Television has definitely seen its share of dysfunctional sitcom families, but it wasn’t until Roseanne hit the airwaves that the gloves really came off. Maturing throughout the 1990’s, Roseanne featured one of the most frank and sometimes grittiest examinations of American family life, one which wasn’t afraid to talk about subjects that made most people
uncomfortable. Anything from poverty to sexuality to domestic violence eventually found itself getting the Roseanne treatment, offering a serious social framework within which to situate the show’s laughs
At the center of it all was the title character, played by comedian Roseanne Barr. Ornery and larger than life, Roseanne was the ruling matriarch of the Harris-Conner clan that also included her husband Dan (played by legendary actor John Goodman), daughters Becky and Darlene, and son DJ. Becky was famously depicted by 2 separate actresses, Lecy Goranson and Sarah Chalke, with the two actually alternating seasons and episodes towards the end of the show. Sara Gilbert and Michael Fishman rounded out the remaining siblings in the cast. Roseanne’s sister Jackie also figured prominently in the program’s storylines.
Roseanne was a decidedly blue collar program, long before the likes of Jeff Foxworthy made that a popular television option. Both parents in the program worked hard for a living, with Roseanne starting out at a plastic company and then moving through a series of jobs trying to find a niche. Dan was frequently out of work towards the beginning of the show, and the Harris-Conner family often found themselves struggling to get by. The stress and strain of everyday life would tear at each member of the fictional family, with their sensational fights, personal tragedies and even health problems serving as both dramatic and comedic fodder. Roseanne was meant to entertain, but it wasn’t always an easy show to watch, thanks to writing that often hit very close to home.
There are few programs like Roseanne on the air today, with most current sitcoms shying away from subject matter that audiences would consider grim or controversial. One thing is for sure – once Roseanne was cancelled in 1997 after 9 solid seasons, there were no other actors in the mold of Roseanne Barr or John Goodman waiting in the wings to step in and take their place. The program remains unique in modern television history, and a time capsule that is very representative of 90s culture.