I watched the series finale of Roseanne on TV today. I loved Roseanne, practically grew up on it, and will still watch reruns now even though I’ve seen every episode a few times already. A friend once said to me that she didn’t like the show because it was just too “low rent” for her. I guess it was low rent. But that’s also what made it different, what made it ballsier than other shows and part of what made it work. I also grew up watching The Cosby Show and Growing Pains and Who’s The Boss and I loved those shows, too, but my family did not look like the families in them. I didn’t grow up in a double income home and the one income there was certainly did not resemble that of a doctor or lawyer or psychiatrist (or advertising exec or news anchorperson). I grew up working class, blue collar in a relatively small but industrialized city. We had playgrounds and backyards but not acres of untouched land nor any of the perks of big cities like NYC. Nope. The city in which I was raised looked more like the Illinois town in which Roseanne was set. And my family looked like the Connors, too. Well, not physically, but economically and in the way we talked and interacted with each other.
The series finale got a lot of hate from critics and fans alike and I kind of understand why. It flipped the last season of the show on its head. Backtracked and reversed both major and minor plot lines. But for me, it was one of the best series finales I’ve ever seen. For me, it worked. Allow me to explain why:
1. It returned the show to its roots. In the final season of Roseanne, the Connors won the lottery and the whole dynamic of the show changed. They weren’t struggling working class anymore; they were millionaires. Up until the start of that 9th and final season, the focus had always been on the family. They struggled to make ends meet, to pay their bills and give their kids a life better than their own. But they had each other. And that’s about all they had. After becoming rich, the focus became their altered lifestyle and extravagant luxuries. A sort of fish out of water theme. It didn’t work. Everything about the show that I had connected with, that I loved and that felt like home to me, had disappeared. In the show’s finale, Roseanne reveals that the whole last season had been a figment of her imagination. That she’d been writing a memoir and when she’d lost her husband, she’d also lost her way and wrote an alternate ending for herself as a coping mechanism. In the final few minutes of the series, Roseanne returned her show to the ideas and themes that had made millions of people love it. I thought it took balls, personally, and I admired her for it.
2. It restored Dan Connor. In the last season, after Dan’s heart attack, his character went through some major changes, as often happens following a near-death experience. But his changes were not for the better. He alienated his wife and children and even had a brief affair with his mother’s nurse. (I don’t remember if he actually engaged in sexual congress with the nurse or if he’d just fallen for her but never acted on it. Either way, it’s cheating.) If you’d watched the whole series as I did, you’d know that such behavior was uncharacteristic of Dan. He was kind of the perfect husband in that he’d always backed his wife. Even if she was wrong. Even if she was acting irrationally or out of anger. He’d tell her later on that she’d been a fool but when it mattered, he had her back. Period. The final episode revealed that everything Dan had done in that last season had been a work of fiction, something Roseanne made up to vent her emotions while grieving his loss. She reveals that in reality, he’d died from that heart attack at the end of the previous season. Roseanne had felt betrayed and abandoned by him, she’d been angry and lost. In the shows final moments, Roseanne said: “When you’re a blue collar woman and your husband suddenly dies, you lose every sense of security.” Those things Dan had done in the last season were simply a fictional expression of the insecurity brought on by her grief.
3. It worked, creatively speaking. As a writer, I connected to nearly every word of that last monologue given by Roseanne during those final minutes. She said that writing had been her way of working through her grief, her many emotions, her turmoil. She’d changed things in her memoir not to rewrite history or alter the past, but in an effort to right the wrongs. Through her writing, she’d discovered herself. Her opinions, her values, truths she hadn’t seen before. She discovered who she really was. It reminded me of a quote from 20 century British writer E. M. Forster: “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” As a writer, I know that emotions are voiced and vented through words and through the act of writing. I know that sometimes I am surprised at my own hidden thoughts and opinions when they come out while I’m writing. Writing makes you think about things in ways you previously haven’t. It’s an outlet and a means of discovery for all writers, including Roseanne Connor.