When the show formerly known as Roseanne premiered Tuesday, it was missing more than just its matriarch and namesake. ABC fired Roseanne Barr in May for tweeting a racist insult about Valerie Jarrett, a former White House adviser to President Barack Obama. But network execs were loath to give up the show’s millions of viewers, so they came up with The Conners, a Barr-free continuation of the family’s story that opened with Roseanne’s family mourning her unexpected death.
The first episode explores the family’s grief at a cellular level as they get used to their new normal without a spouse, sister, mother, and grandmother. Should they rearrange the kitchen? What bills are due? And who is going to return all the casserole dishes left by well-wishers? The setting is fertile ground for a poignantly funny show to which anyone who has lost a loved one could relate—if not for the stiff acting and clunky writing. Gone is the easy dialogue and precise timing of 1990s-era multicamera sitcoms (think Seinfeld, Friends, and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), leaving behind an awkward awareness by viewers that none of what they’re watching is real.
The previous season of Roseanne drew in droves of viewers by fulfilling a conservative craving for a Republican character who wasn’t a villain. The main character’s ubiquitous praise of President Donald Trump turned the show into a virtual Make America Great Again rally each week with an audience that outnumbered most other network prime-time offerings. It is unclear why producers wanted to tone down politics on the show, but even before Barr left, they were saying the following season would focus less on the White House and more on family dynamics. Already, the show’s numbers are dropping off without the Trump factor: 18.2 million people watched last season’s premiere, but The Conners premiere only drew about 10.4 million viewers.
(It’s worth noting that while Roseanne and The Conners are Republican-friendly, they are not entirely family-friendly. The show regularly deals with topics such as homosexuality and drug abuse.)
The success of The Conners and Fox’s Last Man Standing will likely determine whether networks invest more in series that show Republicans in a positive light. Even with the drop-in viewership, The Conners remains the most-watched comedy on ABC, and the ratings for Last Man, which was dropped by ABC last year, came in high, too, showing that the conservatives are ready and waiting for more TV shows about them and for them.