The proverbial beans
have been spilled about the death
of Roseanne Connor, the fictional sassy-mouthed Midwest American housewife
brought to life by her eponymous creator, Roseanne Barr
First, a little background. Roseanne was a smash hit TV series of the 1980s centered on the Connor family, very blue-collar American
workers wringing laughter out of the typical struggle of that class to survive and thrive and nurture ambitions amidst a system which steadily keeps rigging outcomes in favor of wealthier interests. The show had a decently long run, and then came to an end, as sitcoms often do when their initial universe of ideas has been run through.
tenor of the politics of the 2016 election, including unabashed cheerleading for Donald Trump
on the part of Roseanne Barr, contributed to sufficient interest to inspire a resurgence of the TV series, with a new season created to pick up where the characters were, after all this time, which is not much different from where they had been left. Keeping true to life, the show featured a subplot in which became apparent that Roseanne had become addicted
, a not uncommon condition now in middle America. The season was a ratings success, and a second was anticipated, but during the off-season, Barr continued in a pattern of provocative Twitter tweets, with one aimed at a former Barack Obama
administration advisor, Valerie Jarrett
, describing Jarret as like the Muslim Brotherhood
"had a baby" with Planet of the Apes
. The apparent racial tenor of this tweet (though Roseanne denied knowing that Jarrett was black) caused a firestorm
, resulting in Roseanne being fired from the show.
Some time later, the network decided to continue the show without the main character, whose absence, co-star John Goodman
revealed, would be accounted for as being due to her death. Barr herself later gave the further revelation that the character's death would be from an opioid overdose
-- which she took very negatively:
So it wasn't enough to just do what they did to me. They had to so cruelly insult the people who loved that family and that show. They had to cruelly insult them. And that's what they chose to do, so there's nothing I can do about it.
In some ways, the death scenario does indeed stray quite far from the show's long history of the family confronting obstacles and often falling to them for a while, but ultimately overcoming them, at least in the emotional sense of maintaining good humor and acceptance of their turns of fate. Interestingly, though, death
is not so foreign a thing to the show. John Goodman's character, Dan Connor, had a heart attack during the original series, which he originally appeared to survive, until it was "revealed" in the finale to have been fatal (with his appearances thereafter simply being Roseanne's altered retelling in a novel she was writing). But this reveal was unrevealed in the rebooted series, where Dan appeared alive and well.
A counterpoint to Barr's objection is that the death of Roseanne Connor will more validly reflect the truth of the day. In how many television series has a character struggled with a drug problem until resolving their addiction with the happy ending of kicking the habit for good? In how few television series has a main character died
from a drug overdose? Roseanne and her writers started the storyline of opioid addiction because that is a reality in middle America. And this reality does not end with the addiction alone. Opioid overdoses are now among the top killers of Americans under 40, and no doubt leave a similar mark amongst those over that age. Much lip service has been paid to this epidemic, but nothing really done to effectively dispel it. The typical television resolution of an addiction situation is the "after school special
" depiction of a world of lessons learned for a positive outcome. But this does a disservice to the population, painting a falsely rosey picture of the likelihood of recovery. The truth is that people, sometimes good people, sometimes beloved people, die from opioid overdoses daily. And so the death of Roseanne Connor, more than simply a plot point, will be a much realer revelation of the truth of what is going on.