Can The “Roseanne” Spin-Off Overcome the Elephant in the Room?

Matthew Loffhagen
ABC
(Photo: ABC)

It’s not really a surprise that “Roseanne” is getting a spin-off.

Putting the show’s revival into action took a lot of time and money. The cast (excepting its titular lead character) are in high demand, so it’s probably fairly galling to ABC’s higher ups to see all of this effort going to waste.

The idea of a spin-off occurred to basically everyone who was even remotely aware of the drama surrounding Roseanne Barr’s very public embarrassments. It seems logical: merely remove the problem actor from the show, and carry on as normal.

The Connors Roseanne
Source: ABC

This seems to be the plan with “The Connors”. The official synopsis for the new show makes it sound awfully like Roseanne is going to be killed off, off-screen, and the show will continue as if she was never even here.

According to the description that ABC is passing around:

“After a sudden turn of events, the Conners are forced to face the daily struggles of life in Lanford in a way they never have before. This iconic family — Dan, Jackie, Darlene, Becky and D.J. — grapples with parenthood, dating, an unexpected pregnancy, financial pressures, aging and in-laws in working-class America. Through it all, the fights, the coupon cutting, the hand-me-downs, the breakdowns – with love, humor and perseverance, the family prevails.”

The ”sudden turn of events” certainly sounds like a death. Alternatively, there could be some other explanation for Roseanne’s disappearance, but ultimately it’ll function the same.

Once there was a Roseanne. Now there is not. Business continues as usual.

Except that it’s very difficult to Keep Calm and Carry On when a family matriarch suddenly disappears.

A Death in the Family

Like it or not, if “The Connors” is going to in any way play out like a realistic story about a human family, the show is still going to be defined by Roseanne.

Interestingly, the sitcom era during which “Roseanne” originally debuted was famous for these kinds of stories, in which families slowly get over the death of a mother.

I’m also reminded of the ABC sitcom “8 Simple Rules” from last decade. When lead actor John Ritter passed away unexpectedly, the show was reworked entirely for future seasons. Even so, the family’s emotional journeys centered solely around the untimely death of Ritter’s character.

This is because that’s what happens to families when a loved one is suddenly removed from the picture. There’s a mourning period. People grieve.

It’s going to be hard for “The Connors” to address Roseanne’s death or departure. The actor who played the role of Roseanne has colored the character. I don’t think audiences are going to want to see the new show eulogizing over a person who has proven incredibly unpopular due to her unfiltered use of Twitter.

The alternative, then, is for the Connors to come across as horribly callous. Mom’s dead, but who cares? She was a Trump supporter!

That doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t fit the tone of the show, nor the expectations of the audience.

Whatever’s Coming Will Be Unique

As unpopular as she may be, there’s no easy way to make this show work without Roseanne Barr.

Personally, I’m going to be very interested to see how the writers tackle this challenge as they attempt to make “The Connors” more palatable, while still making the characters feel authentic.

It probably would have been better for ABC to salt the ground surrounding this project and move on. But while there’s money to be made, the network is obviously going to take the path of least resistance.

What happens next won’t be quite as embarrassing as Roseanne Barr on an Ambien trip.

It’s still not exactly going to be comfortable viewing, though.