimately for the viewers to decide. (Critics seem to think so.)
Those who feel it does not might do well to stick around for "The Kids Are Alright," a new series that premieres after "The Conners."
This '70s-set series too centers on a working class family, but this one is large, Irish-Catholic and slightly less darkly frank than the Conners.
The patriarch Mike Cleary (Michael Cudlitz) works as machinist to support his eight boys and wife.
Creator Tim Doyle drew inspiration for the show from his own life and upbringing. Like his family, the Clearys don't have a lot of resources, and the series will address that.
"I did some time on the 'Roseanne' show 25 years ago and one of the things I liked best was those moments of, 'You know, we have to get the roof fixed. Let's dig down in the sofa cushions and see if we can scrape together enough money for that,'" he says. "The idea that at certain points you break your kid's heart because you can't buy them the sneakers they want, that was very much part of my childhood, or, you know, those moments where you, as a child, feel bad for your parents because you know they want to give you something."
Goehl would like to see strides in how working class families of all races are portrayed. "Dignity" must be restored, he says.
"The amount of ingenuity and creativity it takes to survive being poor and to figure out how, you know, if you're a domestic worker, how you're going to take three buses to get to work on time and get your kid to school and figure out how to get back...that is a lot of work" he says. "I do think a new narratives around around poverty and poor people would help."
He adds: "People's feeling seen and understood in all their beauty and complexity, I think does a lot for people, and they're sense of place in a world."
Eminem takes 'Venom' to a whole new level
On Monday's "Jimmy Kimmel Live," the rapper performed "Venom" in a highly produced music video shot inside and on top of the Empire State Building. Eminem dropped some knowledge about the famous New York City landmark and included a cameo by Kimmel regular, Guillermo Rodriguez.
"Venom," which featured on the Marvel film of the same name, is Eminem's latest hit off his recently released album, "Kamikaze."
The collection of tracks, produced by long-time collaborator Dr. Dre, marks Eminem's tenth studio album.
The rapper gets a little political with a reference to President Trump on the track, "The Ringer."
"Agent Orange just sent the Secret Service / to meet in person to see if I really think of hurting him," he raps on "The Ringer. "Or ask if I'm linked to terrorists / I said, 'Only when it comes to ink and lyricists.'"
Voter registration reportedly spikes after Taylor Swift post
Kamari Guthrie, director of communications for the nonprofit Vote.org, told Buzzfeed that numbers had spiked both nationally and in Swift's home state of Tennessee after the singer's post Sunday on Instagram.
"We are up to 65,000 registrations in a single 24-hour period since T. Swift's post," Guthrie said.
For comparison's sake, 190,178 new voters were registered via Vote.org nationwide during September and 56,669 in August. Swift suggested people visit the website.
Swift on Sunday endorsed Tennessee Democrats Phil Bredesen and Jim Cooper. They are running for the Senate and House of Representatives, respectively.
The star said that while she had been "reluctant" to voice her political opinions in the past, "due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now."
"I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country," Swift said. "I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG. "
Swift, who has 112 million followers on Instagram, encouraged her fans to register to vote.
"So many intelligent, thoughtful, self-possessed people have turned 18 in the past two years and now have the right and privilege to make their vote count. But first you need to register, which is quick and easy to do," tthe singer wrote. "October 9th is the LAST DAY to register to vote in the state of TN. Go to vote.org and you can find all the info."
Guthrie said traffic to her organization increased after Swift's post, with 155,940 unique visitors coming to Vote.org in the 24 hours following, compared to the average number of daily users of 14,078.
The number of new voters in Tennessee also spiked, she said, with 2,144 signing up in the more than a day since Swift's encouragement. That number is close to the entire amount of new registrations in the state for the month of September which was 2,811.
Swift's left-leaning sentiment earned her some ire from conservative fans.
It also caught the attention of President Donald Trump, who on Monday declared that he likes Swift's music "about 25% less now."
It should be noted that there is often an influx of people registering to vote just ahead of deadlines.
Several states require prospective voters to register by Tuesday in order to vote November 6.