While The Conners hasn’t always been able to reference Roseanne successfully, season 4 of the sitcom spinoff proved that the series can pull off moving, funny, and fitting nods to its former heroine. The Conners has a fraught history with its original star, Roseanne Barr, who played the title character of the show's first incarnation, Roseanne. In reality, Roseanne Barr is the reason that The Conners was almost canceled, with the actor’s racist remarks on Twitter resulting in her being fired from the Roseanne revival and her character being killed off.
In the universe of The Conners, however, the character of Roseanne is a beloved, tragically deceased wife, sister, and mother to the titular family’s members. As such, the show has to balance between acknowledging the fictional character Roseanne’s outsized legacy on The Conners without seeming to condone or excuse the actions of her real-life actor. This is a tricky thing to pull off which is likely why, from seasons 1 to 3, The Conners barely bothered to try.SCREENRANT VIDEO OF THE DAY
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Early seasons of The Conners were infamously bad at addressing the former star’s exit from the series, with entire stretches of the series passing without anyone mentioning Roseanne despite her character being the former lynchpin of the show. However, the Roseanne spinoff did a better job of handling this issue in The Conners season 4, with the show gradually adding more and more nods to its former heroine in ways that felt appropriate for the plot and fitting for the sitcom’s tone. From Mark’s struggles in school resulting in a pill problem to Jackie and Dan’s divergent attitudes toward the character, the spirit of Roseanne loomed large over The Conners season 4 and, for once, the show was able to acknowledge that fact.
Mark’s ADHD Medication Addiction
Mark’s off-label abuse of ADHD medication was almost identical to Roseanne’s painkiller addiction, right down to the character claiming he needed the pills for the sake of his stress. As such, it was a surprise to see that Roseanne was barely referenced in the storyline, but Dan did say that he didn’t want his grandson to end up like his first wife in one sobering scene. While Mark’s storyline needed a Roseanne reference, this was one of the weaker nods to the character in The Conners season 4. Roseanne losing her life to an opiate addiction offscreen was a devastating twist and Mark’s situation could have been more impactful if The Conners season 4 had drawn a clearer comparison between the character and his late grandmother.
Season 4 Episode 8's Controversial "Roseanne In Hell" Joke
When Darlene suggested that the Conners burn their old furniture and send the ashes up to Heaven in “Yard Sale, Phone Fail, And a College Betrayal” (season 4, episode 8), Becky sardonically added that if the ashes go down to Hell, they could join the family’s matriarch there. The implication that Roseanne ended up in Hell seemed harsh, but the gag was in keeping with the family’s merciless sense of humor and set up a clever nod later on in The Conners season 4. At the time of the episode’s release, this line prompted a string of hand-wringing think pieces from commentators concerned that the episode made light of Roseanne’s death. However, this attitude appears to miss much of the point of The Conners, an often unsparing look at working-class issues wherein the characters seldom give each other a break and typically mock each other relentlessly. Roseanne was the show’s resident queen of brutally barbed insults, so it is only fitting that The Conners season 4 would deliver such a hilariously low blow after her demise.
Dan’s Sweet Speech About Marriage
When Dan visited James Pickens Junior’s Chuck Mitchell and discovered that his old friend was struggling to keep his household together while his wife was in the hospital, he gave an atypically sweet and sincere speech about what it was like to lose a spouse and how much marriage defined his life before Roseanne's passing. It was probably the most moving tribute to Roseanne that The Conners has pulled off so far, offering John Goodman a welcome chance to flex his considerable dramatic chops. While Dan is often one of the broader and more cartoony characters on The Conners, this season 4 speech allowed viewers insight into the regret and pain that the character carries since the loss of his wife without feeling sentimental, depressing, or gratuitous. The scene would have been a mess in the hands of a less experienced star but, with Goodman’s disarmingly direct and heartbreaking delivery, this Conners Roseanne tribute was a poignant highlight of season 4.
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Jackie and Dan's Conflicting Recollections of Roseanne
When Darlene began to lose her nerve about quitting her job if they refused to give her a raise, she turned to her trusted father and aunt for advice. In their responses, Jackie and Dan referenced their failed business ventures with Roseanne, and the jokes they made illustrated an essential difference in how the characters interacted with the original star of the series. Dan took the blame for the failure of his and Roseanne’s bicycle shop, laughing off the struggle, while Jackie handed the blame for her failed business venture with her sister over to Roseanne “because she’s not here to defend herself.” The scene re-affirmed their respective fondness and rivalry with the character even years after her death.
The Season 4 Finale’s Subtle Roseanne Reference
While Jackie’s marriage worked out in season 4's finale, it was touch and go for The Conners' heroine for a moment. Her new beau objected to the thought of not having a priest present at the wedding, while the double wedding’s other bride Darlene was equally insistent that she would not be married by a religious figure. Eventually, a compromise was reached but before that, in classic sitcom fashion, Louise’s usually cool and level-headed brother flew off the handle at the eponymous family minutes before the ceremony. Neville sincerely told the Conners that he thought they were all going to Hell, only for the family to collectively shrug this comment off without much concern. The line may not have mentioned Roseanne directly, but it did confirm that Becky’s claim about Roseanne’s fate wasn’t unique to her late mother. Instead, The Conners heroine was saying that the heroine of Roseanne was likely in Hell just like the rest of the family would someday be, proving that they were no harsher on their former matriarch than the clan is on each other.