Remember Roseanne? Remember how amazing it was?
How Rosie and Dan fought a lot, but they were also good friends and genuinely enjoyed each other’s company? How Roseanne was obviously the matriarch and the Boss of Everybody, and Dan was just totally okay with it? Because he loved her and that meant he loved all of her, and accepted her personality, and even though he did get frustrated a lot and fought with her about things, and felt belittled and emasculated and powerless, he still didn’t try to change who she was because he was just fundamentally a good husband.
And Jackie was a mess of neuroses and was kind of co-dependent with Rosie, but we got to see her strike out on her own and have a kid and a divorce and she remained fiercely independent and yes, still anxious and crazy.
How parenthood was portrayed as a lifetime of disappointment, stress, anger, and ridiculousness, but also the most important and central topic to the characters’ lives and the show itself. (Like remember that episode where Jackie and Fred are fighting and the baby wakes up and Jackie’s breasts start leaking milk? HAD THAT EVER HAPPENED ON TELEVISION BEFORE?!) And even though it was difficult for the parents, they still supported their kids no matter what, yelled at them because they wanted them not to be stupid, talked to them honestly about things like sex and marriage and having kids, and everything, basically.
And Darlene struggled the entire show with her femininity and how she never fit in with the community she was raised in, and how she always had this example of a “real girl” in her sister Becky, and how it made her so angry and bitter. But then we got to see her come to terms with herself and find a relationship that worked for her, have a child and finally find peace with who she is, and she and David were such a second generation Rosie and Dan, especially with how they completely inverted the traditional gender roles of a marriage.
Remember that episode where they argue over whether or not it’s the woman’s “job” to have children? And she basically was like, “fuck that, David, if you want babies then go out and have babies, my uterus is not your cornfield, Farmer Bob.” And David in the end was like, “okay well, if we do have kids I’ll stay home and raise them and you can go out and work,” and THEN THAT’S WHAT HAPPENED!
And how Becky fell in love with the wrong sort of person, and eloped and it just completely derailed her life, and even though she was smart as hell she gave up college to be with him, because that’s just how it happens sometimes, you get caught up and things don’t go as you plan. And when they moved back to Lanford we found out that Mark was actually a really good guy, he just wasn’t all that bright (not his fault) and he tried very hard to give Becky the life that she wanted, but he just didn’t have the ability to right away, and they went through that rough patch where Becky blamed him for it unfairly. But then once they got back on track we got to see how much they cared for each other, and even though Becky is kind of a brat and Mark is really dumb, it worked for them and in the end they were happy.
And how DJ was such a weird little kid, who struggled with his own identity issues like Darlene, and how Dan always made sure to encourage him, even when it pained him to do so like that episode where DJ is choosing which sport to participate in and he picks tap dancing. And even though he’s not the son Dan always dreamed of having, he still did his best to make sure DJ never felt like a disappointment.
And how they never had money, they always struggled to make ends meet and that sort of family had never been shown on television before! And how they all worked all these odd jobs and hated them but did it anyway, and most of the comedy on the show came from that place of “this is our life and it kind of sucks a lot, honestly, so what the hell, might as well have some fun with it!”
And they all backed each other up, 100%! They had fun together, and they always came to each other’s defense! They played pranks on each other (well, the adults did, because the grown ups had the most fun out of ANYONE) and they fought a lot but it didn’t matter because they were FAMILY and THAT was most important!
They confronted things like racism and sexism and birth control and unwanted pregnancy and drugs and underage sex head on and dealt with each issue with empathy, serious consideration and a sense of humor that didn’t belittle the gravity of what they were dealing with.
And they had gay characters! A real bisexual female character that was nuanced and funny and quirky and amazing! Who had relationships with men and women on the show! Whose identity wasn’t reduced to being queer! And they had a gay male character too! Who also had storylines not related to his sexual orientation!
And the last couple seasons of the show they changed the formula completely and it worked! And in the series finale it was revealed that it was all just meta, which was insane and awesome!
I’m so grateful I grew up with this show. Other sitcoms that were on when I was a kid, like Friends and Will & Grace, were all well and good, but they weren’t real, they were fantasies. Beautiful people with money who lived charmed lives compared to my reality, which was clipped coupons and cigarettes and a crappy, messy house that we couldn’t really afford and drugs/misery/poverty fucking everywhere I looked. Roseanne reflected so much of my own existence back at me, and made me laugh, and showed these strong, independent women dealing with these problems and not taking any shit and laughing at themselves and generally living their lives with strength, compassion and humor and I can’t even tell you how it made me feel. Like things weren’t so bad, like if they could rise above it, so could I.