From left: Sarah Gilbert, Natalie West, Roseanne Barr and John Goodman on the eighth episode of the revival of “Roseanne.” (Adam Rose/ABC)
This could explain why the new “Roseanne” isn’t like the old one. Drugs. Lots and lots of drugs.
Since its politically steeped premiere, ABC’s “Roseanne” reboot has been promising an upcoming opioid story line. As regular, everyday, Main Street-dwelling Americans, it made sense that the Conners would be touched by the prescription drug epidemic that’s dominating headlines. The only question was: Which member of the clan would be a statistic?
The episode began with a familiar scene in the new-old Conner HQ: Roseanne complaining about her bum knee. Throughout the season, the family matriarch has been in pain and popping the occasional pill for it. Now the bottle is half-empty, and Roseanne claims her pills have gone missing.
“We have a serious opioid problem in this country,” explains Aunt Jackie, the show’s liberal chorus. The former police officer does some light interrogating to smoke out the suspected pill thief, but everyone in the house appears clean. Dan suggests they just “hide the pills in a safer place” going forward. Cool, but what to do in the meantime?
“I can’t get a damn refill for two more weeks, and my knee is holding a gun to my head,” Roseanne says while holding an old-school rubber ice bag to the offending body part. Dan, of course, comes to the rescue — sort of. The couple don’t have full medical coverage, you see, so he’ll have to pull some strings and get more of his own back pain pills to give to Roseanne. It’s a classic Conner hustle move.
Meanwhile Darlene has been offered a waitressing gig at the local casino that has full benefits — oh, and a very racy uniform attached. At first, she isn’t too keen on the whole “river boat whore vibe” (her words), but Dan, the family hero, convinces her otherwise.
“You know what I’d give right now to have full coverage for your mother’s knee? Sometimes you just have to suck it up and put your family first,” he tells his younger (and, let’s be real, favorite) daughter. In the end, Darlene, who has dreams of being a writer and who also has two kids to raise alone, takes the job slinging cocktails to slot-machine junkies.
All the while, the case of the missing pills goes unsolved until Dan and Roseanne’s wedding anniversary celebration. The couple end up sharing a bottle of cheap Mexican champagne, and Roseanne, who’s way more drunk than she should be (even on cheap Mexican champagne), spills the beans in a tipsy truth moment. She had some extra Vicodin stashed away. Suddenly her signature laugh seems a little seedier. The show’s title character has a major problem.
The next morning Dan confronts his wife of 45 years at the worn-down Conner kitchen table. Exhibits A, B and C are three bottles of prescription pain pills that Dan has discovered hidden all over the house. We find out that Roseanne has managed to finagle leftover pills from other folks around town.
“I’m in pain, so I take a few extra pills,” she says. “It’s not like I’m a drug addict.”
The standoff between the two of them is classic “Roseanne.” As always, the reigning matriarch takes matters into her own hands — this time, her health — while the lovable patriarch remains largely in the dark until things come to a head. And money is always a thing for the Conners. They need $3,000 to pay the insurance deductible for Roseanne’s knee surgery, which means the problem won’t get fixed anytime soon.
“I just didn’t say anything because we can’t afford the surgery, and I got these pills because we’re going to be dealing with this for a long time. You don’t have any idea how bad it hurts,” Roseanne explains.
Dan counters: “You’re taking this for more than pain.”
She promises to cut back as Dan heads to the door to “take a walk” and try to get his head around the problem. His plan is to magically make ends meet somehow, get Rosie’s knee fixed and put a bow on it. But this show was never known for pretty bows. “Roseanne” always rejected the typical tidy sitcom ending where all problems are solved in a tight 30 minutes. So while Dan is out stewing, Roseanne unscrews the top of her trusty ice bag and reaches inside to pull out, you guessed it, another hidden bag of prescription pills.
The show promised to bring the opioid crisis into focus for middle America, and saddling its star — the tough-as-nails Roseanne — with addiction is a gut-punch move that could bring the show, which thus far has featured almost gimmicky political one-offs, closer to its original authenticity.