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It’s hard to separate hype from content with ABC’s enormously successful revival of Roseanne. The show’s ratings are, as President Donald Trump might say, yuuuuge, with 27 million viewing the first episode.
The political conversation surrounding it is even huger, with warring op-eds in every major newspaper and Trump referencing the show in speeches. Certainly, its eponymous star has made clear she isn’t afraid to champion the voters who put him in the White House. Among her character’s many zingers, during prayer she thanks the Lord for “making America great again.”
It’s ironic Roseanne has become a symbol of resistance to the leftist cultural tide, given that the original Roseanne was one of the first shows to promote gay marriage. For all the hand-wringing about Roseanne being a vocal Trump supporter, her new show demonstrates awkward contradictions with the old liberal one, but rarely an outright rejection.
The Conners say grace before meals and would likely count themselves Christians as part of their regional identity, but they demonstrate no real walk with God. Thus, Dan’s main concern about his 9-year-old grandson’s cross-dressing is that the boy might get bullied. He never voices any philosophical objections to it. (Still, John Goodman’s superb acting captures the mixed-up feelings a loving grandfather would have in this situation.)
Even more intriguing is how reluctantly Roseanne recites the catechism of a woman’s right to choose when Becky announces she’s donating an egg for easy cash. Roseanne and Dan can’t hide their horror that their daughter could be so casual about giving away a child. Neither retracts liberal orthodoxy on these hot-button issues, but they do at least force the issues to some uncomfortable conclusions.
So while it’s far from a bastion of conservative viewpoints, the new Roseanne does seem to be—in the first five episodes, at least—honestly dedicated to exploring class and cultural divisions in a way it hadn’t always done before.
Ideologically, the show is muddled, contradictory, and combative, and doesn’t belong to any political outlook. Perhaps that’s what makes it television’s truest reflection of 21st-century America.