The SmarK DVD Rant for Roseanne: Season 4
Kind of weird, as watching this season again made me wonder about what had happened to a couple of the minor players on the show, namely the very talented Glenn “Mark Healey” Quinn. Well, how shocked was I to look him up on IMDB and discover he had died in 2003! Of a heroin overdose, no less. I have no idea how I missed that one, but looking into it, it appears that lots of people missed it and only became aware of it very recently. Weird.
Anyway, on with the fourth season, which was indisputably the peak of the show and featured Roseanne and the entire cast at the peak of their comedic genius. Featuring not only the family but the Healey brothers in regular roles, as well as the (back then) underappreciated (by me) Martin Mull as Leon Carp and Tom Arnold in a role tailored for everyone to point out how stupid he is, the quality level here would not be met again in the series.
Four discs, as usual, with the uncut, original broadcast episodes again.
Picking up from last season, where Roseanne was stuck working as a waitress while Dan opens up a bike shop, which looked like a bad idea from the start.
– “A Bitter Pill to Swallow” It’s post-marriage in real life, so Roseanne Arnold is now the star of the show. Anyway, Crystal is having baby problems and Becky is having grown-up problems, as in needing birth control. Roseanne’s speechless shocked reaction and quick recovery make for an early highlight. Dan is of course not properly equipped to deal with this issue (“Oh, I’m going to go kill Mark.”) The talks between mother/daughter and father/boyfriend go much differently, of course, and the final payoff when Darlene thinks she’s busted Becky and finds out it’s quite the opposite is a great moment. Great opener.
– “Take My Bike, Please.” Financial problems are the order of the day at Dan’s new bike shop, a theme for the season. So the girls are left in charge of the house, which has bad idea written all over it. Leon rules it by being organized enough to track Roseanne’s PMS days. Jackie, meanwhile, is pursuing a demanding career as a perfume girl. This one is all about the montage of Roseanne lying to clients in as many ways as possible.
– “Why Jackie Becomes a Trucker.” DJ brings a dog home, leaving Roseanne to play bad cop yet again, and speaking of stray animals, a depressed and obviously insane Jackie gets drunk and wakes up with Arnie. That one would be milked for laughs all year. Dueling plots see Leon joining the big poker game while the womenfolk have a night out (“If we can’t share our feelings with each other, we might as well be men.”) The differences between the male and female versions of Jackie’s mistake are of course huge. Leon coming out at the poker table is one of those great awkward moments, as he starts eating up more and more screentime on the show. The end result is Jackie switching careers, yet again, this time becoming a trucker. Yeah, that one didn’t last long.
– “Darlene Fades to Black.” Big character shift for Darlene here. Becky wants a car, but is willing to settle for a motorcycle, which sets off another round of the battle of the sexes, and mother v. daughter at the same time. It makes for lovely dinner conversation, too. Darlene turns into a goth moper, which earns her a shopping trip, triggering a bout of righteous indignation from Becky, her first of the season. And as usual with this show, there’s no easy, sitcom solution to Darlene’s depressed state.
– “Tolerate Thy Neighbor.” The evil Cathy Bowman returns, apparently giving their entire house full of furniture to a charity, and not seeing what’s actually going on, Roseanne bribes the “charity” worker in hopes of finding an easy scam. Of course they’re actually burglars cleaning out the Bowmans in broad daylight. Roseanne then moves onto butting into Leon’s life, encouraging him to introduce his mother to Steven, his partner. Great bit with Dan and Jerry Bowman doing some bonding (“Electricity won’t stop her, I’ve tried that.”)
– “Trick Me Up, Trick Me Down.” After pulling an all-time great prank on Cathy at the beginning of the annual Halloween episode, Roseanne spends the rest of it paranoid about Cathy’s possible revenge, even though she’s obviously (to everyone but Roseanne) too uptight to resort to that. Dan and Roseanne’s “undead ventriloquism” act is wonderfully bad stuff. Another great Halloween ep.
– “Vegas” Domestic troubles continue to irritate everyone in the house. So we finally meet Arnie’s eternally suffering fiancee Nancy, who is of course played by Sandra Bernhard, because that’s the only person more annoying than Tom Arnold. It’s a wedding in Vegas, but even the promise of Wayne Newton seemingly can’t lure Dan out of Lanford, until Roseanne uses her gentle charms to persuade him. And off to Vegas we go, as Roseanne and Dan try to have a second honeymoon, but get saddled with Arnie & Nancy, as well as the gambling bug biting Dan.
– “Vegas, Vegas.” Dan & Roseanne continue their crappy vacation, as Roseanne gets drunker and Dan & Arnie check out the finest Vegas impersonators that free tickets can buy. And sure enough, the real Wayne Newton shows up and Roseanne is too drunk to clue in. Her heckling steals the show here. And so Arnie marries Nancy in a classy Vegas ceremony, and the Conners renew their vows in a uniquely Roseanne way.
– “Stressed To Kill.” Dan takes a drywall job for extra money, while Becky starts writing Darlene’s reports for her because she wants to help. Roseanne, meanwhile, takes up smoking again, not being very subtle about it. When Dan can pick up on it, it’s obvious. This ties all the storylines together, as Roseanne is stressed about birth control and mopey daughters, and the bike shop. Roseanne trying to quit smoking is bitchier than regular strength Roseanne, and the results aren’t pretty.
– “Thanksgiving 1991.” So this one is the yearly Thanksgiving show, duh, with the great family of crazies on Roseanne’s side hanging out and trying to make dinner while irritating each other. A major plot point comes up here, as Bev announces that Roseanne’s dad is cheating with a younger woman. Not much story here, just some stuff that happens as a slice of life.
– “Kansas City, Here We Come.” Becky gets a job as a cashier, while Jackie & Roseanne decide to truck on down to KC and meet the mistress. This leads to a bored Roseanne amusing herself by annoying her sister in a great scene. Becky’s boss is a jerk (welcome to the real world, honey) and calls her a name which would earn her a big settlement if this was real life, but in this case it turns out to be a plot point, as Mark and Dan compete over defending her honor, and Dan sulks about not getting to hit the jerk. As usual, nothing is resolved, but Mark and Dan grow closer.
– “Santa Claus.” Another highlight of the season. Leon offers Dan the Santa job at the mall, but he’s busy, so Roseanne wants it instead. Leon continues to rule all here, with “Yes, it’s just Rodbell’s way of saying ‘You work here too.'” Just awesomely dry delivery. Roseanne as Santa and Jackie as a bitchy Mrs. Claus writes itself, with a great series of gags that has to have been 15 minutes longer in the editing room. This leads to the B-plot, as Roseanne meets Darlene’s mysterious new friend Karen, who turns out to be middle-aged and running a bookstore. This finally pays off the depressed Darlene run, as we learn that she’s been writing sci-fi behind Roseanne’s back and going to Star Trek conventions. She’s so underground.
– “Bingo.” Crystal brings the girls to Bingo Night at the church, which initially has Roseanne at her snarky worst, until she gets hooked on it herself. Edie McClurg has a guest appearance as the only person more annoying than Roseanne herself. This spurs on a fight between Roseanne and Crystal over 20 years worth of stuff, while Roseanne (a classic addictive personality) becomes Crazy Bingo Lady. Arnie The World’s Worst Bingo Caller (“Just kidding, it was B2!”) is funny stuff, a rarity for him. And Crystal’s weirdness is revealed to be another pregnancy. That plot twist got really overused in the years following. Trivia note: An “I Love Bingo” magnet resided on the fridge in every episode following this one.
– “Bowling.” It’s back to the lanes again, this time for couples bowling with the Conners and Thomases. Plus we finally meet Bonnie’s husband, and he’s played by David Crosby. Meanwhile, Roseanne gets worked up because Nancy and Jackie are getting along as friends without her. This was SO true to my life and experiences with Girl Politics since entering into married life. Very real writing. Arnie & Dan get equally competitive over bowling, as we finally learn what Arnie does for a living (construction). And during the credits, there’s a throwaway bit with Mark’s snotty little brother, “Kevin”, which is the introduction of Johnny Galecki as the character who would return later in rewritten form as David.
– “The Back Story” Roseanne throws out her back while painting her toenails, which is very Roseanne-like. This unfortunately (for Dan) brings Bev back to care for her daughter. DJ is bummed about losing his birthday cake, because he wants one from the store, like Mom makes. Roseanne manages to steal scenes from everyone just by yelling lines from off-screen, leaving me to wonder how they filmed this stuff without everyone dying of laughter. Bev buys the family’s love to send Dan into another rage, but they have a nice moment to make up later.
– “Less Is More.” Another famous episode, as Roseanne’s back problems continue, and medical science recommends having her boobs reduced. This of course becomes an issue for Dan, because he likes the big boobies and all. Roseanne’s anesthesia-influenced dream sequence comes complete with a cameo from Doogie Howser, MD, because it’s just that kind of show. Dan’s climactic feel (“They’re higher now.”) remains a highlight of the series.
– “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.” It’s Christmas come early for the Conners, as Becky dumps Mark via a typically histrionic fight (“I didn’t want to hang out with your parents!” “Yeah, well, no one wants to hang out with my parents!”) and of course Roseanne is delighted. Dan is equally clueless about the proper things to avoid saying to a heartbroken teenage girl (the correct answer would be EVERYTHING) so Roseanne has to do damage control again. Poor Dan was such a whipping boy this season. Becky, as reasonable as her mother, expects Dan to fire Mark as a result of the breakup, but Dan now likes the kid and doesn’t want to take sides. How things change. And then another all-time classic bit for the series, as Becky dates a charming football jock named Dean, who Dan loves and expects to be marrying off to Becky soon. Of course, Roseanne and Jackie have to explain to him how rebound relationships work, and his hang-dog expression wins the day. The postscript with “Dean” accidentally lipping off to Roseanne backstage (“In Memoriam: Dean, 1992-1992”) makes this one an instant classic.
– “This Old House.” Mark’s brother is back, now renamed David permanently and much more artsy. The Mark and Becky reconciliation begins, while Darlene and David become the rebellious couple. Meanwhile, Roseanne & Jackie reminisce in their old house before it gets demolished, revealing a much darker side of their relationship with the previously nice-seeming dad.
– “The Commercial Show” The final appearance of evil neighbor Cathy sees DJ and Todd ruining everyone’s sleep by having sleepovers that don’t involve anyone sleeping, while Leon announces that they’re filming a TV commercial in the diner. So Roseanne decides she wants a piece of that action. The Bowmans move back to Chicago, leaving DJ heartbroken but expressing it with anger. Darlene forced into pigtails and a flowery dress is creepy and yet hilarious, and Roseanne gets kicked out of her own commercial, leading to a funny wink-wink moment about how she’ll never win an Emmy anyway. Rick Dees has a cameo as the director/Leon’s love interest here.
– “Therapy.” Jackie decides to go into therapy, which seems like a long-overdue decision. Arnie, meanwhile, has a not-so-brilliant plan of renting out part of the bike shop to a tattoo artist, which leads to their accountant getting fixed up with Jackie and everything getting tied back into the therapy session with Roseanne again. Of course, Roseanne attempting to share her feelings in a rational manner in therapy is a brilliant idea for jokes, as she has trouble listening without judging.
– “Lies.” David makes a “move” on Darlene (putting his arm around her — what a playa!), but things don’t go as planned for him, as usual. Meanwhile, Rodbells announces that employees will have to take a lie detector test, which has Roseanne and Bonnie freaking out, considering the contents of their fridges at home and all. Darlene goes to both Dan and then Becky for advice on her David problem, which has Roseanne nearly exploding with pent-up meddling (“When I said come to US, I meant come to ME!”) but her fears about the lie detector prove unfounded, as their focus is on Leon instead. And Darlene makes her decision about David, thus giving herself her first real boyfriend in the show.
– “Deliverance.” Funny title considering who the father of the baby in the show is. Becky’s hair, by the way, is finally growing out from the ugly mushroom cut she gave herself early in the year. Leon is promoted and thus leaves the show, setting up Roseanne v. Bonnie in a suckup battle to the death for the vacant manager position. Darlene, meanwhile, is already sick of David hanging off her all the time, but that proves a problem because everyone else loves having him around. Dan is trapped with a crazed, very pregnant Crystal, and gets stuck coaching her through the birth when Roseanne is too busy snubbing Bonnie to pick up the phone. And just because it’s Roseanne’s show and life must suck, the restaurant closes up rather than replace the manager, leaving her unemployed again, naturally. It’s the circle of life and all that.
– “Secrets.” Mark is still chasing Becky, while Roseanne and the girls worry about money. Also, a weird subplot about Arnie getting visited by aliens is introduced, to be paid off in the season finale. Mark, the brain surgeon, gets drunk and smashes up the Lobo, despite being underaged, so Dan has to go rescue him and keep the secret, which results in Roseanne knowing that he’s up to SOMETHING, but unable to nail him down for anything specific. That’s some great character writing there. Roseanne v. Dan in mental chess is of course a total mismatch, although Dan gets a good shot in at the end.
– “Don’t Make Me Over.” Mother’s Day approaches, leaving Roseanne & Jackie worried about what to get their mother without triggering a neurotic episode. Becky & Darlene have a similar problem, expect they’re trying to worm a concert trip out of Roseanne and decide to butter her up with a trip to the salon. Roseanne mistakenly takes this as genuine affection and turns it into a big day out for the girls, until she learns the truth and we get a very touching and sad moment in the kind of acting job that she would have never been able to pull off in the first couple of seasons. A nice episode, written by Sara Gilbert.
– “Aliens” It’s the last day at the diner, as we bid farewell to that set (and the paranoid electronics salesman who got some good scenes throughout this season) and Leon leaves the show…for now. The bike shop is finally on the verge of going under, thus ending that plot thread for Dan, and the family falls apart yet again. Roseanne v. Her State Representative is a great running gag through the episode, as a politician going door-to-door is no match for her. Arnie’s alien gag is paid off as he’s kidnapped by them, which Nancy takes to be a lame excuse for running out on her. The truth is much scarier…for the aliens who were dumb enough to kidnap him and leave him alive. Another nice true-to-life moment sees Becky reach a major turning point in her life, as she figures out that the family income is too much to give her full college loans, but not enough to actually pay for college. Been down THAT road, folks. And as a result, she essentially gives up her dreams of college and turns into trailer trash from then on, which is a really sad end for her character arc, as she essentially disappears from the series in the beginning of the next season and returns a totally different person in season six, as you probably already know. It does beg the question — what’s the point of trying to better yourself, as Becky did all through high school, if you’re not going to get a fair shot in the end anyway? The show doesn’t offer an answer to it, because there is none.
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.
Finally, commentaries from Roseanne, on the Halloween and Thanksgiving episodes, but they’re “video commentaries”, where you get a split screen with Roseanne commenting over the SYNDICATED version of the episode, and sounding rather bored at it. A pop-up trivia track attempts to fill in the holes in her memory and spice things up, but it’s pretty dull stuff. Big disappointment from someone who’s normally so funny and full of life.
On the fourth disc, there’s also the requisite season highlights segment, running 7 minutes, as well as recycled interviews with Lecy Goranson and Michael Fishman (aka Becky and DJ), that make me wonder how barren the extras are going to get by the end of the series.
The Film: *****
The Video: **1/2
The Audio: **
The Extras: **1/2