Photo: Adam Rose (ABC)

“The ignorance of adults shouldn’t punish children.”

“Go Cubs!” is the joint effort of veteran TV writer and current Roseanne co-executive producer Dave Caplan, veteran TV director and Roseanne alum Andrew D. Weyman, and series star Roseanne Barr. Weyman helmed the seventh episode of the revival, which Caplan wrote after Barr said she wanted to explore anti-Muslim bigotry and, in Caplan’s words, “get a comeuppance for her own bias. It was her idea.” In addition to tackling a pertinent topic, the episode has not one, but two, cohesive plots, a couple of solid burns from Darlene, and a guest appearance from Anne Bedian, of the famed Curb Your Enthusiasm episode, “Palestinian Chicken.” The result, however, is just okay—at least it revives the revival’s attempts at meaningful discourse. And frankly, given the subject matter, “Go Cubs!” could have been a lot worse.

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It feels strange to commend an episode for being merely competent, but that’s where we are with the Roseanne revival, which is such a great distance from “A Bitter Pill To Swallow” and “A Stash From The Past.” “Go Cubs!” may be the strongest offering since “Dress To Impress”—it moves at a good clip, advances the plot, and is actually funny in places (yes, even in moments centering on Roseanne). But it still doesn’t come close to achieving the balance of pathos and humor that the show did in its hey day, whether the writers and cast were addressing domestic violence or mental illness. Billed as the episode in which Roseanne (or Barr) gets her comeuppance or just confronts her anti-Muslim sentiment—feelings that are hard to attribute correctly because the real-life Roseanne wrote in now-deleted tweets that “Americans don’t want these savages in our towns”—“Go Cubs!” hurtles to a neat resolution after some self-reflection.

Photo: Adam Rose (ABC)

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Watching the episode on my DVR (consistent screener access continues to elude me), I felt a vague sense of relief, because the cast members were actually present throughout, including Michael Fishman as D.J., who, as an Army vet looking after his daughter while his wife serves in Afghanistan, has been given some weighty storylines. You wouldn’t really know that from his limited appearances this season, though; and, improvement aside, “Go Cubs!” drops his therapy revelation as quickly as it arises. John Goodman is also more engaged this go-around, just in time for the return of James Pickens, Jr. as Chuckie. Jackie even gets to dial down her haplessness—well, in except in her personal life (though “ghosted stories” is a good bit).

But mostly, I was relieved to see the Al-Harazis, the Muslim family that causes all the fuss early on, give as good as they get. The episode wastes no time revealing Roseanne’s bias—she immediately assumes her new neighbors are terrorists, a la Homer in The Simpsons’ “Mypods And Broomsticks” (maybe they’re both Jack Bauer fans). When she needs to use their wifi (in order to let little Mary speak with her mother Geena, who’s still overseas), Roseanne goes to her neighbors’ home at two in the morning with her tail between her legs—and a bat in her hands. But Samir and Fatima Al-Harazi (Alain Washnevsky and Anne Bedian, respectively) have already gotten a taste of what passes for hospitality in a town like Lanford, where immigrants, documented and otherwise, are seen as “making trouble” for long-time residents. So they’re just as skeptical of Roseanne (and also have a baseball bat), even though she argues that she has more to fear from them. But, whether it’s the early hour, the internet access, or the obviously terrified little Yemeni boy, Roseanne and the Al-Harazis find common ground as quickly and reliably as the sitcom format allows.

The bulletproof vest on the youngest Al-Harazi is a bit much—not to mention that it raises the question of how the family can even afford a little body armor if they’re on food stamps—but the message of “Go Cubs!” is clear. Xenophobia is bad, and fear of the unknown is often unwarranted. That’s a sentiment that would have been at home on the old Roseanne, along with Roseanne (the character) having a change of heart by episode’s end. Again, most of this is just fine. Caplan’s script is thoughtful in its treatment of Roseanne’s anxieties, revealing how they’re predicated on misinformation (helllooo, Fox News shout-out). There are even some sly digs at her ignorance, as well as the odd bit of credulous support (Chuckie’s apprehension is a reminder that black people and people of color can be xenophobic).

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Photo: Adam Rose (ABC)

But let’s go back to what helped get this episode on the air in the first place, which was Barr supposedly wanting to confront her own misguided fears. As she revealed in a featurette, she wanted to address “immigrants and prejudice,” and “find a way to cut to the humanity of each other.” Caplan and Weyman avoid sensationalizing the initial midnight meet-and-greet, though the scene where Roseanne chews out the cashier for her bigotry just hours after displaying her own threatens to undercut their measured approach. It’s both shortsighted and self-congratulatory—although the episode makes the point that we shouldn’t reflexively judge people, Roseanne only learns that lesson after an extraordinary interaction. I mean, how many kids are coming to the door in bulletproof vests? And though Roseanne’s speech, which is clearly meant to evoke its much more moving predecessor in “White Men Can’t Kiss,” is delivered with feeling, there’s something rather disingenuous about it, given Barr’s previous statements. Again, I don’t know if the bias Barr mentioned was her own or the character’s—both clearly exist, but it’s unclear if Barr actually wants to address her own. I could deal with the issue being resolved quickly, because this is a sitcom after all, but the conclusion is still kind of hamfisted.

Racism, xenophobia, prejudice—they’re not just made up of overt acts. Although the president’s emboldened bigots, they’re not all out in the open. “Go Cubs!” offers much smarter commentary on intolerance via Chuckie’s remarks and Roseanne’s position early on than it does with the cashier letting the discriminatory bullshit fly and Roseanne sticking up for her new “friend,” to say nothing of how it measures up against the writing in the original run. So again, the episode could have been better—and worse.

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Stray observations

  • I obviously didn’t expect to see Anne Bedian do anything close to what goes down in “Palestinian Chicken” or “The Pickle Gambit,” but those episodes were never far from my mind watching “Go Cubs!.”
  • Xosha Roquemore is so damn charming and lovely, and I hope this isn’t the last we see of her.
  • I wish we’d gotten more of the undocumented workers storyline, given the economic anxiety the show cited early on. But it was handled surprisingly well, with Roseanne pointing out that they’re actually the ones being exploited.
  • Hey, all three Conner kids got some screentime—and dialogue—this week. All right!
  • But oops, looks like they ended up with some of Becky’s dialogue/screentime.

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