Tonight sees the return of a classic American sitcom, without its lead actress and without its original title. As we all know, Rosanne Barr was fired from her show Roseanne, and it’s no secret by now that her iconic character Rosanne Conner has been unceremoniously killed off.
SEE A PREVIEW OF THE CONNERS BELOW
Now her family are trying to get by without her, and the show is trying to get by as The Conners. And everyone wants to know: is it any good, and will it survive without the woman who made it famous?
We get into quite the debate about the show on the latest episode of WHO's TV podcast, Binge List.
I can reveal that things get off to a very bum note in the first episode, with the first five minutes totally botched. The revelation Roseanne is dead and a bunch of labored casserole jokes are both mishandled.
Doesn’t such a traumatic turning point deserve better and more solemn treatment?
The great news is that things quickly pick up, and the rest of the first episode is a tour de force of great sitcom writing, strong character moments and some of those emotionally resonant moments that were sorely missing early on.
The relationship between warring sisters Becky (Sara Gilbert) and Darlene (Lecy Goranson) fires up wonderfully as the episode goes on, and looks likely to be the new spine of the show.
It seems that Darlene is already being placed as the new Conner matriarch, with Becky observing, ‘You're the obvious choice to take over from Mom. You already live here and you're a scary little tyrant.’
The writers are on fire with an increasingly snarky Becky, with a discussion about dodgy pills found among Roseanne’s effects leading her to dryly announce, ‘That's the only thing from mom's closet that I wanted.’
John Goodman as Roseanne’s widower Dan looks and sounds devastated, deflated and on the edge of a meltdown.
When evidence mounts that his wife’s death was not the result of natural causes, but due to abuse of prescription medications belonging to a neighbour, the show’s excellent tradition of dealing with serious social issues is on full display.
Goodman’s confrontation scene with drug provider Marcie (Mary Steenbergen) is powerful viewing.
Dan’s boundaries are pushed even further when he bonds with Darlene’s pre-teen son Mark (Ames McNamara) over his crushes on two boys at school.
Sadly, long-suffering Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) is at much more of a loose end now her traditional sparring partner and sister Roseanne is gone. She seems to be getting more and more neurotic, zany and clownish.
A character this beloved, and an actress this good, deserve better.
Despite having a wealth of great established characters to draw on, The Conners is also introducing some new talent – and the casting additions work wonderfully.
Darlene’s ex David (Johnny Galecki) is back on the scene with his delightfully appalling new girlfriend Blue, played by Juliette Lewis – who does an excellent job by obnoxiously pushing in on Darlene's mother role.
Wait until you find out the reason for her name! Darlene’s withering reaction – ‘That explains a lot!’ – is hysterical.
Geena, DJ's army wife, is a breath of fresh air, with her sass earning her more dialogue than her poor TV husband, who now appears to be little more than set dressing. Recast with relative newcomer Maya Lynne Robinson, the part looks likely to become more integral as the season progresses.
After a bumpy start, The Conners is excellent TV, filled with some unexpected new energy.
But none of those things may save it, with ratings substantially down in the US following Roseanne’s sacking – a trend that appears to have everything to do with political backlash, and little to do with the quality of the show.
Don’t let the off-screen scandals and arguments about Donald Trump put you off – he’s not even mentioned in the first few episodes of The Conners. This is a good show, filled with laughs and poignant moments, and well worth checking out.
Hear a full discussion of The Conners on WHO's TV podcast, Binge List - details below. The Conners airs tonight at 7:30 on Ten.