I want to be excited about a new blue-collar sitcom starring Roseanne. But as it stands, I’m about as optimistic about her upcoming series as I am about her presidential bid. It’s not that I don’t have faith in Roseanne: on the contrary, I place most if not all of my faith in Roseanne. She is the closest thing I have to a deity. Are you there, Roseanne? It’s me, Louis.
But I’ve been let down by comebacks in the past: Hot in Cleveland was supposed to be the new Golden Girls. Happily Divorced should have filled the void The Nanny left in my heart. Both were, in my mind, tremendous disappointments. And as the saying goes—fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on TV.
To be fair, neither Hot in Cleveland nor Happily Divorced were actual reboots of the quality series I’m referring to. But the association is there, like it or not—and I’d argue that TV Land likes it a whole bunch. The major selling point of these new shows is that they harken back to ’80s and ’90s sitcoms. Those who tune into Hot in Cleveland do so for the actors involved, all of whom made their marks in shows of TV past. For me, it was Betty White: as a lifelong devotee of The Golden Girls, I just wanted to see her on a series again. And Happily Divorced, conceived by and starring Fran Drescher, appealed to my unironic love of The Nanny.
Perhaps it’s my fault for expecting the same kind of series, but when the nostalgia factor is so high, I can’t be expected to ignore the associations. What’s interesting is that nostalgia usually suggests desire for a simpler time. In fact, the older shows I esteem (The Golden Girls and, to a slightly lesser extent, The Nanny) are far more complicated than the current iterations. Hot in Cleveland and Happily Divorced may bill themselves as contemporary projects featuring classic sitcom actors, but they’re actually watered-down versions of their predecessors.
Don’t believe me? Watch a few reruns of The Golden Girls or The Nanny. These are quality shows that still hold up. They are timely, raunchy, and hilarious—I’m far more likely to laugh out loud at either of those than at most current sitcoms. (A few notable exceptions: Parks and Recreation, Louie, Modern Family. I’m confident all of these will hold up 20 years down the line.) Are ’80s series dated? Of course. But the social commentary is so rich, the jokes so biting, that you don’t mind references that are now irrelevant. The Golden Girls in particular covered diverse and controversial topics ranging from immigration and the nuclear arms race to dementia and prescription pill addiction. Not exactly light fare. And both The Golden Girls and The Nanny featured queer characters and subplots before that was a hip thing to do.
Of course, neither series ever hit the heights of Roseanne, which I consider to be the greatest sitcom of all time. (Feel free to argue me on this. Fair warning: I won’t budge.) Roseanne was edgy and endlessly subversive, largely a credit to Roseanne herself. It’s not just the fact that the series featured so many groundbreaking plotlines and TV firsts (remember Roseanne’s same-sex kiss?)—it’s the unapologetic attitude that lasted throughout its run. These were complicated, flawed characters. Their relationships were real. Their problems were larger than what can be solved in 22 minutes. I could go on and on—and perhaps I will in an even longer Roseanne-centric post—but you get the idea. And if you don’t, it’s all on DVD. Watch the series and then we’ll talk.
I have no doubt that Roseanne could produce another great series, but I am skeptical when it comes to the current state of television. There are a few solid comedies on television, but there are an awful lot of duds, too. Can a new Roseanne show meet my (perhaps unfairly) high expectations, or is it doomed to follow the less-than-stellar paths of Hot in Cleveland and Happily Divorced?
I’m not dismissing it out of hand, but can you blame me for my reservations? I refuse to get my hopes up again, not when so many exceptional comedic voices have been diluted to fit into a climate of weak misogynist humor and dick jokes. While I don’t think Roseanne would stand for that, I’m not sure any network would be willing to fully embrace Roseanne’s vision.
Perhaps FX, which airs Louis C.K.’s outstanding series. The most recent episode of Louie showed us what a sanitized, mainstream version of his show might look like, and the results weren’t pretty. May that be a lesson to anyone who has similar plans for the almighty Roseanne. Amen.
Crossposted to Huffington Post Culture here.