It remains to be seen whether the Conners are going to be alright, but I am pleased — and quite surprised — to report that The Conners is in near-perfect health. Tuesday’s premiere of the Roseanne spinoff (8/7c, ABC) — which on Friday morning was screened to select outlets, TVLine included, at ABC’s offices in New York and Los Angeles — is often uproarious, frequently bittersweet and, in at least a half-dozen instances, super freakin’ sad.
Under the terms of ABC’s embargo agreement, I’m not allowed to “discuss, imply or in any other way reveal what happens to the character of Roseanne Conner,” so let’s just say that her absence is addressed in the opening scene of the debut episode. However, the family has had several months to adjust to their Roseanne-less household and, as you can imagine, everyone is in varying states of basket case-ness. Their preferred coping mechanism? Gallows humor.
John Goodman’s Dan is toggling between anger and anguish, Laurie Metcalf’s Jackie is in full-on denial (and funneling all of her energy into reorganizing the kitchen), Lecy Goranson’s Becky is self-medicating, and Sara Gilbert’s Darlene is… well, she’s the glue holding everything and everyone together. All four actors — the core quartet, if you will — deliver sensational performances, in both the premiere and in the fourth episode (which was also screened for us). Gilbert and Goranson, in particular, have never seemed more connected to their alter egos, resulting in their best-ever work in these roles.
Credit must also go to the series’ writers (Bruce Helford, Bruce Rasmussen and Dave Caplan penned the opener; Darlene Hunt, Episode 4). They struck what felt like the perfect balance between darkness and light, while also being respectful — almost reverential at times — to the character of Roseanne.
But make no mistake: While The Conners is packed with poignant and tearful moments, it’s mostly really, really funny. And, given the depressing events that led to the show’s creation, we could all use a good laugh, couldn’t we?
THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: The Conners both pays tribute to Roseanne the character (and Roseanne the series) and makes a strong case for its own existence.