Fat, Feminism, Media, Pop Culture

Roseanne, 20 Years Later

Jezebel points out that this year marks the 20th anniversary of Roseanne‘s premiere, and links to EW interviews with several cast members. So, first of all, holy crap, I’m old. Second, I’m really glad for the reminder of how much I used to love that show — and maybe more importantly, how much everyone did. (Note: Yes, I am aware that there were undoubtedly people who didn’t like Roseanne, and probably for some very good reasons. Point is, it was popular.)

Roseanne herself ultimately got so loony it was pretty hard to like her, and that’s without even getting into the cosmetic and weight loss surgery — she hasn’t been an ace self-acceptance role model in quite a while. But looking back, the fact that there was a show on TV featuring a fat female lead, in a loving and frankly sexual relationship with a fat man, and it was wildly fucking popular, really does blow my mind.

From the New York Times in 1997, as the final season (where the Conner family won the lottery) came to a close:

In one episode this season, when a television producer wanted to turn the Conners’ rags-to-riches story into a mini-series, he said: ”You’re blue collar. Middle America is blue collar. Americans want to see themselves on television.” Of course, he didn’t think it was a bad idea to cast Melanie Griffith as Roseanne. ”Nobody in their right mind is going to want to look at you,” he tells her.

Proving guys like that wrong for nine years may have been Roseanne’s sweetest revenge. It was a revenge that Middle America could share.

Exactly. And nobody’s done it since. There have been fat, female TV characters, some of them fairly prominent (e.g., Camryn Manheim on The Practice), but no more shows constructed around fat women. (At least, not that I know of. Have I missed any?) Sitcoms about white, working-class families based on stand-up acts have flourished in the wake of Roseanne, but as we’ve all lamented here before, even when the stand-up comics in question are fat, they’re men and their wives are played by conventionally hot thin women. The pairing of leads who looked like Roseanne Barr and John Goodman was unheard of then and basically is again today. Sigh.

If you’re too young to have watched Roseanne or, like me, you just haven’t thought about it in a while, you should totally watch this clip of season 1 highlights. (Embedding seems to be disabled, dammit.) If Al and I ever have kids, I’m pretty sure this is exactly what our lives will look like. The scenes that are just Roseanne and John Goodman are pretty much what it looks like now.

61 thoughts on “Roseanne, 20 Years Later”

  1. I really liked Roseanne and Dan’s relationship, especially in the first two seasons. They were such a team. And you could tell that John Goodman and Roseanne were having so much fun when they were together. It was such a great slice of what life was really like; losing jobs, being poor, kids, siblings, spouses. Good times.

  2. I used to watch the Rosanne show and I loved it. And I totally love it when they play it on Nick at Night! :) They seemed so real in comparison to the other garbage on tv and it was funny to boot.

  3. What I liked best about Roseanne was that she and Dan were not loveable dolts, but were in fact as smart or smarter than the white-collar people they dealt with. They were “realistically hip,” in that they were knowledgable about pop culture, even though they realized that pop culture was designed to pass by working class people. Like you said, it got unwatchable later. Roseanne lost the touch with real folks, which was her mojo. But when it was good, it was great.

  4. but no more shows constructed around fat women. (At least, not that I know of. Have I missed any?)

    I think The Parkers is probably the only other one I can think of…and while I love me some Mo’Nique, I do think a lot of the “comedy” played to stereotype in a lowest-common-denominator kinda way.

    Also, OMG John Goodman….luff him so much!!!

  5. I love Roseanne. That show is just made of awesome and win!!!!! And yes, every time Nick at Nite has a marathon my husband and I stay up all freaking night for a week watching it. We *are* the Connors, in so many ways.

  6. “Less Than Perfect” was centered around the then overweight Sara Rue. I’m not certain if it was all that popular, but it did run for 4 seasons which counts for something, I suppose.

  7. OTM – HE’S MINE!!!!! I have the same “hot daaaaammmmn!” crush on John Goodman. I think it’s the funny and that smile. *sigh*

  8. growing up fat, Roseanne was one of the first (and only) places I saw a woman who looked like me portrayed as sexual and loved. I also loved that it didn’t erase body issues and insecurities, but addressed them head-on.

    There was an episode — i think it was the Season 2 episode “Lobocop” — where Dan and Roseanne are fighting all the time. Finally, as Roseanne is off at her second job at the bar, Jackie finally tells Dan “she thinks you don’t find her attractive anymore.” The sorrow on Dan’s face and in his voice as he responds to this, followed by the cute little “seduction” at the bar and the two of them rushing to Dan’s truck to reconcile…FANTASTIC! still one of my all-time fave tv-moments.

  9. I love that show. Their family looked so much like mine, and it was exactly like my family in so many ways. The interactions between Dan and Roseanne…..and Darlene…major baby dyke crush on her!

  10. Yeah, Roseanne. What the entertainment business calls a “nonrecurring phenomenon.” Like the two sitcoms in the 1970s (Good Times and The Jeffersons) wherein the actress playing the wife was not only considerably fatter than the actor playing the husband, but considerably older (by about two decades) also. You won’t see that ever again, either. Not in the post-Friends world where all sitcom women need to be youngyoungyoung and hothothot unless they’re playing someone’s grandmother.

    I remember it taking me a while to warm up to Roseanne though. I remember not liking the way they talked to or about their kids, although that might have been the literalmindedness and 12-step sanctimony I still had in my 20s. I remember thinking, “Why did they bother having children? They obviously HATE kids!” Later on I could see it was a lot more complex than that, and I did grow to love the show eventually. And now all I can do is wonder what the hell happened to Roseanne herself. Maybe she does, too, who knows.

  11. Roseanne is still on TV here in Germany (dubbed, unfortunately, which makes it a bit hard for me to watch –I’m a lipreader).

    I love love love this show, and kind of liked the way they ended the show; I thought it was really interesting. (I won’t say more for those of you who haven’t seen it…)

  12. My sister and I have probably seen every episode of Roseanne 20 times each between us. We watched re-runs every night together growing up. I never thought about how revolutionary it was to see fat people at all on TV then, let alone as the main characters, because I was a kid and frankly, they didn’t seem out of the ordinary to me. They seemed totally normal. I guess that is the weird part about that show. The fat people were normal!

    With the exception of the last couple of seasons, I think it’s easily the funniest, most realistic sitcom ever. I might be biased because it’s so dear to me but really, has any other TV family ever been so real you can imagine them living next door?

    I can’t crush on John Goodman because he reminds me too much of my own father.

  13. Oh, thanks for the memories! Awesome video. I thought the show finally jumped the shark with the whole lottery thing, but it was so fabulous for so long. “When it was good, it was great.” YES. Right on.

  14. Their Halloween shows were the bomb.

    Before it jumped the shark, it was a not miss show in my household. To see a loving fat couple who talked openly, especially about financial worries, AND that their house was not the perfect, pristine showplace we were used to seeing on primetime TV, it was really refreshing.

    Not to mention the gay wedding show with Martin Mull was hysterically funny. When Martin got wedding jitters and told Roseanne that he might be straight, her comeback of “You couldn’t be any more gay if your name was Gay Gayerson!” had me on the floor. And Sandra Bernhard and Tom Arnold as Nancy and Arnie were a riot.

  15. I loved it partly because they reminded me of my family.  Not down to details, but definitely the interaction styles.

    feisty_jenn, I found a clip here of that scene – fast forward to about 4:10.  :)

  16. xtinas, thanks for finding that — i *loved* seeing it again =)

    PS: also noticed Joss Whedon tagged as a story editor in the credits…who knew?!

  17. FAVORITE scene in Roseanne, EVER.

    Dan is trying to talk to Darlene about her period in the garage, and DJ comes in wearing rollers in his hair.

    (this is all paraphrased, forgive me if I get it wrong.)

    DJ: How do I look?
    Dan: Beautiful.
    DJ: Dad, boys aren’t supposed to look beautiful!
    Dan: Damn Beautiful.
    DJ: That’s better!

  18. I’m old enough to remember Roseanne (although the show did start when I was three)! The earlier seasons are my favorite; I could relate to them better then later seasons.

  19. Another aspect I enjoyed about Roseanne, in hindsight, was it’s “slice of life” writing around the recession of the early 90s, and post-industrialism was in full swing. Watching Roseanne and Dan struggle to get by, buy and lose the bike business, there was some strong social commentary about the time.

    I am now going to go hunt for the DVDs as they haven’t rerun it here for ages (Australia, free to air OR payTV).. thanks for the inevitable wallet emptying that is about to occur :)

  20. Meowser:
    Actually, within a year or so of Roseanne’s debut, a couple of shows about fat women were introduced (I can’t even remember their names, but one was on Fox), and sank without a trace. They had no wit or point of view, but somebody saw Roseanne become a hit and decided, well, everybody wanted to watch a fat woman. When the other shows sank, they decided that was never gonna happen again. T.V. is such a creative medium.

  21. Fat Actress comes to mind as a recent show, but I hated it. Almost as much as Kirstie Alley apparently hated herself while filming it…

  22. The first time I actually saw Roseanne was in the Michael Moore film Slacker Uprising; she did a parody speech on what it means to be American and it was *hilarious.* It made me interested to see her show since I am too young to have seen it. I’m going to go Youtube searching now. :)

    Here’s the link to the Michael Moore clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lNxgp36r-w

  23. Not available in my country…. I’m in like CANADA here, YouTube! I know we are a kind and gentle nation, delicate and refined, retiring of nature, easily shocked and prone to the vapors, but jeeze…the original show DID air in this country!

  24. Heck, Bev, I know someone in Seattle who can’t convince YouTube he’s in the US. Keeps thinking he’s in Canada. Guess we’re just too close to the border….

    And yeah, watching Roseanne was like listening to Springsteen – people who talk like my parents do?

  25. Ok..I know I’m aging myself here, but…..the show “Gimme a Break” with Nell Carter had a leading lady who was “above average” :) It debuted when I was in high school in 1981 (am I REALLY that old?!?!) and ran for 5 or 6 years. The storyline was….Chief of Police who’s wife died and the kids were still young enough to need looking after while he was at work. In comes Nell with her rapier wit, over the top opinions, and kean insight into preteen and teen kids.

    Along the same lines….”The Facts of Life” springs to mind as well. Boarding school for girls with a sweet house mother. Typical stereotyped girls: beautiful privileged snobby girl, tough street girl with scholarship, privileged sweet black girl, privileged but always laughing fat girl. I remember thinking at the time what a relief to see someone who looked a little like me on tv…they may be hope for me yet!

  26. I personally didn’t like Roseanne – I kind of felt like people were always being too bitchy and angry at eachother. I disliked Married with Children and King of Queens for the same reason. Too much freaking negativity – my family already had enough of that. Of course, it was probably more realistic than other shows revolving around a family…

    But from a FA point of view, I can see how the show positively stands out from all others out there.

    There’s a new Dutch sitcom currently on tv which is about three single women – the blonde romantic, the sexbomb brunette and a fat redhead. (It’s based on a comic drawn by men…) In one of the first promo commercials, we see them sitting on a bench staring at a gardener in the park. The blonde dreams about him being a prince, the brunette dreams about him being a naked hunk and the redhead? Dreams about him being a cook. I almost threw something at my tv.

    Then the next promo shows the redhead going to a store and insisting on buying a size 10 shirt (even though she is at least a size 20, I estimate).

    I pretty much want to strangle whoever came up with the script of the show. Way to make fat girls feel better: we dream about food, buy clothes that are too small and are bitches on our period. Yeah, thanks…

  27. My mom didn’t like Roseanne…I think that was because she’s so middle class it’s painful, and didn’t know people like the Connors. I thought they were just like my best friend’s family. I didn’t really think about the fat aspect though, because I wasn’t fat then. I just thought Darlene was cool and her boyfriend David was really cute. I’d probably get more out of it now.

  28. “Less Than Perfect” was centered around the then overweight Sara Rue.

    This is the worst example EVER because the whole thing about that show was that she was supposedly such a freaky fat person at size 12. No, I am not kidding: that’s what they said her clothing size was on the show.

    “Veronica’s Closet” starred a fat Kirstie Alley as a wacky lingerie designer who had an active dating life; her sidekick was then-fatter-than-Alley Kathy Najimy.

  29. Meowser–I always thought that Roseanne got the parenting thing just right. The problem is that it’s a hard, hard, mostly thankless job to be a parent and mothers especially aren’t supposed to complain. You’re trapped by your desperate love for them and your fear that you could do something that would hurt them, if not now, then later when they turn into serial killers because you insisted on having an hour to yourself every afternoon. It’s 24/7 and some days it seems like the only thing they can say to you is “I want….”
    The thing that saved me was having a sense of humor about it and Roseanne made me laugh over and over.

  30. I loved Roseanne. Loved it loved it loved it. (Regina, I remember Gimme a Break too, and now that theme song is stuck in my head!)
    I could never stand the other family bickering shows (I’m looking at you, Married with children), but in Roseanne the love for each other was always paramount. The show was much like The Honeymooners in that every show ended with a big group hug/everyone happy with each other, or at least tolerating each other, to the point that the few times it didn’t it was a real gut punch. I just “got” them. They were my family, my friends’ families, everybody I grew up around. We still watch the reruns every time we can. I was so sad when it went off the tracks the last couple of seasons.

  31. I also liked that they seemed to break the wall often, the same way the Carol Burnett show did. They were good actors, but Roseanne and John cracked each other up more often than not. Maybe I was imagining it, but it seemed like you could see when they went off-script or were just really into the acting and then honestly enjoyed working together.

  32. I loved Roseanne! It was just so sharp and funny. Oh, and I totally idolised Darlene for being so witty and true to herself.

    I don’t think I watched it until it was pretty well established (I was probably too young at the beginning), but a few years back I saw some of the first series and was amazed to see George Clooney in it, playing Roseanne and Jackie’s boss.

  33. I thought Roseanne was obnoxious and couldn’t watch it all that often but when I did, I really enjoyed the normalcy of the life they depicted. I never thought about it in terms of them being fat but more as middle class, average working family, struggling to pay the bills, keep the house up and raise kids in all that. I also loved their relationship. They were just so normal and even though I was too young to understand it, I appreciated it. Even more so in hindsight.

    Looking back, I can now see the political statements that were being made about gay relationships also and I think that’s amazing. Take that conservative fear-mongering republicans, all of us grew up watching homosexuals on TV and we turned out pretty damn good.

  34. Hey, Kelly/Grounded Fitness, your name already links back to your site, so you don’t need to leave an extra link in your comments. I haven’t written that into our comments policy or anything (yet), but I’d prefer it if people didn’t link to their own blogs beyond the name link, unless you want to point us to a specific post that’s relevant to a discussion here.

  35. Here in Quebec, we have a series called Le petit monde de Laura Cadieux, based on Michel Tremblay’s play. There are also 2 movies that came out before the TV series. Aside from the lead actress, all the main characters are played by the same actors in the movies and the series. Although it’s sometimes rather burlesque, it’s still a pretty good comedy with plenty of fat people (not in a let’s laugh at them way).

    Here’s a scene from the first movie where Sonia Vachon’s character hits it off with the butcher (slightly NSFW): http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=zboLGOJpoSE

    And here’s the beginnning of one of the episodes: http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=RUOXPCNqYng

    Although the series and the movies are available on DVD, they’re in Quebec French only.

  36. My mom didn’t let us watch Roseanne (ditto, Eve, on her being such a middle class proper southern lady that it hurts) when I was growing up because it was ‘crude’, but JupiterPluvius, thanks for reminding me about Veronica’s Closet; I used to love it! Anyone know if it’s in reruns anywhere?

  37. Okay, so I am tempted to reply to basically everyone who has posted here so far. I love you guys so much.

    I didn’t know Roseanne got into politics. I heard all kinds of weird stuff about how she was completely crackerjack and suddenly omg so offensive or something, and then BAM! She dropped off the face of the earth. *shrug* I used to watch the show as a kid. I barely remember it. I remember liking her and John Goodman. I don’t remember the kids at all.

    I wish television had a wider range of people on it. According to tv, movies, comic books, and most fiction, no woman who looks even remotely like me has EVER saved the planet, been visited by a unicorn, or been deliberately sought after and wooed by a man. OMG DOES THAT MEAN I CAN BE THE FIRST?!

    Except… it would be really sad if I was the first. The times are such that the first should have happened years ago. And there should have been a lot since then.

    (Yeah I know some of that exists somewhere hidden in the darkest corners of the world but the part that bothers me is that it’s hidden in the corners– I mean the first mainstream, popular thing)

    Oh well. Anyhow. Body diversity and pop media. I also see a wide range of dudes as hotty hott hott. I’m sad I don’t get to see all of them kicking butt and getting viewed as desirable. One type gets their own theme music, the rest get their own laugh tracks. Conventionally sexy men? They can be sexy, no doubt. But what about two of my favorite types, who get woefully under-represented when it comes to this kind of thing? Tall, skinny, lanky guys make me swoon (like, gee, the one I’m dating). Broad, stocky men with padding and big smiles? Oh yes. FACIAL HAIR?! Uhhhhn huuuuuuhn. *gratuitous thrusting motions* Yeah why is the fashion leaning towards clean-shaven now? Guh I hate that.

    So. Yeah. John Goodman as unapologetic leading man? Revolutionary. Roseanne Barr as leading lady? Potentially even more revolutionary. Such awesomeness. Sucks that it doesn’t get repeated. SUCKS.

    Also, added just because I felt like saying it:

  38. The trend of Roseanne clones during the late 80’s is a common TV tactic. As a matter of fact, Roseanne is a reformulated “Father Knows Best”. You have the husband who thinks he runs everything, the wife who actually runs everything, the boy-crazy Princess, the semi-invisible Kitten, and future-man-of-the-house Bud. These roles evolved with society, but they’re still basically the same. For example, Kitten is usually a snarky redhead these days.

    There was also a show back in the late 80s/early 90s called Babes, but it only lasted a season. It was about three fat, single women and I don’t remember anything else about it except Wendie Jo Sperber was in it.

    And as for Less Than Perfect, Sara Rue was only a size 12 for the first 3 seasons. Then she started losing weight. Then after the show was done, she went blonde. Now she looks like a mess. (She basically pulled a Brittany Murphy, only it didn’t work. ) I still love her in Gypsy 83, though.

    And I couldn’t really tell that the show circled around her size. She was still being picked on when the series ended because of her theoretical lack of “sophistication”.

    Now to justify the show, I could just point out Sherri Shepherd. Yes, she thinks the world is flat, but we didn’t know she thought that at the time.

    Delta Burke had several short-lived shows after Designing Women. And let’s not forget Living Single with Queen Latifah, Kim Coles, and Kim Fields.

    OT: I still want to know why they swapped moms on Family Matters.

  39. I loved Less Than Perfect and I seriously doubt Sara Rue was a size 12 in the first few series, though she did lose weight around series 3 or 4, I think.
    She seemed to me to be around a UK size 16 at the beginning. As a size 18, I really enjoyed seeing her on screen and her presence made me like the programme a lot more than I would have had it starred a more typical skinny star (not to mention she is an amazing comedy actress, of course). So I don’t think it’s a bad example.

  40. Yes!!! I LOVE Roseanne (the show, not so much the actress…) And I do adore John Goodman. I grew up watching Roseanne with my parents, who also loved it. The Connors were a lot more sarcastic with each other than my parents, but I can see myself turning out just a little like Roseanne when I become a mom. And yes, no matter how much she teased her kids or bossed people around or bickered with Dan and Jackie, the love everyone had for each other was always evident. Also, it’s absolutely hilarious.

    I never thought much about how different it was to have a fat woman as a leading lady, but I can definitely see it now.

    Man, now I have a hankering to watch a Roseanne marathon or something!

  41. I loved Roseanne. My all-time favorite episode still has the ability to make me cry when I see the rerun.

    here’s the poem:

    To whom it concerns, Darlene’s work will be late,
    it fell on her pancakes and stuck to her plate…
    To whom it concerns, my ma made me write this,
    and I’m just her kid, so how could I fight this…
    To whom it concerns, I lost my assignment,
    maybe I’ll get lucky, solitary confinement…
    To whom it concerns, Darlene’s great with the ball,
    but guys don’t watch tomboys when they’re cruising the hall…
    To whom it concerns, I just turned thirteen,
    too short to be quarterback, too plain to be queen…
    To whom it concerns, I’m not made of steel,
    when I get blindsided my pain is quite real…
    I don’t mean to squawk, but it really burns…
    I just thought I’d mention it, to whom it concerns…

  42. I LOVE Roseanne. We never missed it when I was growing up. It was the first time I remember seeing a show that had a realistic view of what it was like being working class in the Midwest.

    They run it on Oxygen (I know, *groan*) every now and then, and I blog about it when it’s relevant (b/c I am a hopeless pop culture junkie). My favorite (which I think someone already mentioned) is in the last episode when she talks about how they raised their children. It seriously makes me blub.

  43. Apart from the Halloween episodes, my all time favourite quote:

    “The uterus is not a tracking device”

  44. I liked Roseanne, and I never even thought about the fact that they were fat. Of course, I was fourteen when the show ended, so that may have been why.

    Darlene, of course, is currently on The Big Bang Theory occasionally.

    FACIAL HAIR?! Uhhhhn huuuuuuhn. *gratuitous thrusting motions* Yeah why is the fashion leaning towards clean-shaven now? Guh I hate that.

    ‘Cause there are way too many guys who think that having a beard just means not shaving. The results are sometimes scary. That having been said, my fiance (husband in less than a week!!!!) has a nicely-kept beard, and it’s pretty sexy.

  45. As has been said, until everyone lost their minds in the last couple of seasons, Roseanne was the best show on TV — and I don’t generally care for comedies. But good writing is good writing — and John Goodman was seriously hot.

    And it was so nice to see being fat portrayed as just, you know, a normal state. No big statement, no body hatred, very few fat jokes, no food or diet talk. Roseanne and Dan Conner were even shown eating without anybody commenting on it! You know, just like human beings.

    If the show came on today, the health police would freak — ABC would have to run a “Being this fat will kill you!” disclaimer if it aired at all. Fatphobia is much worse now than it was 20 years ago.

  46. Oh my gosh, I watched that clip and now I want to go and rent the DVDs (if they’re available- I hope). I LOVED that show as a kid. I grew up in a working-class family (dad worked in a factory and bowled on a work league on Thursdays) and so much of the show seemed real. Things in the house looked like things in my own house or in my friends’ and family’s houses. The people looked normal (not Hollywood-esque) the situations were normal. Great stuff.

  47. They run it on The CW during the weekdays sometime around noon. I watch it all the time, even though I’ve seen almost every episode.

    Growing up I didn’t like the show because my background was more middle class. Now I watch it and almost wince at how honest it was about the working class. Some things seem a little dated now, but it’s pretty timeless.

  48. Oh, John Goodman is the gold standard, along with Dan Haggerty (“Grizzly Adams”) and Merlin Olsen (from the NFL to “Little House on the Prairie”). Hmm, no 70s and 80s TV influence there, eh? Seriously, though, I’m with OTM. John Goodman brings out the rawr in me.

    Anyone remember the short-lived TV show “Babes,” about three fat sisters? Loved that show.

  49. I loved Less Than Perfect and I seriously doubt Sara Rue was a size 12 in the first few series, though she did lose weight around series 3 or 4, I think. She seemed to me to be around a UK size 16 at the beginning

    UK size 16 is the same as US size 12, though. And they definitely said she was “size 12” when the show premiered; later they referred to her as “size 10” apparently.

  50. I loved Roseanne. Everything about Roseanne. Every Halloween, my sisters and I call each other up and say, “WELCOME to the TUNNEL OF TERROR. Please, join us!” (Remember, DJ was lip synching to the Halloween record?)

    Although — they DID have some diet episodes, even during the awesome-r early years. Mostly they were just about how much diets sucked and made them feel miserable and desperate to “cheat.”

  51. I always loved the episode where they received the ratings box, and Roseanne wanted to family to only watch “smart” programming – not what they really watched. LOL.

  52. I love love love Roseanne. The show is an awful lot like my family growing up, and my mom really identified with Roseanne. She had the same parenting style and everything.. plus, they could almost be fraternal twins. John Goodman remains one of my favorite actors and I accidentally called him Dan Goodman when telling my boyfriend that when watching O Brother Where Art Thou? (Coincidentally, his character’s name in that movie is Big Dan anyhow.)

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