Where does the time go?
It’s been nearly 20 years since I wrote about The Roseanne Show — the 1998-2000 syndicated talk show Roseanne Barr hosted after her ABC sitcom ended its nine-season run in May 1997 — and until I came across an old column about it the other day, I’d forgotten she ever had a talk show.
I’d seen something in its premiere that should have been at least a little bit memorable, writing that “anyone who feared King World would serve up a kinder, gentler Roseanne — the carefully coiffed, heavily made-up stranger we’ve been seeing in promos for weeks now — probably stopped worrying about two minutes into The Roseanne Show Monday morning. That’s when the former sitcom diva, who’d made her entrance in a cherry-picker, scattering rose petals and Polaroids of herself over the audience’s heads before descending to the stage to be blessed by two ‘angels,’ launched into an attack on the reporters who’d spent the summer trying to figure out what she planned to do with the show.”
I somehow managed to bury that memory, but ABC hasn’t forgotten the standup comic whose sitcom once topped the Nielsens and was in the Top 10 for seven of its nine seasons. On March 27, Barr returns as the star of the new Roseanne, a show that looks a lot like the old Roseanne, except that Roseanne Conner and her not-dead husband, Dan (John Goodman), don’t appear to be quite as old as the Conners’ long absence from our living rooms might lead us to expect.
Good for them.
When time jumps ahead on NBC’s This Is Us, actors tend to look older, maybe grayer, but definitely no fitter. And the dead do stay dead, even if Milo Ventimiglia somehow remains fully employed long after his character was lost to that post-fire heart attack.
Like the hit TV drama, which ended its second season on Tuesday with an episode that included a wedding, a dream sequence, some flashbacks, and a few flashes into an ominous-looking future, television’s not content to stick with a single timeline.
We could look at the return this season of Will & Grace and Roseanne, of yet another round of The X-Files, and at CBS’s planned reboot of Murphy Brown with Candice Bergen and other members of the original cast, as proof of an enormous failure of programmers’ imagination, and of their nostalgia for the days before time-shifting, cable, and streaming services changed the way most of us watch TV.
And we’d be right.
We could also, though, see these reunions as the logical extension of the TV time jump, that popular device that allows writers to skip ahead to what they hope will be the most interesting parts of their stories.
FX’s The Americans begins its sixth and final season on March 28 with a three-year leap that will take undercover Russians Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) to a crucial point in both their native country’s history and their marriage. The 1980s-set show has jumped ahead before — seven months in a May 2016 episode — and so have Lost, Fargo, Desperate Housewives, Battlestar Galactica, Alias, Parks and Recreation, and Breaking Bad, to name a few of the shows that have hit the fast-forward button.
The Rip Van Winkle trick of bringing back characters after a couple of decades, as the producers of Roseanne and Murphy Brown will be doing, is more unusual, but it allows writers to speed past parts of those stories that by the end of their first runs had pretty much stopped working.
If we ignore the bizarre last season and Dan-is-dead finale of Roseanne (and we might as well, since they are), tuning in on the 27th to find Roseanne and her sister, Jackie (Laurie Metcalf), at odds over the results of the 2016 presidential election shouldn’t be that strange. Think of it like dropping in on family members you haven’t seen for a long time (and whose Facebook feeds you may have chosen to hide).
Barr, who’s been a vocal supporter of President Trump, told reporters in January the disagreement between the sisters is consistent with the show, in which “I’ve always tried to have it be a true reflection of the society we live in. So I feel like half the people voted for Trump, and half didn’t, so it’s just realistic.”
It’s certainly realistic for Roseanne and Dan to have had grandchildren (Harris, born in Season Nine and played by Shameless‘ Emma Kenney as maybe a little younger than that, is joined by a cousin played by Jayden Rey and a brother played by Ames McNamara). And it’s believable to find, in 2018 America, that the nest they might have expected to be empty by now is anything but.
There are enough laughs in the episodes I’ve seen to make me optimistic for at least this nine-episode run, and a subplot involving the Conners’ cross-dressing grandson, Mark (McNamara), felt true both to these characters and the century in which they now live.
I’m less happy at the moment with the time-hopping This Is Us, which, after wringing every last tear out of the how-did-Jack-die storyline, now seems to want us to spend the summer worrying about the future Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and his family, who seem headed for some great sadness, and about Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby (Chris Sullivan), whose pretty wedding is apparently going to be followed by yet more grimness.
Why not just invite a fairy-tale witch to the reception to curse the happy couple? No one’s life, or marriage, is ever perfect, but that doesn’t mean the vows to have and to hold one another in sickness and in health must be accompanied by fast-forward video of marital disasters yet to come.
There is something that feels almost Lost-like in This Is Us’ vision of a family that exists in multiple time periods, including the future. Is time a flat circle, as True Detective’s Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Friedrich Nietzsche suggest? Or it just an endless series of opportunities for people working in casting, hair, and makeup?
Jumping back and forth in time allows This Is Us writers to tell more stories about the Pearson clan than they could in linear fashion. How long, though, will we wait to find out exactly why Future Randall’s so upset? And how many shows are you willing to watch this carefully, knowing that glancing away might mean missing a hint of a character’s future, or a moment from the past that’s a key to the present?
And how worked up are you willing to get about this season’s series finales, knowing how very un-final some of them may prove to be?
Maybe we need to start thinking of all the shows we watch as open-ended. No more fussing about “closure” and “sticking the landing.” When our favorites get canceled, remind ourselves that dead doesn’t always mean dead.
Roseanne is coming back. Dan seems fine. It’s TV in 2018.
Anything could happen.