The SmarK Rant for Roseanne: The Complete First Season
So way back in the 80s, before Seinfeld was a household name and when Bill Cosby ruled the airwaves, there was a hot young comedian named Roseanne Barr who killed on the club circuit with an act about being a real person, who looked like a real person. In fact, it worked so well that she got a sitcom out of it, and it used to be pretty good. Of course, as the 80s turned into the 90s, silly casting changes and a totally unnecessary ninth season pretty much turned the show into self-parody and buried the legacy it had established, but now through the magic of DVD we can look back and remember when the show was at its best.
Sort of. Unfortunately, and this is a major negative right off the bat, Anchor Bay has chosen to release the severely-edited syndicated versions of the episodes, rendering them all into 20-minute hackjobs with “Roseanne Arnold” credited all over them. Apparently there were “licensing issues” with the set, according to Casey-Werner, but frankly it’s inexcusable to release something that you can tape off TV and pass it off as something that’s special.
– “Life And Stuff.” The pilot introduces the family and immediately established the antagonistic relationships that they had with each other. Dan obsessing over toast crumbs is great stuff and very much part of the “real” dialogue that the show excelled at. Recurring characters Crystal, Booker and Jackie (her sister on the show) are all introduced via the depressing plastics factory that they worked at for the first season of the show. Booker is notably played by a VERY young George Clooney, sporting a pompadour. The main plot, such as it is, sees Roseanne needing to meet with Darlene’s teacher over barking in class. Darlene and Becky sniping at each other was the kind of wonderfully true moment that set this show apart from the start and established the chemistry that the actors would make famous. Some of the changes from here to the end of the series are evident, though, as Darlene was initially a tomboy and became more of a slacker goddess as she got older, and DJ was played by a different actor for the pilot.
– “We’re In The Money.” DJ is now played by Michael Fishman, who would keep the role for the remainder of the series. The theme here is money, as in they have none. And lying, which they do often. Dan, the self-proclaimed Drywall Master of the Universe, gets a $500 advance on his next contracting job, and of course this is a huge amount of money for the Conner family. The fights on how to spend it immediately begin, as Roseanne wants perfume and Dan wants a bell for his boat. Roseanne’s reactions to a cosmetician played by future Friends regular Christina Pickles set the tone for her acting style in future episodes, as she reacts with disbelief at “scent layering.” So of course it turns into a web of lies, although neither Roseanne nor Dan is a good liar, so it’s an easily resolved problem. Fun stuff that really starts to establish the tone of the series early.
– “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” It’s Date Night for Rosie and Dan, and he has to wear a tie because she’s got a coupon for the Lanford Inn. It’s 2-for-1 night, you know. This leads to a discussion of divorce between the happy couple, which is exactly the kind of quiet moment that the show would excel at. And the verbal shots are hilarious (“I’d leave you with the kids!”). And Jackie is supposed to be babysitting the kids, but forgets, so Becky is left in charge. This one introduced Roseanne’s dreams of being a writer, which would be paid off in horrifyingly terrible fashion by the god-awful series finale in 1997. I don’t want to get off on a rant about that finale, by the way, because it managed to ruin the entire series in one fell swoop of terrible writing, and then we’d be here all day.
– “Language Lessons.” Jackie comes for dinner and annoys Dan, the first such time that this happens. Meanwhile, Darlene builds a castle to avoid failing history. Roseanne and Dan take a body language quiz, and it turns into a REALLY nasty fight between Dan and Jackie. Roseanne uses her parenting skills to solve things, however.
– “Radio Days.” A country song contest has Dan’s curiosity aroused, as does the $100 grand prize for winning. Booker makes a move on Jackie, as the women discuss the importance of song titles in country music. More funny interplay with Roseanne and DJ, and more fighting with Becky and Darlene carry the episode. Dan turns one of Roseanne’s poems into his song, but in a decidedly different ending for a sitcom, finishes fourth in a field of four. Not many shows outside of Married…With Children would go for that payoff.
– “Lover’s Lane.” The women wants a night out, so Roseanne suggests bowling. Luckily, Becky’s wannabe-boyfriend Chip works at the alley, giving Rosie and Dan prime material to antagonize her with. Their hillbilly act is one of the highlights of the season, to be sure. This also starts Becky down her horrified teenager drama queen path. Booker and Jackie make a side-bet for sex, and Dan is a strike machine, as everyone seems to be having a blast on and off-camera. Roseanne is less enthused about bowling and just enjoys tormenting everyone. Probably the best episode of the season.
– “The Memory Game.” Dan wants to get pictures taken for a 15 year reunion, but Roseanne is less happy about that idea. So a discussion of old times (“When did you fall in love with mom, dad?” “When she told me to, honey.”) leads to a secret about Dan having an “affair” while broken up with Roseanne being dredged up. THEY WERE ON A BREAK! Sorry, wrong sitcom. Roseanne overreacts as usual, but the more Dan talks himself out of the hole, the deeper he digs it. You have to feel for the poor guy in this one.
– “Here’s To Good Friends.” It’s cold in Lanford. How cold? Insert cheap sitcom punchline here. Anyway, Crystal is depressed again, so it’s girls’ night out at the Lobo Lounge, the first appearance of the soon-to-be regular locale on the show. So we get classic stuff with Roseanne tutoring Crystal on how to say no to jerks. Which of course leads to Booker showing up with a date other than Jackie, and another classic bit with Jackie pulling the old “When are you coming home, honey?” deal. Crystal’s pining for a man just like Dan of course becomes funnier later, when she marries Ed Conner a few seasons down the road.
– “Dan’s Birthday Bash.” It’s Dan’s birthday, and Becky is off on her first date with hunky pre-teen Chip. Everyone gets loaded at the Lobo and Dan runs afoul of a mouth-breathing tough guy, which pretty much puts an end to the festivities and nearly results in a big fight. It seems that Dan is a reformed bar-room brawler, which is totally believable because John Goodman has a legitimately scary presence about him when playing angry. Things get ugly between the happy couple as Dan’s temper gets the best of him, showing a dark side that most sitcom dads never displayed. This is a decidedly more serious episode than most of the season, although the payoff when the jerk returns and insults Roseanne is hilarious. B-movie villain William Sadler debuts as Dan’s idiot pal Dwight here.
– “Saturday.” Dan and Dwight gather for their weekly “truck fixing” session, which Roseanne asserts is nothing but a chance to BS about stuff and spit. So they bet over cleaning v. snow shoveling that Dan can’t finish by 4:00. Roseanne then-husband Bill plays one of the menfolk here, before getting dumped for Tom Arnold. That’s gotta hurt. Dwight’s charming chauvinistic rant is just begging for a beating from Roseanne, but sadly none is forthcoming. The silly plot here has Dwight falling in love with Jackie and getting shot down. The women of course exploit his weakness and make sure that Dan can’t finish before 4:00 and thus loses the bet.
– “Canoga Time.” A garage sale reveals Dan’s inner pack-rat, while Darlene conspires with Becky to change a “D” to a “B.” Becky is established as a straight-A student for the first time here. Roseanne and her stooge DJ quickly ferret out Darlene’s scheme, however. Booker stands up Jackie, but ends up getting action out of it. This one doesn’t really go anywhere.
– “The Monday Thru Friday Show.” Roseanne longs for a real honeymoon, while Darlene gets a paper route, and Becky has moral objections to dissecting a helpless frog in Biology. Dan’s idea of a honeymoon is camping at the hunting lodge, while Roseanne wants a hotel in Florida. The episode follows those three threads and of course no one ends up with what they wanted. I have no clue what the title refers to.
– “Bridge Over Troubled Sonny.” We learn that Crystal’s ex-husband died by falling into the wet concrete supports of a bridge, and is still there 12 years later. Everyone gets mileage out of that gag while Crystal mopes and swears off men forever, but it turns out that Sonny wasn’t quite as sunny a person as she makes him out to be. Darlene, meanwhile, takes up smoking, and that doesn’t go well for her, as she runs into some reverse psychology from Dan and Roseanne. And when Crystal goes back to the bridge to confront her fears, we get a surprising revelation about who really was the unfaithful one. More of a “dramady” type episode.
– “Father’s Day.” Dan’s father makes his first appearance, played by Ned Beatty. This is of course a role he was born to play. Everyone loves him and his rambling stories, except of course for Dan, who sees through his salesman exterior. This blossoms into a big fight between them, as Ed keeps trying to convince Dan that a salesman would be a better career for him. But what’s really the issue turns out to be the thing that everyone fears most — turning into your parents, a terrifying proposition to be sure. Dan’s final imitation of his dad’s pointless stories steals the show.
– “Nightmare on Oak Street.” It’s scary movie night at the Conner house, which has Darlene up all night…but not with nightmares. Roseanne is determined to find out what’s really bugging her, and actually shows a nice side of her character by being a supportive and caring mother for once. However, it turns out that there’s an even more frightening thing behind her problems — menstruation. Thus, another TV taboo falls by the wayside via Roseanne. The funniest moments belong to Dan and Darlene trying to have a conversation on the subject, as poor Dan just isn’t equipped to deal with these kinds of problems. Luckily, Roseanne IS.
– “Becky’s Choice.” Roseanne invites Chip and his yuppie parents for dinner, which has Becky freaked out and checking the time every 5 minutes. And it turns into a culture clash, as Chip’s parents are a bit too high class for the beer and tap water world of the Conners. The conversation pauses in particular are killers. However, Becky is done with Chip, as she’s sneaking around with a bad boy (vaguely reminiscent of future husband Mark) nicknamed “The Tongue Bandit.” Naturally this has Dan in a wonderful state of mind, although Roseanne is much more hurt at being thought of as “uncool” for not supporting Becky’s new squeeze. Luckily, she gets over it and revels in her evilness again.
– “Mall Story.” It’s shopping day at the mall, as sales abound. Becky freaks out over a dress she can’t afford, doing her best over-the-top bratty teenager work until you just want to drag her out of the store and beat her or something. Meanwhile, Jackie is depressed over her sad life in Lanford and Dan is stuck buying shoes he doesn’t want from people who are too busy to help him. Pretty much a slice of life show about nothing, a few years before a certain other show did one on the same subject. It’s also a funny show, especially Dan’s exasperated rant at the end and Becky’s horrified teenager act.
– “Slice of Life.” More angst from Darlene, as she’s embarrassed by her parents being at her ball games (and really, could you blame her?), but appendicitis prevents her from having to perform in front of her parents. Thus it’s two hours of annoyance for Roseanne and Dan, as they wait in the waiting room and fill out forms until they’re ready to kill each other. Funny inside joke in the background, as you can hear a “Dr. Seinfeld” paged over the PA, just before he became a star in his own right.
– “Workin’ Overtime.” Roseanne is stuck at the factory working overtime for a couple of weeks, which has everyone at work and home yelling at each other. Roseanne hides out at a diner and gets some spiritual guidance from a waitress. Not really hilarious or anything, just another slice of life.
– “Toto, We’re Not In Kansas Anymore.” It’s the special effects-laden tornado show, which has everyone freaked out. Except Darlene, who thinks it’s all pretty cool. Jackie is MIA for a bit, giving Roseanne some emotions to play off of, and the loss of power and subsequent aftermath a day later has everyone all introspective and reflecting and stuff. Kind of a weird tone to this one.
– “Death and Stuff.” It’s a boring Sunday for the Conners, which is interrupted by a door-to-door salesman who drops in for a drink of water and drops dead on the kitchen table. Quite unlike Law & Order, the one cop who shows up is more concerned with paperwork, so Roseanne has to entertain him while waiting for the coroner to show up, as well as keeping three kids from gawking at the body in the kitchen. Luckily the cop is Greek and can help Darlene making her baklava for school. For some reason this one uses cheesy scene transitions, like it was edited on an Amiga or something. So the family has to work around the corpse, as Dan fixes a fridge. Props to the guy playing the body for not cracking up through the whole thing. And of course people have to come by to look at the washer and dryer while they’re waiting for the coroner. Definite season highlight. The title is a play on the original title of the series, by the way, which was supposed to be “Life and Stuff” before Roseanne demanded a change.
– “Dear Mom and Dad.” Having met Dan’s father, now we meet Roseanne’s parents. This of course has everyone in a foul mood, considering all of Roseanne’s mother issues. And meeting Beverly for the first time doesn’t disappoint, as she’s immediately a huge pain and kicks off a big fight between the whole family by firing shots at Jackie’s marital status and Dan’s employment status. And if sleeping arrangements weren’t stressful enough, her parents casually announce that they’re moving to Lanford and really freak Roseanne out. It’s kind of funny to see an episode where the control freak that is Roseanne gets turned into a helpless wimp. The cutesy annoying parents routine would of course get much darker in later seasons when Al dies and we learn all about Roseanne’s childhood. Everyone is relieved when it turns out that they’re just THINKING about moving, although Beverly eventually would move to Lanford on her own and continue annoying Roseanne. And I think the title here is a reference to MASH.
– “Let’s Call It Quits.” The season wraps up with Booker getting replaced at the factory by Fred Dalton Thompson, playing his usual hardass authority figure. This of course sets Roseanne against him immediately (and also allows Booker to be part of the regular gang without being Roseanne’s boss), as he starts raising production demands to unreasonable levels. When Roseanne gets elected de facto union rep to deal with the problems at hand, she strikes a deal with him — lowered quotas in exchange for her respect and obedience. However, once he breaks that deal (which is pretty much immediately) she quits the factory and takes all the main women with her, thus setting up the second season.
Pretty much standard TV fare, as it doesn’t look like Anchor Bay made any great effort in remastering this for DVD. Colors are pretty washed out and there’s lots of obvious noise issues with the transfer. Given the age of the show it’s tough to expect much more, but I’ve definitely seen better.
Just plain old stereo, although it’s rarely actually used. Dialogue is clear, however, so it serves the purpose needed.
– “Roseanne on Roseanne: A New Candid Interview.” As advertised, a candid interview with Roseanne, who’s looking pretty rough these days, as she talks for about 9 minutes mixed in with clips of the show over various seasons. Some interesting stuff, like her point of view on how she was “difficult” to work with and some other things.
– “John Goodman Takes A Look Back.” Another self-explanatory one. 7 minutes of talking over clips.
– “Wisdom From The Domestic Goddess.” Yeah, more clips, as Roseanne espouses on motherhood.
– The blooper reel, as you’d expect. About 10 minutes worth of stuff here.
– Season one highlights, which seems pretty pointless when you’ve just watched the whole thing.
– Plus as a SPECIAL BONUS, commercials for 3rd Rock From The Sun and Grounded For Life, both of which play at the beginning of the first disc whether you want to see them or not.
I gotta say, compared to other sets like Seinfeld, I was expecting more here. No text commentary or trivia track? No audio commentaries? That kind of stuff is becoming standard issue on these TV sets. Maybe next season.
The Film: ****
The Video: **1/2
The Audio: **
The Extras: **1/2