I don’t care about the Roseanne reboot. I know why, too. It’s not because the real Roseanne tweets bizarrely or is a Trump supporter (in real life as well as on the show) or a conspiracy theorist. It’s not because her show handles the issues of “working class America”— whatever that is. It’s because the whole premise upon which the term “working class America” resides is nonsense. In some ways, it always has been. I mean, aren’t DACA recipients working class? Aren’t Dre and Rainbow of Black-ish working class? Now, before you laugh, Republicans did classify Americans making $450K a year “lower and middle-income.” Still, the question is rhetorical. Everyone knows they are and everyone knows you can’t erase people no matter how hard you try. Just ask ABC’s stalling of its hit comedy Black-ish.
And I mean that metaphorically. Like, ABC has rebooted Roseanne because Barr’s alter-ego is now dangerously close to the real-life Roseanne. There’s something ironic about it all. Especially now that our online selves are our real selves, or is it vice-versa? It’s the perfect time for twins then, and Roseanne is the chosen “working class America” peering at itself in the mirror and wondering: What’d we get? Because what has so-called progress done for Roseanne? It’s a question the series nearly begs you to ask. DJ went to war and came home to that house and that couch with a Black daughter who, in the first episodes was given only scant lines. Her daughter, Darlene, came home, too, with kids in tow and one of them is gender non-conforming. Her sister, Jackie, is a lib she hasn’t spoken to since Donald Trump was elected. The Barrs struggle with health care so they swap pills with each other like a friend of mine did, undiagnosed, to make it through the day. Black-ish has almost none of that, sure. Its folks are on the up. But both the Barrs’ and the Johnsons’ reflections are their identities. The mud their both wading through is race and class. So Roseanne is the companion piece to Black-ish. They are twin stars orbiting an American consciousness on the fritz. And, well, one of them has to die.
ABC knows which one. Reports have surfaced that Kenya Barris (the creator of Black-ish) is eyeing Netflix longingly because of content clashes at ABC. The Peabody and two-time Emmy award winner had a politically charged episode scrapped recently. The Hollywood Reporter notes, “At the time, ABC called the decision to scrap it a mutual one between the network and Barris, though sources say otherwise. The episode was poised to feature star Anthony Anderson’s character Dre relaying his concerns about the current state of the country to his son.”
So Roseanne is the companion piece to Black-ish. They are twin stars orbiting an American consciousness on the fritz. And, well, one of them has to die.
If he left his four-year-deal (which he signed in 2017) to join Shonda Rhimes at Netflix, it’d put the streaming giant out ahead, to be sure, but it’d also clear the way for how ABC thinks the winds of society are turning. And that’s back to the aging political and social obligations of the middle.
The problem, though, isn’t that things change. It’s who ABC is choosing to highlight during the switch. The fact remains that President Trump called white supremacists in Charlottesville “fine people.” The fact remains that he’s targeted nearly every single minority class for derision since his campaign run. The vile plays that divide us are bad enough, but ABC wants to codify that into pop culture. It wants people on both sides of the aisle to ask, well, what has progress done for me?
The network has killed two more of Barris’ ideas recently, as well. The family comedy Libby & Malcolm was to be about two political pundits from different ideologies who fall in love. The next went to pilot but was never made into a series called Unit Zero. Barris seemed to be in love with that one, calling it “the type of drama television I love doing. It pulls back the curtain on what it’s like to be a woman in a historically male-dominated field and it shows underrepresented voices.”
Meanwhile, Roseanne is already taking pot shots at ABC’s other two working-class but minority-themed shows. Here’s a scene from an episode that recently aired. Dan and Roseanne wake up.
“It’s 11 o’clock,” Roseanne says. “We slept from ‘Wheel’ to ‘Kimmel.'”
“We missed all the shows about Black and Asian families,” Dan says.
“They’re just like us,” Roseanne responds.
The joke feels like a hint at who’s in and who’s out. But the joke’s on us, I guess, because Roseanne says that we have to be out. Black-ish has to be out. And maybe they’ll come around. Maybe Roseanne and the Barrs will come to accept their varied existence now, with their kids back home and many shades and identities represented. But the show implicitly states that there’s really only one identity that matters. The one that’s asking: What’s all this progress, all these rights, all these changes to our normative standards of living, done for us?