‘The Conners’ reacting live to NH primary is just a reminder of show’s desperation without Roseanne

Zachary Leeman is the author of the novel Nigh and journalist who covers art and culture. He has previously written for outlets such as Breitbart, LifeZette, and BizPac Review among others. 

11 Feb, 2020 23:16

‘The Conners,’ a spinoff of the canceled ‘Roseanne,’ will air a live episode reacting to the results of the NH primary, but it’s just another sad attempt to recapture the magic Roseanne Barr brought to her own creation.

When ‘Roseanne’ was brought back on the air in 2018, it made the sort of cultural splash few television shows can make in today’s overcrowded world of endless streaming channels and scripted programming.

Barr, the show’s star and creator, reintroduced the blue collar Conner family in a way only her unique brand of comedy and politics could pull off. Week after week, the series shocked and delighted viewers by holding nothing back. It tackled the opioid crisis, health care and even introduced its main character as a sympathetic Trump supporter, something few Hollywood productions would ever allow in today’s divisive culture.

The series' return debuted to massive ratings, bringing in over 18 million viewers — something Trump himself congratulated Barr for. The rest of its run was just as impressive with episodes earning well over 10 million viewers each week.

Then Barr became a victim of cancel culture. After sending out a tweet deemed racist by critics, ABC cut ties with the comedian. Despite her immediate apology and signing over the rights to her show in an attempt save it, Barr’s character was killed off and ‘Roseanne’ was axed. ABC, however, was not done with the writer’s creation. They then took the characters Barr wrote and released ‘The Conners,’ which is currently in its second season.

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To say it doesn’t hold a candle to the original may be the understatement of the year. The spinoff has nowhere near the cultural impact ‘Roseanne’ had and it struggles to bring in half the viewership of the original series. Producers have trotted out celebrity guest stars in an attempt to get attention, but it’s all just felt limp. The biting honesty and uniqueness of the show is gone. It's become just another sitcom. Gone are the insights into the divisive culture and modern politics, replaced now with predictable set up/punchline humor about dating and disagreeing with family. Yawn.

Now producers are making another desperate move to survive in a post-Roseanne world by airing a live episode where characters are reacting to the New Hampshire primary results. Two live tapings will be done for different time zones and characters will be commenting in real time.

Producer Bruce Helford has been talking up the episode to build hype, but the bite 'Roseanne' once had appears to be long gone.

“Everybody’s going to catch a little fire,” the producer promised about the candidates being talked about during the tapings. He also assured fans that the episode is meant to bring a “message of hope” and make people laugh in “tense times.”

Asked if Barr had commented on the spinoff or live tapings, producer and actress Sarah Gilbert simply replied, “no.”

The reason ‘Roseanne’ made such a splash when it came back is because it showed a reality Hollywood largely refuses to accept exists. Barr was an unapologetic Trump supporter whose politics were hard to box in — she ran for president under the Peace and Freedom Party in 2012. She showed the struggles of working-class families that drove them into the arms of Trump, and she made sure that the comedy cut both ways, as opposed to the low-hanging fruit of simply and safely going after the right.

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With this live episode now happening, it’s hard not to wonder how great such a taping would have been with the unpredictable producer involved. Live tapings are exciting because they are supposed to be unpredictable, but ‘The Conners’ lost that originality when Barr was shown the exit door. 

This latest desperate attempt by ‘The Conners’ to stay relevant is only a sad reminder that what once was a special and impactful vision has now lost its teeth and the magic cannot come back unless Barr were given her show again. And we know in today’s world where bubble-wrapped Twitter warriors can’t even handle an Oscar host, that’s never going to happen.