If Judge Jennifer Malkowski had visited Roseanne when she worked as a mall Santa in this season, her Christmas wish would have been for a rewrite of this show's final few years.
Our reviews of Roseanne: The Complete First Season (published December 7th, 2005), Roseanne: The Complete Second Season (published January 25th, 2006), Roseanne: The Complete Third Season (published April 19th, 2006), Roseanne: The Complete Fifth Season (published November 29th, 2006), Roseanne: The Complete Fifth Season (published October 26th, 2012), Roseanne: The Complete Sixth Season (published October 26th, 2012), Roseanne: The Complete Sixth Season (published January 24th, 2007), 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.
"I like the Roseanne show because it's like real American people, or pretty much as real as it got for TV. They had real kids, real problems, they didn't solve anything, and they were always worried about money."—Roseanne
A strong middle season of this groundbreaking show features the Conners owning their own business, Jackie becoming a trucker, Becky going on birth control, and the dark days of Darlene's depression. The balance between issues and humor is right on this year, with those "real problems" in the background of all the great jokes.
Facts of the Case
Roseanne: The Complete Fourth Season includes all of the season's 25 episodes, uncut:
• "A Bitter Pill to Swallow"
• "Take My Bike, Please"
• "Why Jackie Becomes a Trucker"
• "Darlene Fades to Black"
• "Tolerate Thy Neighbor"
• "Trick Me Up, Trick Me Down"
• "Vegas, Vegas"
• "Stressed to Kill"
• "Thanksgiving 1991"
• "Kansas City Here We Come"
• "Santa Claus"
• "The Back Story"
• "Less is More"
• "Breaking Up is Hard to Do"
• "This Old House"
• "The Commercial Show"
• "Don't Make Me Over"
As evidenced by my grades for these episodes, this is a solid, even season of Roseanne. There aren't any outright cringe-worthy embarrassments like the second season's "Sweet Dreams" and Darlene's evolution makes a few episodes into real gems. She plays a big role in the two stand-out episodes, "Darlene Fades to Black" and "Santa Claus." The first of these starts her transition from a sarcastic, smart-ass kid to a sarcastic, smart-ass teen whose insecurities, angst, and adolescent ennui bubble closer to the surface. Although the episode has plenty of laughs, they don't lead to the kind of light, everything-will-be-alright resolutions that lesser family sitcoms have been feeding us for years. It's an episode—and a season, and a series, for that matter—about parents not knowing how to help their kids, and kids not knowing how to be happy. Always surprisingly responsible and pro-active about continuity, Roseanne follows this storyline through Darlene sitting alone in her room reading Catcher in the Rye during Thanksgiving dinner, through her finding a creative niche in sci-fi fandom, to her finally finding a friend who really understands her. Said friend introduces himself as "Kevin," but, of course, it's our beloved David, the greasy-haired, self-deprecating foil for Darlene who highlights her strength with his own loveably pathetic nature. Is there really enough difference, though, between "Kevin" and "David" as names for the writers to change their minds between episodes?
"Santa Claus" has some of the season's best laughs when Roseanne and Jackie become the big, jolly guy himself and Mrs. Claus at the mall. Guess which one played Santa? As Santa's gal, the always-hilarious Laurie Metcalf makes Jackie into some kind of warden presiding over a festive holiday chain gang. Drawing on her cop persona of the previous season, she struts down the line of children and barks:
"All right, listen up, this is the procedure. You step up to the lap, you state your Christmas wish. You get your candy cane and your photo, and you leave the lap. Any deviation from this procedure will result in loss of candy cane. Remember, [shouting] possession of candy cane is a privilege, not a right! Nobody gets bit on my beat."
Roseanne gets some great lines off as the big guy himself, too. My favorite was a very brief interaction with a pouty little boy. Roseanne simply says, in a saccharine tone, "Well, Santa doesn't believe in you either." The episode also has a really interesting subplot about a new friend of Darlene's, who turns out—to Roseanne's dismay—to be an adult woman with whom Darlene has been sharing all the thoughts and feelings that Roseanne always wants to hear about.
As usual, there are a couple of minor duds, like "Bingo" and "Less is More," both of which get into that too-silly mode that did not serve the show well in the early seasons (balanced out in the later seasons by the too-serious mode, which was even worse). But all of the major characters develop nicely in this season. Becky is on and off with Mark, causing a roller coaster of cheers and jeers from her parents, who have never been fans of the charming lad. Dan and Roseanne, as usual, have money trouble, but this time they're running their own business and have to deal with the bigger risks and rewards of such an endeavor. Jackie has a regrettable one-night stand that propels her into a life on the open road, as a big-rig trucker—just when we thought there was nothing funnier than Jackie being a cop. And DJ is…well, just DJ. He's still that goofy little boy with the cute dimples, for now.
Anchor Bay comes through with two episode commentaries for this set, which fans (at least this fan) have been clamoring for. Roseanne herself does the commentaries for "Trick Me Up, Trick Me Down" and "Thanksgiving 1991," and they really are fun. Shunning the dry tone of boring exposition and diplomatic comments about the cast and crew that mars many DVD commentaries—as we knew she would—Roseanne makes it clear that her tracks will be lively from the deadpan opening comment: "I'm Roseanne and here I am talking endlessly about the show I was in." She does spend plenty of time remembering how much fun it was to work on the show and praising her fellow actors, but she also talks about her frequent conflicts about the writers and especially about their refusals to write a little-known George Clooney back into the show after his first-season stint as Roseanne and Jackie's boss, Booker. He does make one last appearance in "Trick Me Up, Trick Me Down" and Roseanne complains bitterly that they stuck such an obviously gorgeous man in a full-body moose costume for the majority of that episode. Roseanne also makes some funny remarks about herself, as when she says, while Shelley Winters is on screen, "I guess that's me in ten years…if I hadn't had the facelift, maybe five." The commentaries are presented in an unusual style: Whenever Roseanne is speaking (about 70 precent of each episode), the screen angles to include a little square of her talking next to the main episode. I thought this would be distracting or annoying at first, but it didn't bother me and it also allowed for some visual gags, like Roseanne yelling offscreen periodically to the camera crew: "Was that interesting?!?" she asks. "Whatever." There are also a few pop-up video style facts that appear on screen with the commentaries—mostly info about the show, the awards it won, the actors, and their later projects. The commentaries do a lot to overcome the problem previous Roseanne sets have had with lackluster extras. We do still get a few of those here, though, with two repetitive, uninspired interviews with Roseanne and with Michael Fishman (DJ) and Lecy Goranson (Becky) together—but not in the same room together, just cut together from separate interviews. Picture and sound quality are fine and consistent with previous sets, and once again the episodes are uncut (unlike those of the first season).
A great season of a great sitcom, Roseanne: The Complete Fourth Season is also the first set of the series to have some quality special features. Her loudmouthed antics and the show's surprisingly sophisticated character development make any Roseanne set a solid choice. Well, maybe not any set, but we'll get to that in future reviews…
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