“We both hate me.”
I’ll admit it’s a leap to take that quote from David (Johnny Galecki, swapping Pasadena for Lanford here), who’s sorting out his feelings with Darlene once more, and apply it to the Roseanne revival and its audience. But, five episodes into this 10th season, it’s just hard to find evidence of the care the show’s producers—including cast member Sara Gilbert—claimed they’d taken in updating the series.
Ahead of the premiere, the creative minds behind the revival said the fringe politics of its star, Roseanne Barr, wouldn’t take center stage, but her support of a man who seems to have made it his personal mission to undo the New Deal would be folded into the story. And everyone from Gilbert to executive producer Whitney Cummings has said that the inclusion of that upsetting bit of info was key to promoting necessary discussion. The Conners, they insisted, would find themselves in the same position as so many other families in America—struggling to stay afloat and divided in their beliefs. But as I’ve previously noted, Roseanne’s voice remains the loudest, whether she’s “owning” big-city liberals by committing child abuse or being the only one afforded the time to explain the rationale behind her vote in the 2016 presidential election (Jackie, who fumbled at the two-yard line, is hardly shown the same consideration). Though in its original iteration, Roseanne put the spotlight on a type of family that had until that point rarely been seen on TV, the working class isn’t so white anymore, which means the show can’t even fall back on that founding principle.
But even if the return to Lanford didn’t yield a whole lot of new faces—and of course, if Barr hadn’t boarded the Trump train—Roseanne would have still been worth revisiting for all of the original relationships, including Darlene and David’s. The awkward teens blossomed along with their romance, supporting each other in their forays into the art world while leaving just enough room for independent growth, which led to a couple of breakups before their season-eight marriage. Nearly 20 years after the show originally ended, Galecki’s success on CBS prompted the revival’s writers to undo another element of the series’ canon—the high-school sweethearts are now estranged spouses. As we learn in “Darlene Vs. David,” he’s been traveling the world to build houses for underserved populations, which Darlene resents because his absence, altruistic as it may seem, is still an absence. David’s good deeds have left Darlene to raise their kids on her own, to play nurturer and disciplinarian, the latter of which is a role we previously learned she’s reluctant to inhabit.
It’s an interesting development, one that doesn’t feel entirely born of necessity. Though David initially claims grief over Mark’s death spurred his virtual abandonment of his family, Roseanne tells Darlene, in a genuinely moving and surprisingly restrained moment, that he was actually just tired of the constant fighting in his marriage. I realize that still sounds like a dick move, but as Roseanne, Becky, and even Darlene admit, they were a “disaster as a couple.” We didn’t see any real cracks in Darlene and David’s relationship in previous seasons, but their personalities have always clashed. They do it at different times, but they list the same faults: He’s too sensitive, and she’s too controlling. It also makes sense that young love would eventually fade. And they’ve both changed—David’s found his nerve (which promptly disappears the moment Dan walks into the living room), and Darlene’s realized that it’s okay to walk away from something that just doesn’t work.
Gilbert and Galecki carry the episode, readily slipping into their familiar dynamic and old posts on either side of Darlene’s bedroom window. Their reunion and subsequent breakup are equally poignant, even if it’s hard to shake the feeling that David’s self-discovery, which they all delight in, came at such a high cost to Darlene. She’s been juggling two kids, senior parents, and no job. She probably would have liked some time to find herself, too. Then again, Darlene was already the most self-possessed character on the show; she might not be “Build-A-Bear material,” but she’s always known exactly who she is.
The presence of Gilbert’s well-rounded character, who was a beacon for smart and sardonic teens in the ’90s, is a double-edged sword here. It’s a reminder of what the show used to do well, and where it’s currently failing. Darlene’s daughter Harris is still hardly more than a combination of annoying millennial habits, and though young Mark got off to a promising start, he’s just as likely to disappear as DJ’s daughter Mary—and, for that matter, DJ. While I understand that nine episodes is considerably fewer than the original 20+ for Roseanne, the limited run should still allow for some development for the new characters. The show can’t just coast on good will, not even when “Darlene Vs. David” also features the return of Beverly Harris (the ageless Estelle Parsons), whose season-10 storyline is just cribbing liberally from Sophia Petrillo in The Golden Girls.
Roseanne isn’t even relying on old standbys like Dan, who appears in two scenes, which both see him walk back out of the room after uttering a handful of lines. They’re admittedly funny lines, and John Goodman is still affable AF, but there also seems to be some unofficial rule that prevents multiple members of the Conner family from being onscreen, which in turn limits the likelihood of the kinds of discussions the writers and producers claim to want to have. “Darlene Vs. David” is saved by the charms and connection of its “combatants,” but with Galecki out for the rest of the season, Roseanne’s running out of ways to keep our attention.
“David’s kind of like a son to me, and you’re kinda like my daughter.”
That button—crumpled lobster bibs and all—would have fit in perfectly on the original run.
From the looks of Jackie’s raised fist (and some promos), she and Bev are going to have it out this season (again).
“We’re a very forgiving family.” “No, you’re not.”