"The Conners" returned last night -- actually, it premiered. It felt like a return, since it was the entire "Roseanne" cast minus Roseanne Barr herself.
You know ABC canceled "Roseanne" after Barr's racist tweet, then the network decided to revive the show without her creative or financial involvement.
But "The Conners" had to explain where the main character -- Roseanne Conner -- disappeared to. Last night, it was confirmed that they decided to kill her off. It was revealed that Roseanne Conner had died from an overdose tied to her opioid addiction.
Bruce Helford is the showrunner of "The Conners" and was previously showrunner of "Roseanne." He penned a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter explaining the decision to kill her off that way.
They debated other ways to explain Roseanne's absence:
"We knew we had to explain Roseanne's disappearance from the show definitively but also set up the other characters in a way where they could move on. There was a lot of chatter in the ether about how we should explain Roseanne's absence: Should she have a sudden heart attack, a mental breakdown or go off into the sunset on a boat with her son Jerry Garcia? But back in the writers room, we firmly decided against anything cowardly or far-fetched, anything that would make the fierce matriarch of the Conners seem pathetic or debased."
After hearing everyone out, they decided to "make her departure clearly permanent" with a death. (Hey, they killed off Dan Conner at the end of the original run, then made a joke of it in the revival. Death isn't always that "permanent.")
Helford said they wanted a death that would be "reverent" to this woman who was so beloved by her family, and wouldn't leave a shadow on the remaining family members:
"It was a crucial story point so that the other characters could truly move on boldly with their lives, evolve and grow. And on a personal note, Roseanne helped launch my career, and while we had our disagreements (she once fired me in Roseanne's original run), I wanted a respectful sendoff for her, too: one that was relevant and could inspire discussion for the greater good about the American working class, whose authentic problems are often ignored by broadcast television. If you watched the first episode, I hope you'll agree we did that."
He said the audience for the live taping of the premiere was tentative to laugh at first, then Laurie Metcalf's Aunt Jackie landed a big laugh about casseroles and the crowd relaxed.
Fans who watched the premiere on TV had their own reactions, which they shared at #TheConners (and sometimes #TheConnors even though that's the wrong spelling).
For her part, Roseanne Barr tweeted this....
.... and shared a joint statement with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (via THR):
“While we wish the very best for the cast and production crew of The Conners, all of whom are deeply dedicated to their craft and were Roseanne’s cherished colleagues, we regret that ABC chose to cancel Roseanne by killing off the Roseanne Conner character. That it was done through an opioid overdose lent an unnecessary grim and morbid dimension to an otherwise happy family show.
“This was a choice the network did not have to make. Roseanne was the only show on television that directly addressed the deep divisions threatening the very fabric of our society. Specifically, the show promoted the message that love and respect for one another’s personhood should transcend differences in background and ideological discord. The show brought together characters of different political persuasions and ethnic backgrounds in one, unified family, a rarity in modern American entertainment. Above all else, the show celebrated a strong, matriarchal woman in a leading role, something we need more of in our country.
“Through humor and a universally relatable main character, the show represented a weekly teaching moment for our nation. Yet it is often following an inexcusable – but not unforgivable – mistake that we can discover the most important lesson of all: Forgiveness. After repeated and heartfelt apologies, the network was unwilling to look past a regrettable mistake, thereby denying the twin American values of both repentance and forgiveness. In a hyper-partisan climate, people will sometimes make the mistake of speaking with words that do not truly reflect who they are. However, it is the power of forgiveness that defines our humanity.
“Our society needs to heal on many levels. What better way for healing than a shared moment, once a week, where we could have all enjoyed a compelling storyline featuring a witty character – a woman – who America connected with, not in spite of her flaws, but because of them. The cancellation of Roseanne is an opportunity squandered due in equal parts to fear, hubris, and a refusal to forgive."
"The Conners" continues Tuesdays on ABC.
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