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The Conners returns with a dilemma, "Preemies, Weed And Infidelity"

Laurie Metcalf, Lecy Goranson, Emma Kenney, and Estelle Parsons
Photo: Eric McCandless (ABC)
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Roughly a year ago, The Conners said goodbye to their matriarch as The Conners rose from the ashes of the Roseanne revival. Over the course of its first season, The Conners did more than just prove it could withstand the loss of Roseanne Barr’s unmistakable presence—it did what it probably should have done from the beginning, which was re-center the Conner clan (a catch-all for the Conner, Harris, and Conner-Healy families) around Sara Gilbert’s Darlene, who was more than ready for the job. Jackie’s (Laurie Metcalf) nervous charm was utilized as more than just a foil for Roseanne, though her nieces still struggled with her attentions. Executive producers Bruce Helford, Bruce Rasmussen, and Dave Caplan handled the trickiest element, that of Dan (John Goodman) without Roseanne, by having Dan become increasingly aware of exactly what parenting entails—and how much of it he missed out on.

The season-two premiere, “Preemies, Weed And Infidelity,” isn’t weighed down by nearly as much baggage as “Keep On Truckin’,” but it still feels sluggish, despite featuring a dash to the hospital—a sitcom staple—the arrival of a new baby (another classic TV move), and some double-dipping from Darlene (this one gets a bit of an update, but it’s still ultimately the same romantic-partner dilemma we’ve seen many a character go through). Altogether, these staples produce little flavor; maybe it’s the lack of a shadow to emerge from, but “Preemies, Weed And Infidelity” is rarely ever more than just fine.

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The episode, directed by Roseanne and The Conners regular Gail Mancuso, opens around the kitchen table, grounding us in the Conners’ lumpen-but-loving world once more. Bev (Estelle Parsons) plays poker with Dan and his friends, and mind games on Jackie, who remains all too vulnerable to her mother’s cruelty. The Roseanne season 10 episode, “No Country For Old Women,” first showed Bev move in with Jackie; she’s now entrenched and intent on making Jackie’s life hell (what else is new?). The audience is already a bit inured to their conflict, but it’s not what’s at the center of this particular story. So Bev just flits in and out of rooms throughout the episode, dropping such “she’s 90, she doesn’t even know what she’s saying” gems as advising a seven-months pregnant Becky (Lecy Goranson) to wrap up her baby in a cloth napkin upon delivery, and musing that the objectionable part of Gone With The Wind is bad words—well, word. Well, not even that. It’s too soon for a Bev-centric episode, but I still wish she had more to do than offer a viewpoint more to the right (on some issues) than the rest of the family members.

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Becky’s time at the hospital is fraught but familiar: Dan threatens to go Aurora Greenway on the hospital staff, Jackie’s New Age ways are dismissed, and everyone chuckles about the life of conflict and poverty the baby will inherit. “What we don’t have in quality, we make up in volume,” Jackie says, which, based on the adjusted episode count this year (19 episodes to season one’s 11) and a middling return, could end up summing up the season. Darlene is distracted by her preteen and teenage kids, one of whom is selling pot cookies (you can probably guess which one), her boyfriend Ben (Jay Ferguson), and ex-husband David (Johnny Galecki), but she eventually finds her way to Becky post-delivery. And Becky needs everyone around her, given that Emilio (Rene Rosado) was deported to Mexico in the season-one finale. The dynamic between the sisters has always been the strongest selling point for me, so seeing Darlene support Becky, especially Becky revealed last season how abandoned she felt by Darlene in the wake of Mark’s death, was heartwarming, even if it wasn’t really the focus of the episode.

Jay Ferguson and Sara Gilbert
Photo: Eric McCandless (ABC)
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It’s hard to say what was the focus—having an A and B story is typical, but the A and B stories of “Preemies, Weed And Infidelity” comes across as B and C stories. Darlene can’t make up her mind whether she wants to actually move on with Ben, or if she’d rather work out her issues with David. Her dilemma might have landed better if we’d seen David at some point; instead, all we had to go on was Jay Ferguson’s great head of hair, which puts a tick in his column. The other problem is that Gilbert crackles far more when she’s around Conners or even her aimless ex, not the owner of a weird media company.

The highlight of the episode is, naturally, a conversation between Darlene and Dan. Darlene returns to the house under the guise of catching her breath between work and hospital visits, but the truth is she’s pissed at her dad for still being oblivious. There were a lot of issues and fights Dan ignored or avoided while Darlene, Becky, and D.J. were growing up (look, the show doesn’t speak of Jerry, so neither will I); the fact that he chose to ignore and evade seems to incense Darlene. But Dan isn’t about to take her criticism, either; he tells her she needs to step up and be a parent, neatly eliding the way she seems to have taken on the head of household role, because he’s already “raised” his kids. This debate isn’t really settled before the end of the episode, but The Conners’ ability to uncover a festering wound in the middle of everything else that’s going on is impressive. Darlene knows all too well the burdens her mother took on and her father was free to elude; I get the feeling this will come back around to her relationship with David, given that she told him he needs to be more present in their kids’ lives, especially when they’re at his house.

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That moment is really the only time that everything comes together in “Preemies, Weed And Infidelity,” but it’s enough to make the premiere above average. More important, for the first time, we can judge the show entirely on its own merits and not in relation to its departed family member/castmate.

Stray observations

  • “You don’t need to have kids to give your life meaning.” “Good luck getting a man with that attitude!” Of all of Bev’s backwards-thinking lines, this one made me chuckle.
  • A “kale is a garnish, not a food” joke in 2019? Groundbreaking.
  • My screener didn’t include credits, and IMDb doesn’t currently list the episode writer, but I will fill in after I’ve seen the broadcast.
  • Emma Kenney continues to look underwhelmed, possibly because these shenanigans are nothing compared to those of her other TV family.
  • If you want more of John Goodman as a family man, check out The Righteous Gemstones.
  • As far as Emilio’s deportation storyline goes, I know it’s supposed to be timely, but I wish more producers and writers would realize that you don’t need to make every Latinx character’s story one about immigration. It’s a vital story, one I’ve written about through the lens of TV before. But it isn’t the only one.
  • Katey Sagal will return as Louise, an old friend of Dan’s (and possibly more), later this season.
  • Thanks for reading this premiere recap! We’ll be dropping in at the midseason and finale points as well.
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