The question of how ABC would handle life after kicking Roseanne Barr off her own No. 1 show that once bore her name has been answered: They’re handling it just fine.
At a recent press screening, the first two episodes of The Conners, the Roseanne reboot spinoff following the Conner clan sans its matriarch, proved that a show can still have life (and arguably a better one) without its titular character.
Back in May, Barr found herself in a Twitter firestorm after tweeting, “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj,” in (apparent) reference to the former adviser to President Obama, Valerie Jarrett, who is black. Mixed in with her eventual apology was some buck passing involving the sleep aid Ambien, but the damage was done: ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey pulled the plug on her network’s smash hit after just one season. She said, “Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant, and inconsistent with our values.” (Never mind that ABC was fully aware of Barr’s controversial tendencies and support of Donald Trump when they agreed to bring her show back in the first place.)
ABC bought Roseanne out and decided to move forward without her. There’s been plenty of speculation around how they would explain her absence in The Conners. John Goodman hinted at the possibility of death in an interview. While the exact details are under embargo until after the show’s premiere on Tuesday, October 16, we can confirm that it was a very fitting solution to a serious problem her character was dealing with in the previous season.
What was abundantly clear in the second episode was that after everyone copes with Roseanne not being around, there are plenty of interesting storylines to mine. Juliette Lewis and Justin Long make guest appearances as David’s (Johnny Galecki) and Darlene’s (Sara Gilbert) respective love interests, post-separation. Becky (Alicia Goranson) is coming to terms with alcohol abuse. Dan (Goodman) is taking on a bigger role in the life of his gender-fluid grandson. And Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) is, well, Jackie.
ABC’s decision very clearly did not sit well with Barr, who vented her frustrations on the latest episode of Joe Rogan’s podcast. Rogan spends 2 hours and 22 minutes ranting about outrage culture and doubling down on every excuse under the sun for Barr’s tweet about Jarrett–and her past tweet comparing Susan Rice, another black former Obama official, to “a man with big swinging ape balls”–blaming it all on Barr’s mental illness and, yes, Ambien. Barr does admit that ABC advised her not to tweet during the first season of the reboot. But she did not heed the network’s advice, and on the podcast, Barr said she told ABC execs that she wasn’t in her right mind and would get her medication adjusted. To which Ben Sherwood, president of Disney-ABC Television Group, allegedly replied, “We’ll see how this washes out.”
It washes out to the tune of a new show that has a good chance of maintaining strong ratings—unless promised boycotts from Barr’s supporters turn out to be more effective than ABC likely was betting on. Or if audiences decide they’d just as soon forget the show altogether.
Or maybe we’ll all wake up and realize this entire sordid Roseanne saga of 2018—and the ugly culture it stemmed from IRL—was all a dream.