It’s quite bizarre that The Conners exists, firstly given that Roseanne came back in the first place after being off the air for such a very long time, but then after it’s star was fired for turning out to have deeply unpleasant views that they decided to carry on the show without her. The first season did pretty well ratings wise as people tuned in to see what the series would be like without it’s main character, but the second series immediately saw an almost 50% drop in viewers and it’s continued to decline (nearly) ever week.
That’s probably why we’ve now been given a live episode of the show, as such things normally see a boost to the viewing figures, and they’ve tied it in with the New Hampshire primaries, a big night in US politics where it’s often discovered just how popular the politicians involved in the forthcoming election are. Given that Roseanne and The Conners have been quite political shows it makes sense too, though as it’s on a mainstream network I wasn’t expecting the sharpest of political satire.
Along with that I have to confess to not having high hopes in general to be honest, the return of Roseanne was been a disappointment and the first episode I saw of this spin-off had a Roseanne shaped hole in it that I wasn’t sure the series could recover from. Not that I’m a particularly huge fan of the actress these days but her shadow loomed large over the series, at least at the beginning. Fortunately this is no longer the case, and even though she is briefly referred to at the end of the episode a new comer to the show wouldn’t ever need to know that she existed.
Along with Roseanne’s departure there seems to have been a shift in it’s political stance as well, the reboot was worryingly positive about Trump being president but thankfully the spin-off is far more critical of his time in office. There’s lots of likeable digs about the man including Becky (Lecy Goranson) commenting that “All politicians are not terrible – some are really, really terrible” and so how we should do our best to elect the former rather than the latter being nicely cynical, as are a good few lines snarkily delivered by Darlene (Sara Gilbert).
Admittedly some of the attempts to make the evening’s live footage of the primary look exciting are a bit of a stretch, and mostly revolve around Darlene’s son Mark (Ames McNamara) watching it live while the rest of the family are involved in a subplot concerning Dan (John Goodman) and his former girlfriend Louise (Futurama’s Katey Segal), but it’s effectively done and though some of the jokes about a politician being gay and so Mark must like him aren’t the best, at least they’re positive about him and aren’t in any way punching down.
As well as the political element there’s plenty of gags about how poor the Conners are, which has been something the characters have quipped about ever since they debuted in 1988, but surprisingly many of the gags feel fresh, and Becky gets the best line as she jokes about how they can’t afford to see Hamilton and that they have no concerns about being placed on a “No Fly List”, though a “No Bus List” would have an impact on their lives. The subplot with Dan is less likeable though, if only because of it’s dramatic element which I didn’t find myself caring about, but at least it gives John Goodman the chance to do some proper acting again.
On that front some of the acting is a bit weak and Michael Fishman (D.J.) would never have been cast if he hadn’t been part of the original series, but the majority of it is great with Ames McNamara especially deserving of acclaim as he does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to the political humour. Due to the live nature of the show I did feel it was in some ways actually something of a shame they were all so good as it meant no one flubbed their lines or there weren’t any strained moments where an actor desperately tried to remember what they needed to say next, but it did add to the impressive overall nature of the episode.
Outside of the political element there was no real need for this to be a live episode, and it’s feels like a slightly missed opportunity to really satirise the political scene. But if it sees a lot of people watch it just to see if anything goes wrong (which is pretty much why most people catch them) it at least included some important messages, with the matter of Mark’s sexuality dealt with effectively, there were some nice digs at the government, and a brief speech about the importance of voting too. That it manages to be mostly funny is all to it’s credit, and not what I was expecting, and while I can’t say it’s a series I’ll regularly watch if they do this again I’d definitely tune in.