If Judge Jennifer Malkowski won the lottery, she might pay to get this final season of Roseanne remade to be, you know, good.
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 January 24th, 2007), Roseanne: The Complete Sixth Season (published October 26th, 2012), Roseanne: The Complete Seventh Season (published May 23rd, 2007), and Roseanne: The Complete Eighth Season (published September 5th, 2007) are also available.
Studio executive trying to buy the rights to Roseanne's life story: "The base characters are your family, but we have to make them attractive. Nobody in their right mind is gonna want to look at you."
This groundbreaking series' final season brings with it a dramatic drop in quality, brought about mainly by Roseanne winning $108 million in the lottery. That lotto win spurs plots about the Conners socializing with rich people and going on expensive trips, and about Roseanne becoming an action hero, capped off with a finale that strains to make it all seem believable again. I'm pretty sure that if the Conners themselves, avid TV viewers that they are, were Roseanne fans, they'd greet Roseanne: The Complete Ninth Season with a series of expletives and sarcastic put-downs.
Facts of the Case
Heading up a working class family in Lanford, Illinois, Roseanne Conner (Roseanne, She-Devil) usually has to fret about money, but this season begins with her big lottery win of $108 million.
With enough riches for the rest of their lives, the Conners now have worry only about their general dysfunction! Hubby Dan (John Goodman, The Big Lebowski) is largely absent this season, taking care of his mentally troubled mother in California. Loveable loser Jackie (Laurie Metcalf, Georgia Rule), Roseanne's sister, finally finds her prince—literally! Eldest daughter Becky (played exclusively by Scrubs' Sarah Chalke this season) has no storyline of her own this season and is around even less than her husband, Mark (Glenn Quinn, Angel). Usually-cynical Darlene (Sara Gilbert, 24) is warmer and fuzzier this season, perhaps because of the child she is having with her husband, David (Johnny Galecki, Vanilla Sky). Little brother DJ (Michael Fishman, Artificial Intelligence: AI) is finishing up puberty, trying to become a filmmaker, and getting a real girlfriend, Heather (Heather Matazarro, Welcome to the Dollhouse). Gay couple Leon (Martin Mull, Arrested Development) and Scott (Fred Willard, Best in Show) hang around a lot this season and help usher Roseanne's mother, Bev (Estelle Parsons, Bonnie and Clyde) into the queer community when she accidentally outs herself.
• "Millions from Heaven"
• "What a Day for a Daydream"
• "Honor Thy Mother"
• "Someday My Prince Will Come"
• "Pampered to a Pulp"
• "Satan, Darling"
• "Home is Where the Afghan Is"
• "Mothers and Other Strangers"
• "Home for the Holidays"
• "Say It Ain't So"
• "The War Room"
• "Lanford's Elite"
• "Some Enchanted Merger"
• "A Second Chance"
• "The Miracle"
• "Arsenic and Old Mom"
• "Into That Good Night, Part 1"
• "Into That Good Night, Part 2"
And so we've arrived at the final season of Roseanne, in which that dreaded L word finally appears. It's not "lesbian"—there have been plenty of those on Roseanne all along! Nope, it's "lottery." After $108 million floods the Conner bank account, this hilarious and down-to-earth show about a really cool blue-collar family quickly transforms into a strange and unfunny variety show full of fantasies, parodies, and a parade of tedious appearances by minor and/or washed-up celebrities. Instead of the good ol' days of seeing Roseanne deal with evil bosses or figure out what to do when she finds pot in her house, we now have to watch Roseanne imagine herself as Mary Tyler Moore, imagine herself as Jeannie, imagine herself as Xena, imagine herself in Rosemary's Baby, imagine herself on Jerry Springer. And the list goes on: Roseanne goes to a fancy spa, Roseanne eats at a fancy restaurant in New York City, Roseanne goes to a high-society party, Roseanne is a guest at a snooty beach house, Roseanne joins a country club, Roseanne is romanced by a handsome rich man. In the strangest episode of a strange season, Roseanne finds her inner Hothead Paisan and battles a group of misogynist terrorists on a train. Sandwiched in between these outlandish plots are moments of plain old boredom. After the lottery win, the Conners seem to spend a lot of time just sitting around doing nothing, as, for example, in the long scene of Roseanne and Jackie reading magazines near the beginning of the season. To make matters worse, many of the best cast members are hardly present for the ninth season. John Goodman, who was getting a lot of film work at the time, is not even a regular, and pregnant Darlene shows up only once in a while without even her trademark wit. Laurie Metcalf is thankfully a major character this season, and tries her best to salvage the comedy with her gift for slapstick and general line delivery.
Even as social commentary, the plot about the Conners winning the lottery is far, far less insightful than the preceding eight seasons about the Conners not having money. Yes, the series now has a chance to comment on the upper classes more directly, but what are the comments? That rich people are drunks with a lot of repression issues? Even if there is some truth to it, that little gem of insight has already been dug up by countless other series. And in the process of lampooning the wealthy, the show also makes fun of blue collar folk more harshly than ever before, amping up the Conners' lack of sophistication, as in scene below:
What was revolutionary about Roseanne was that it depicted working class people as three-dimensional, likeable characters, but in this season both the rich and poor alike are just class caricatures.
While I don't know all the details about Roseanne's role behind the scenes in this final season, she does write many of the stories and teleplays and takes credit for the season's direction in her interview. And maybe that's why much of the season feels like a narcissistic trip through the innermost reaches of her mind. The reason I say "narcissistic" here is because, far from being fruitfully experimental and entertaining (like, say, the film Adaptation), this personal journey doesn't seem very enlightening or appealing to the actual audience. I mean, who wants to see segment after segment of Roseanne casting herself into classic TV shows? Roseanne herself, I'm guessing. While it's impressive that she had enough power to get this wacky season made to her specifications, it's a pretty maddening nine hours to actually sit through.
The few bright spots of the season occur in the first episode after the lottery win, "Millions from Heaven," when the premise has not yet gotten old and in a mid-season stretch that sees the Conners doing their thing back in Lanford, almost like usual. Dan's affair, while perhaps a bit out of character, creates one of the few dramatic episodes of Roseanne that doesn't suck, "Say It Ain't So." When his usual vague restlessness gets funded by the lotto money, it turns into a romance out in California that threatens to destroy the show's long-running marriage. Dan is torn up about his actions and Roseanne is just plain disappointed, hitting him not with anger and yelling, but with the hard truth that he's really not doing the right thing:
"I'm working class. There's right and there's wrong. There's black and there's white. And no amount of money is gonna make me see gray."
This storyline also leads to one of the season's rare funny episodes, "The War Room," that features the family trying to get Roseanne out of her depression. The highlight here is David's pride at being the first to talk to Roseanne, followed by his trauma and shame when she spits this first victim out of her lair almost instantly.
But the laughs end quickly as the final part of the season descends into the high-drama of Darlene's problems premature baby and then the strange series finale. "Into That Good Night, Part 2" is Roseanne's attempt to have its cake and eat it, too—to be wacky and surreal and unrealistic all season and then to still get credit for its serious treatment of the life of a working-class woman. In the infamous final segment, Roseanne reveals that the whole series has been a book that she's been writing about her life, working on it late at night in her basement writing room (which you may remember from the early seasons) while still juggling kids and jobs. Keeping some elements and changing others, she reveals that her sister—not her mother—was a lesbian, that Darlene really dated Mark and Becky really dated David, and that Dan actually died when he had his heart attack. Roseanne then explains in a long monologue why she didn't stick to the facts:
"When you're a blue-collar woman and your husband dies, it takes away your whole sense of security. So I began writing about having all the money in the world and I imagined myself going to spas and swanky New York parties, just like the people on TV where nobody has any real problems and everything's solved within 30 minutes. I tried to imagine myself as Mary Richards, Jeannie, That Girl, but I was so angry, I was more like a female Steven Segal, wanting to fight the whole world…One day I actually imagined being with another man, but then I felt so guilty I had to pretend it was for some altruistic reason…As I wrote about my life, I relived it, and whatever I didn't like, I rearranged."
Voila! Season Nine is explained! At least it is for those who accept lame surprise endings at face value. Even though it's kind of a nicely dark, political conclusion for the show to have this revelation that life doesn't usually turn out this way for women like Roseanne, it's also an infuriating cop-out, especially after a whole season of superficial crap. If Roseanne doesn't like the kind of TV where "nobody has any real problems and everything's solved within 30 minutes," then why did she make so very much of it this season? And if Roseanne is such a television aficionado, then didn't she learn from Dallas that people hate that type of "it was all a dream" nonsense? If we accept the premise that the whole run of Roseanne followed the book Roseanne was writing about her life, then we have to wonder about the quality of said book and ask why the Hell the last chapter was so incredibly awful and inconsistent with the rest! The above monologue tries to answer those questions, but no answer is going to make Roseanne: The Complete Ninth Season excusable.
Picture and sound quality are fine on this set, and consistent with previous releases of Roseanne, with perhaps a slight improvement in dialogue audibility. There are, however, quite a few new things to see and hear in Roseanne: The Complete Ninth Season with all the new sets created to accommodate Roseanne's travels and the John Popper lyrics added to the theme song. In the special features department, we get two new interviews with Roseanne herself, "A Legacy of Class" and "Breaking the Sitcom Mold," each about six minutes long, including a number of clips inserted from the show. Most of the topics here are well-trodden in previous Roseanne DVD interviews, but we also hear a little more about the way the media treated Roseanne ("I remember them all the time talkin' 'bout me and Oprah and how big our butts were…It was hard to stand in the middle of all that scrutiny and all that hatred") and are treated to a rather improbable claim that she deserves credit for the work of Michael Moore and Stephen Colbert. While Roseanne was kind of a revolutionary show, I'm pretty sure that somebody somewhere was mixing comedy and politics before 1988. There's only one video commentary this time, on the episode "The Truth Be Told," but it is more lively than previous commentaries. With the same split-screen format, Roseanne and Michael Fishman keep their dialogue going for basically the whole episode and go off on some interesting tangents about how Roseanne's parents let reporters from The National Enquirer live at their house and go through her stuff. We're also treated to a strong dose of television cynicism from Roseanne, who casually asserts that, "Anything that gets on TV is ruined. That's TV's job is to ruin any idea it can get a hold of."
In an interview on this set, Roseanne sums up the impact of her series by saying, "I wanted to go on TV and reflect back to the viewer and remind them, 'Hey, you're what's real, not what other people say is real. You're what's real.'" This quality of realism is the true legacy of Roseanne, a show that dared to make a fat, loud-mouthed feminist its star and to depict the life of a working-class family whose great sense of humor doesn't always shield us from their very real problems. The final year of the show betrayed that spirit, to some extent, but can't erase the preceding eight seasons of groundbreaking television.
Guilty of the ol' "it was all a dream" cop-out, and so many other TV sins.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Starz Home Entertainment
• Two New Interviews with Roseanne
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