This season, the role of Judge Jennifer Malkowski will be played by Sarah Chalke. We're sure no one will notice...
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 Fourth Season (published July 26th, 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 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.
"Mrs. Conner is never unhappy alone."—Dan Conner
In its sixth season, the domestic goddess's classic sitcom started to descend from the creative peak it reached the year before. There's no need to head for the escape hatch yet—the jokes are still funny and frequent, and the plots remain pretty grounded. However, this is the season in which we witness the first sign of the Roseanne apocalypse: the (first) shift in Becky actresses, with Sarah Chalke replacing Lecy Goranson.
Facts of the Case
Roseanne Conner (Roseanne) plays a surly "domestic goddess" with a great sense of humor as she faces crippling financial troubles in this classic family sitcom. Living a working-class life in small-town Lanford, Ill., the Conners are always struggling with money trouble and their willful children. Dan (John Goodman) is the father, by turns uproariously funny and devastatingly depressed. Eldest child Becky (Sarah Chalke) reappears with new hubby Mark (Glenn Quinn) to move back in with her parents. Cynical Darlene (Sara Gilbert) heads off to college in Chicago, leaving behind her ever-emasculated boyfriend, David (Johnny Galecki). Cute-but-scheming DJ (Michael Fishman) takes a solitary step toward manhood, mostly conducted while locked in the bathroom. Lovable loser Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) is still here to steal scenes as Roseanne's hapless sister and their much-loathed mother Bev (Estelle Parsons) also has a large role this season.
Roseanne: The Complete Sixth Season includes all 25 episodes of the season, uncut, distributed over four discs:
• "The Mommy's Curse"
• "Party Politics"
• "A Stash from the Past"
• "Be My Baby"
• "Halloween V"
• "Guilt By Imagination"
• "Thanksgiving '93"
• "The Driver's Seat"
• "White Trash Christmas"
• "David Vs. Goliath"
• "Everyone Comes to Jackie's"
• "Don't Make Room for Daddy"
• "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
• "Past Imperfect"
• "Lies My Father Told Me"
• "I Pray The Lord My Stove To Keep"
• "Body by Jake"
• "Isn't It Romantic"
• "Altar Egos"
And here the Becky Conner revolving casting door begins to turn as Sarah Chalke joins the cast and Lecy Goranson—who had been mostly gone last season—departs. But fear not! Bizarrely, Becky the former will be back. Becky has always been one of the weakest characters on the show, and her absence from the fifth season was basically welcome, freeing up more screen time for the rest of the phenomenal cast to do their thing. But this season, Becky returns and Darlene becomes the daughter less frequently glimpsed. The series suffers greatly from this shift, as Gilbert is perhaps the most reliable source of laughter on the series. Additionally, Chalke is no joy to watch. Becky has always been annoying, but when she was played by Goranson, one sensed that she was purposefully so. Goranson knew her way around the behaviors of bratty, ungrateful teens and made Becky an effective love-to-hate kind of character who was occasionally sympathetic. But the manufactured sweetness that ! good-girl Becky uses to get her way is played flatly by Chalke as genuine. Her version of Becky is a cheerful ditz, and her on-screen presence is stiff and awkward.
The rest of the cast maintains high-level humor, though a minute decrease in the quality of the jokes seems to occur. There are plenty of exceptions, though, with "Stash from the Past" and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and "I Pray the Lord My Stove to Keep" being comedy highlights. High-as-a-kite Jackie sitting quietly in the Conner's bathtub while Dan and Roseanne smoke decades-old pot is not to be missed. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" continues the gay Nancy storyline, which seems to reemerge every so often once the writers have collected enough razor-sharp lesbian jokes to fill another episode. And "I Pray the Lord My Stove to Keep" brings the fearsome presence of the Lord into the Conner household in his most unlikely form: former devil-boy DJ. His newfound judgmental side forces the Conners to consider the moral implications of their actions as never before, and to declare their religion:
Roseanne: "We believe in being good, so basically we're good
Estelle Parsons also provides more laughs than usual this year as the guilt-trip-happy Bev. One of the funniest single moments of the season occurs in "Body by Jake" when she discovers that Dan and Fred both know she broke her hip during sex with her retirement community boyfriend. Letting out a powerful shriek, she tries to feebly escape with her walker, but is trapped between the two men.
As far as the more dramatic storylines go, duplicitous attempts by David and Darlene to be together form the best one. Also bearable is Jackie's pregnancy and the tension it creates between the father, Fred, and Roseanne, who possessively refers to the unborn child as "our baby."
Less tolerable is Dan's angst about his mother's decreasing sanity level. Considering that Grandma Conner is a character we have barely (if ever) met, our investment in her mental health is pretty slight. Spanning two episodes, this plot makes "Lies My Father Told Me" an unfortunate prototype for the kinds of episodes that would help sink the show in later seasons—those with high drama, not too well executed and not tempered by any humor. The series has had great success with mixing light and heavy tones, as Roseanne demonstrates while talking about the family's methods of coping, more generally, in that episode:
Dan: "You can never tell anybody gives a damn about anything 'round
here. All we ever do is yell at each other and make jokes."
The best moment to come out of this storyline is a small one. When Dan's father refuses to give his ex-wife money when she needs it, Dan chews him out. In his defense, his father tries to redirect blame:
Dan's dad: "You know how women get!"
This exchange serves as a nice reminder of why Dan is a great guy and how the show never quite goes too far in its battle-of-the-sexes themes, always returning to the principle that the best way to "deal with" women like Roseanne is to respect them.
In terms of technical quality and extras, this is the worst release in the Roseanne series. Anchor Bay seems to have given up its half-assed efforts to produce special features for this show and offers nary a one on this set. Picture quality is fine and consistent with past Roseanne releases, but I've noticed the sound mix on Roseanne: Season Six is a bit off balance. Turn up the volume high enough to hear the dialogue and you'll be reminded a little too loudly of the live studio audience after each joke.
If you're looking for evidence that Sarah Chalke becoming Becky in this sixth season was a big mistake for Roseanne, check out JumpTheShark.com. Of their frequent offender categories in TV turning points when a series becomes crappy, "Same Character, Different Actor" is at the top. And the caption on that category's page reads: "Becky, is that you?" Significantly, though, it doesn't have the most votes for when Roseanne jumped. If you can't guess what does, stay tuned for the last season's review…
Despite a decrease in quality, both of the episodes and the DVD release, Roseanne: The Complete Sixth Season is hereby released on probation—which is sure to be broken by Roseanne: The Complete Ninth Season, if not sooner.
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