The SmarK DVD Rant for Roseanne: Season Five

So now we come to a strange point for Roseanne’s series, as early awkwardness and corny humor have started to give way to actual critical acclaim and, dare I say, acting ability on Roseanne’s part. Once a family comedy, the show was increasingly becoming a sounding board for whatever was on Roseanne’s mind, whether it was promoting Tom Arnold’s new show or slandering her dead father on a national stage. The dynamic of the show itself also started to change, as Becky and Darlene were growing up and wanting to move on in real life, leaving the grownups as the focus instead of balancing their antics with the family interplay. However, despite all this, the show was still ruling the ratings, so it must have been working.

Disc One

– “Terms of Estrangement” Things suck for the family, a common theme for this season. The bank and power company are closing in on them due to Roseanne’s unemployment and Dan’s problems running the bike shop. Roseanne tries teaching DJ the “I’m just a little kid and you’re scaring me” routine to keep them at bay, but it only works so many times. Of course, Becky’s priorities lie with herself, the wonderful and selfless person that she is. Mark gets offered a job in Minnesota, which allows Becky an exit from Lanford and the series via an elopement which has Roseanne just a tad upset.

– “Terms of Estrangement, Part 2” Becky and Mark return from the bliss of marriage, which gives David one of his few memorable lines: “Thanks to you, I’m related to my girlfriend.” Roseanne of course deals with things with more grace than Dan does. The horrifying moment when Darlene tells Mark to call Roseanne “mom” is great. Good acting from John Goodman, too, as he takes Becky’s snotty comments about screwing up the bike shop WAY too personally. Boy, they really did a burial job on her character before she left, didn’t they? What a bitch.

– “The Dark Ages” The power company saga continues, as they finally cut off the Conners, after only the first Final Notice! The family going nuts while searching for stuff to do is great. Poor David gets sucked into the Boredom Zone with the family, which has Dan wondering about what he and Darlene are doing up there in the dark. For about five seconds. Which begs the eternal question: Who CAN hurt David more, Darlene or Dan? David proceeds to spend the night, which has Roseanne jumping to conclusions, but Darlene actually has a comeback that leaves Roseanne speechless for once.

– “Mommie Nearest” Jackie starts Fisher, the man of the season for her. He’s really young, you see, but he wouldn’t turn out to be as charming as he first seems. Dinner with the Conners is like getting thrown into the deep end of the relationship pool without water wings for him. And to make matters worse, Bev comes to live in Lanford, bringing $10,000 for each daughter to act as deus ex machina and get the family out of their hole. When Jackie suggests starting a business up, Bev takes two primo cheapshots and wears out her welcome. Again. A little of Bev is enough for this show, which is why I was glad they wrote her out again in the sixth season.

– “Pretty In Black” More new neighbors for Roseanne, and David makes the mistake of being smitten with girl next door Molly. Meanwhile, it’s sweet sixteen time for Darlene, much to her horror. Her petty revenge: Dying her hair black. Oooh, I bet she listens to AFI and thinks My Chemical Romance is really deep, too. Of course, the party is just an excuse for Roseanne to screw with Darlene’s head and reminisce with her own friends. This one introduces Wings Hawser as the new neighbor next door in a role that didn’t really amount to much in the long run, and also introduces Roseanne’s investment in the loose meat diner with Jackie & Nancy.

– “Looking For Loans In All The Wrong Places” David’s ill-advised flirtation with Molly continues, while Darlene goes all animal lover in opposition to the whole meat concept. Personally I prefer my steaks still bleeding, but to each their own. We also learn that DJ enjoys peeping at the girls next door as a hobby. Well, sure, who wouldn’t? The ladies discover that getting a loan isn’t in the cards because things are set up to protect the banks, which gives us our bit of liberal preaching for the episode. I think it’s funny that we’ve supposed to sympathize with Roseanne getting turned down for a loan after just having the power shut off for non-payment. Even worse, they now have to go to Bev for the money, thus bringing her into the diner as a partner. The payoff to the peeping Tom story is awesome and makes the episode.

Disc Two

– “Halloween IV” Becky’s departure has sapped Roseanne’s Halloween spirit, and even repulsive pranks can’t cheer her up. DJ’s Hannibal Lecter costume is a pretty dated reference, a rarity for this show. This one is another concept show, as Roseanne falls asleep and gets visited by the ghosts of Halloween past, present and future, showing us that Roseanne was a MEAN kid and everyone in the present likes to bust on her when she’s not around. The future version of Roseanne is a funnier payoff than the “real” payoff of her big prank on everyone at the lodge, but this is still a fine example of the spirit of the season for the show.

– “Ladies Choice” Roseanne’s meddling in Nancy’s love life is derailed when Nancy comes out of the closet, which made her one of the first network TV characters to be openly gay. Even though they would waffle in future episodes. Roseanne’s awkward “So…did you do it?” is great, as is her ability to classify any situation possible into a talk show episode. Now, I don’t think lesbians actually drive around with “I’m A Big Ol’ Dyke” bumper stickers as Roseanne asserts here to Darlene, but I’m far from an expert. Bev moves to a retirement home to the delight of Jackie, but Roseanne’s conscience keeps nagging at her, because they’re supposed to be PLOTTING their mom’s death, not planning it. This one is all about fear of change, whether it’s sexuality or getting old.

– “Stand On Your Man” It’s grand opening time for the Lunchbox. Arnie returns from his “alien abduction” to discover that Nancy won’t be coming back to him. “Hey, I’ll bet Marla is a lesbian too!” is actually a really funny line, as is his clueless reaction to the guys razzing him about Nancy’s new love life while playing. God, I’m laughing at Tom Arnold, what’s going on? That bit of comedy is quickly offset by Roseanne having a tense run-in with a psychotic customer, thus showing that her whole “tough guy” image is just that. She takes a self-defense course to make Dan feel better, which gives her lots of chance to crack wise and kick guys in the nuts. One of the highlights, for sure.

– “Good Girls, Bad Girls” Roseanne gains a new disciple of domesticism in the form of Molly’s homebody sister Charlotte. Darlene and Molly continue their (reluctant) bonding with a trip to a concert, which is of course just asking for trouble. In this case, Molly turns out to be the troublemaker, as Darlene is left to stand around making smarmy remarks to the potheads. Talk about fish in a barrel. Turns out Molly is quite the little skank, leading to a showdown with Roseanne. And that’s not a fair fight.

– “Of Ice and Men” Hey, Norm MacDonald wrote this one. And no wonder, it’s about hockey, as Dan searches for a new sport to occupy DJ’s attention. Jackie pre-emptively dumps Fisher, which of course has Roseanne in meddle mode, although Jackie’s pathetic breakdown puts her out of it again. DJ turns out to be a thug, which I’m sure would be a thesis for some child psychologist out there. Dan gets the all-time classic line, however, as he gives DJ a sip of beer and then tells Roseanne that he had to do it “because the hooker made him nervous.” Now that’s a Norm line.

– “No Place Like Home For The Holidays” It’s the Christmas show and no one wants to spend it with Roseanne. However, a snowstorm traps her in the diner along with Jackie and Bev and Nana Mary, while Dan gets the Amazing Lesbians at the house. David and Darlene babysit David’s younger sisters (who I don’t think were ever seen or heard about again after this) and he won’t shut up about wanting her to put out. Mary’s presents for Roseanne & Jackie — a Polaroid camera and a cordless phone — were supposed to be expensive but look ludicrously dated today. The show’s tone continues to darken, however, as we learn what a lousy mother David has, with worse to come for the poor kid.

Disc Three

– “Crime and Punishment” Fisher is all wound up over being unemployed, although he’s an artist so he should be used to it. DJ gets caught with “obscene reading material” at school, which Dan assumes to be a Playboy before learning that it’s actually Darlene’s comic. However, the episode suddenly turns deathly serious when Darlene finds Jackie all bruised up from a fight with Fisher (which practically had a “FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION” subtitle along the bottom the whole time), which in turn sends Dan off for some old-fashioned manly revenge. Not many laughs here.

– “War and Peace” So Dan’s in jail for assault and battery, which means that Darlene gets to bail him out, enjoying every second of it. The story behind Dan’s incarceration grows with every telling in a running gag, until even the paperboy is running from fear. Jackie doesn’t really want to break up with Fisher, resulting in the big guns being hauled out for a fight with Roseanne (“I wish I could be as happy as a husband and wife who each weigh 500 pounds!”) So Jackie leaves after more FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION action with Fisher and it’s another heavy one as the season gets darker. (Thankfully she did win the Emmy for this one, so at least it was paid off.)

– “Lanford Daze” It’s Lanford Days again, as Roseanne hopes to get Loretta Lynn’s blessing for the loose meat, while Dan gets a job selling hot jobs. This development has everyone shocked (“What am I, a hobo?”) Darlene still hates meat, which is less shocking than tiresome. David embraces his inner carnivore and wins an argument for once. Good for him. That’s what eating meat gets you! Roseanne’s justification of eating meat: “We’re too low on the food chain to exploit people, so we have to eat animals.” DJ’s play about the founding of the town is probably more literal than most old-timey fairs would like, although Roseanne did tell him to research it. Dan learns that selling people expensive toys that are beyond their means isn’t any fun. The hell it isn’t, I say! If you don’t buy a plasma TV, you’re not a man! And I’m not just saying that because of all the free crap that Panasonic and Samsung give me at training sessions, either.

– “Wait Until Your Father Gets Home” The dark tone gets darker as Roseanne’s dad dies and everyone is a wreck. Jackie trying to give bad news to a deaf aunt lightens things up a bit, but things get darker again as Roseanne’s childhood issues pop up. This is of course a major change from early appearances of her father as a harmless old fool, but then that was also before Roseanne gained total creative control over the show and made it her personal psychiatric couch. Dan and Jackie haggling over coffin prices is very black, but very real, humor. This is pretty much all Roseanne working through her own life issues, but it does show how far she’d come as an actress, and it was also the one that got her the Emmy for Best Actress, finally.

– “First Cousin, Twice Removed” And the stuntcasting bug really bites the show now, even moreso than a self-indulgent bit with Loretta Lynn a couple of episodes ago, as Joan Collins plays super-rich cousin Ronnie, who would never be seen or heard about again after this. Ancient Joan in her ultra-tight pants is just embarrassing to watch, as she was already on the way down the Hollywood totem pole and becoming a parody of herself. Next.

– “Lose A Job, Winnebago.” Dan is stressed over job-hunting, so Roseanne suggests a trip to California with the neighbors to play on The Price Is Right. Well, actually it’s less suggesting than manipulating everyone. So it’s a road trip in an RV, with Roseanne stuck doing housework on the road instead of at home. Funny moment sees Darlene point out the similarities between the Harris sisters and the neighbor kids. Dan starts pressuring Roseanne for another baby, which thankfully would not pop up again for another couple of years. So of course they end up on the set of quasi-spinoff The Jackie Thomas Show, with “star” Tom Arnold. The sad thing about that show is that the supporting cast was great and it was funny just about every time except for the ones when Arnold was on screen. This one didn’t really go anywhere, it was just a “slice of life” type episode.

– “It’s a Boy!” David’s parents are getting divorced and leaving, so wants to get out of the house. Darlene pitches having him move in, which makes for a rough conversation with Roseanne and Dan. The idea gets vetoed and Roseanne goes to meet with Mom Of The Year candidate Barbara Healy, which gives her some insight into what makes David tick. Dan is of course more pragmatic about things, but Roseanne offering to throw Jackie out of the house again turns the tide. Dan also feels the hormonal tide shifting in celebration of Three Stooges and scratching youself in a GREAT moment, immediately followed by Roseanne killing it again in a funnier one. Another great episode walking the fine line between comedy and tragedy.

Disc Four

– “It Was Twenty Years Ago Today” Roseanne has high hopes for their 20th anniversary, including a naughty boudoir photo for Dan. Dan has no such great gift ideas, opting instead for a shoe rack (which would actually get paid off later in the episode), instead taking a job at a Big & Tall shop to finance a new wedding ring for Roseanne. Bill Maher guests as the bored photographer, long before he was annoying politicians for a living. Dan’s gesture turns into the megafight of the century, teaching one important lesson: Never listen to Jackie. Thankfully, this one ends well instead of depressing, like most of them of the season have tended to do.

– “Playing With Matches” Bev is driving everyone nuts, so Roseanne decides to meddle again and fix her up with another retiree, played by the always charming Red Buttons. Molly the Slut finally makes her move on David, and the plan to escape to New York for art school also gets spread to Roseanne via DJ. Dan giving David advice on women (“It doesn’t matter.” “But…” “It doesn’t matter.”) of course steals the show.

– “Promises, Promises” Tim Curry guests as (surprise) a charming British friend of Dan’s who wants to get him into real estate. David wants to go to the prom with Darlene, which gives Roseanne a rare chance to see Darlene in a dress AND screw with her head at the same time. Nancy’s gayosity breaks down in the face of Roger’s British accent. Interestingly, Roger’s deal is flipping houses 12 years before every other show on A&E and TLC was about that. OK, so I watch Flip This House, sue me. Darlene rents a motel room to finally give in to David’s whining, but the moment is not as magical as planned. Roseanne is surprisingly OK with the whole teen sex thing.

– “Glen Garry, Glen Rosey.” Now that’s a witty title. Dan’s renovations on the flip house have Roseanne jealous on behalf of their own house. Dan thinks that home renovations are his calling, however. The buyer pulls out and Roger skips town, as usual for this show, leaving it looking like another bleak ending in a series of them, but Jackie gets sick of living with Bev and buys the house herself. Roseanne’s “We are so far from screwed it would take 5 billion years for the light from screwed to reach Earth” is the line of the show.

– “Tooth Or Consequences” Dan accidentally rams the fridge door into Roseanne’s face, and knocks out a tooth, thus making her even more white trashy. Bob Odenkirk has a great cameo as I constantly wonder why no network has been able to find him something to carry. Leon returns in a cameo as the health inspector and immediately brings the show up about 18 notches, thankfully returning full-time in the next season. Darlene gets accepted to an arts school in Chicago, thus removing her from the show for large portions of the rest of the series and basically making her into a recurring character rather than a star. And we end on another downer, with David left behind.

– “Daughters and Other Strangers” Roseanne snoops in Darlene’s stuff and is convinced she’s about to run away, but it turns out that she was just blowing $300 on a CD player for David. Geez, what electronics store saw HER coming? The stupid chicken shirt moves from Roseanne to Jackie to Darlene to Dan over the last few episodes of the season, thus annoying me and viewers everywhere. Future heart-throb Joseph Gordon-Levitt appears as DJ’s weirder new friend in a bit role. Darlene changes her mind about Chicago, but it’s because of David’s own pathetic self-doubt, and Roseanne won’t abide that and kicks her out of the house and off to live her life.

So yeah, this season was one big downer, although it was some of the best written and acted of the series, and it definitely provides a very different look at the family than the first few seasons did. Things would change even more in the next season, and not for the better, but that’s another rant.

The Video:

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.

The Audio:

Just plain old stereo, although it’s rarely actually used. Dialogue is clear, however, so it serves the purpose needed.

The Extras:

Pretty light again this time around, as Roseanne does video commentary again on “Ladies Choice” and “Lanford Daze.” This time they move the commentary episodes to the last disc as a separate feature, and edit them down to Roseanne’s comments only, leaving them about 10 minutes long each. This helps the LOOOOONG gaps that plagued the first attempts at it. A full cast commentary would help more. There’s also Roseanne answering the Top “10” Questions from fans, although it turns out to be less because she has no attention span.

The Ratings
The Show: *****
The Video: **1/2
The Audio: **
The Extras: **

The Inside Pulse:

Not the best season comedy-wise, but definitely the year when Roseanne came into her own as an actress and the show really stepped up with a heavier tone and better writing, this was probably the last really good year for the show, before fake Beckies and extra babies started clogging up the works. Highly recommended.