Roseanne: The ultimate, blue-collar mom

Sarah James

“Roseanne” debuted in 1988, almost a full year before I was born. Despite not being old enough to appreciate the show’s genius when it originally aired, I fully understand its cultural contributions and relevance today. Roseanne was unlike any television mother before her time.

The show revolved around the daily mishaps and working-class challenges of blue-collar couple Roseanne and Dan Conner. Set in the fictional town of Lanford, Ill., the show was one of the first sitcoms to portray a wife as the unapologetic and unrivaled head of the household.

Roseanne didn’t ooze femininity like television housewives of the past. She was brash, sarcastic and overweight. Bills weren’t paid on time and dinners were often burnt. When something bothered her, she made sure everyone knew about it.

To me, Roseanne embraced the duality of life as a modern woman. While she certainly loved her children, she had no problem telling them just how much they drove her crazy. Although she was a mother of three, Roseanne retained her sexual identity. Roseanne never swept her own sexuality under the rug, largely because she never swept in the first place.

The show managed to cover sensitive topics without bordering on being too preachy. Roseanne’s sister Jackie leaves an abusive boyfriend. Roseanne’s daughter Becky elopes with her greaser boyfriend Mark. Her youngest daughter Darlene experiments with drugs and was often depressed and surly. Roseanne and Dan struggle with weight, unemployment and owning small businesses.

In many sitcoms, I often get the feeling that mothers work by choice. Conversely, Roseanne worked because she had to. In many instances, Roseanne was the main source of income for the Conner family, working at factories, diners and hair salons before opening up her own restaurant.

Roseanne and Dan Conner were high school sweethearts who didn’t go to college. Despite this, it was clear the Conners valued education for their own children and urged them to graduate high school and leave Lanford behind. In the last episode, it’s revealed that she and Dan wanted to improve the lives of their children 50 percent above their own.

Because in real life Roseanne’s own siblings were gay, she made sure to portray gay characters without using heavy-handed stereotypes. Roseanne’s business partner Leon was gay but wasn’t flamboyant. Her friend Nancy was bisexual but wasn’t promiscuous.

When I think back on the show, I often have to fool myself into forgetting the ninth season’s $108 million lottery win. The show drifted into surreal territory; the Conners were seen interacting with fictional Moldavian princes and frequenting swanky spas. At one point, I am pretty sure Darlene gives birth to the devil’s son. After hitting the jackpot, the show deviated from what made the show so believable and sincere.

In an era where television shows often concluded with warm music and resolved story lines, Roseanne was the complete opposite. Shows like Full House ended each episode with a heart-to-heart and a lesson outlined in neon lights, but this show made sure never to put sap above sass.

Sarah James is a junior public relations major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].