Judge Jennifer Malkowski may share a Chicago accent with the Conners, but she sure is glad she didn't pick hers up in Lanford, Illinois.
Our reviews of Roseanne: The Complete Second Season (published January 25th, 2006), Roseanne: The Complete Third Season (published April 19th, 2006), Roseanne: The Complete Fourth Season (published July 26th, 2006), Roseanne: The Complete Fifth Season (published October 26th, 2012), Roseanne: The Complete Fifth Season (published November 29th, 2006), Roseanne: The Complete Sixth Season (published January 24th, 2007), Roseanne: The Complete Sixth Season (published October 26th, 2012), Roseanne: The Complete Seventh Season (published May 23rd, 2007), Roseanne: The Complete Eighth Season (published September 5th, 2007), and Roseanne: The Complete Ninth Season (published January 9th, 2008) are also available.
Ms. Crane, Darlene's teacher: "Your daughter barks."
When the Conners hit prime time in 1988 on ABC's sitcom Roseanne, they began a decade-long run as champions of the working class, the fat, and the funny. This collection of the first season's 23 episodes takes us back to where it all began.
Facts of the Case
Comic Roseanne (then Barr) designed this successful sitcom to reflect her own family life, which she thought was nothing like the lives of most families that made it to the small screen. Her goal was, as she puts it in her interview, "to give a voice to the average working American mother." Roseanne herself plays that mother on the show as Roseanne Conner, the overworked matriarch of a working-class family in Lanford, Ill.
The other members of the Conner clan include Dan (John Goodman), the husband who can fix anything (if he can make it off the couch) and whose comebacks to his smart-mouthed children usually involve grotesquely hilarious facial expressions. Said smart-mouthed children are Becky (Lecy Goranson, the first of two actresses to play the role), the maturing teen who couldn't be more embarrassed by her classless parents, Darlene (Sara Gilbert), the tomboy who loves to torment her siblings, and DJ (Michael Fishman), the baby of the family who always knows how to get what he wants (hint: it's the dimples). Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) is Roseanne's younger sister who comes over to do laundry, complain about men, and tell Dan "what his problem is." The first-season regulars are rounded out primarily by a cast of co-workers and supervisors at the factory where Roseanne and Jackie work (among them a young George Clooney as their slick supervisor, Booker).
This set includes all 23 first-season episodes, listed below:
Usually the urge to watch early episodes of long-running hit TV shows involves the desire to see the stars years younger with giant poofy hair and the awkward plots and characters that are eliminated from future seasons. For Roseanne, this is not the case…except for the giant poofy hair. That part holds true. This was not a series that needed a season or two to find its footing. In fact, Roseanne lost its grip later on in its improbable, too-serious final seasons. But here the laughs come early, and the tone is established in the very first scene with a frustrated but loving exchange between Dan and Roseanne:
Dan: Is there coffee?
This is the stuff of the show's first season: normal, everyday stuff that happens in the life of a working class family. Sure, there's coffee every morning, but most comforts and luxuries are more of a struggle for the Conners. In the storylines that focus on their finances, Roseanne achieves its most successful balance of humor and quiet social commentary (if anything that comes out of Roseanne's mouth can be classified as "quiet"). Poverty and its likely result, divorce, are the twin shadows looming over this sitcom family and the first season articulates those dangers in just the right proportions alongside the comedy. Two episodes about the Conners' cash flow stand out: "We're in the Money" and "Mall Story." In the former, Dan lands a big job for his contracting business—Roseanne realizes he has come into some money when she sees that he has bought pork rinds—and the family must decide what to do with the $500 advance. Straining to be responsible and pay bills, both Conner parents are tempted by luxuries: a bottle of perfume for Roseanne and a brass bell for the boat Dan is building. As they each sneak around trying to maintain the moral high ground, their actions truly resonate as both comical and sad. "Mall Story" provides another example when Roseanne helps Becky shop for a new dress. Asked by a salesperson what she is looking for, Roseanne replies, "Somethin' that doesn't cost nothin' and'll change my daughter's life." When Becky can't find anything under $80, Roseanne laments, "Well, for 80 bucks, our whole family has to be able to wear it."
When Theo wanted an expensive new pair of sneakers on The Cosby Show—a ratings rival for early seasons of Roseanne—Cliff would sputter and lecture and joke about the price, but money was never the real issue. He was Dr. Huxtable, after all. On Roseanne, the material things the Conners wanted were so modest, and yet it was always a battle with their overdue bills and a strain on their marriage to get them.
Another striking difference between the Huxtables and the Conners that emerges early in this season is in their parenting philosophies. Roseanne uses crass humor and sarcasm with a dash of feigned insensitivity to control her brood whereas Cliff would always find time to teach the kids some elaborate moral lesson. One cannot imagine this exchange between Claire and Vanessa:
Darlene: You guys think we don't get your corny little sex jokes.
Some other first-season highlights of Roseanne's approach to parenting are her insistence that Darlene and Becky "face each other…[and] fight to the death" to resolve a conflict and her admission that "This is why some animals eat their young."
Ultimately, what's so nice about the first season of Roseanne is that everyone involved is trying hard and doing what they're best at. The jokes are funny, the messages stop short of being heavy-handed, and the acting is just right (especially Dan and Becky's midwestern accents…as a gal born and raised in Illinois myself, I can vouch for the accuracy of their Chicago-area twangs). The writers also set the characters up well for the interesting stories that emerge midway through the series. For example, in this season, Becky is a smart, almost goody-goody, girl who loves her family but clearly wants out of their lifestyle. She's the one who can one day have a better life, and that set-up makes her evolution more emotional, allowing Dan and Roseanne's frustration and concern for her to really hit home in later seasons.
Now it's time to talk about the quality of this DVD release, and that is where things go south for the Conner clan. The picture quality on all of these discs is less than stellar, with the darker backgrounds showing a lot of graininess. The credits look particularly bad.
The extras feel like they were thrown together on iMovie in under an hour. The interviews with Roseanne and John Goodman are just okay while the other features are merely short clip shows that confusingly sample from later seasons as well.
But the worst transgression by far is the fact that Anchor Bay selected the syndicated versions of these episodes rather than the originals for the DVD! That means that about two minutes of each episode is missing from this "complete" first season, an omission that Roseanne herself recently acknowledged on Larry King Live.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My only complaint about the episodes themselves in the first season is that Roseanne does not manage feminism as well as it does class commentary. One can see the roots of the serious dramatic-message format of the show's later years in two episodes from Season One: "Workin' Overtime" and the season finale, "Let's Call it Quits." Roseanne may "speak for all womankind," but her message is humorlessly and awkwardly construed in the scenes of her bonding with the diner waitress and of her instigating a walkout at the factory.
More tragic than the fictional money troubles and family feuds at the Conner house is their shabby treatment in this initial DVD release. The show is great right from the start, but the poor picture quality, lackluster extras, and chopped-up episodes nearly sink this collection.
The cast and crew of Roseanne are hereby released and encouraged to continue using their sarcasm and humor for the forces of good. Those responsible for this DVD release at Anchor Bay are hereby sentenced to community service: one hour for every minute they cut from these episodes.
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