“Roseanne’s Nuts” — no argument here — but she’s also surprisingly boring on Lifetime’s new Wednesday night reality show, in which viewers are given what seems to be a fairly phony glimpse at life on the former sitcom queen’s 40-acre macadamia farm in Hawaii.
The cable networks keep handing us shows about the curious epilogues of celebrity lives. To an admirable degree viewers keep handing them back, and part of the reason, I think, is because celeb reality shows have no theme or meaning or intent, other than to move the star a couple notches up from the inevitable tug of career obscurity. Sinbad, the Braxtons, Ice-T and Coco, Joan and Melissa Rivers, the Hasselhoffs, Sarah Ferguson, the Judds, the O’Neals, Paris Hilton (again) — not one of them has been able to gin up a narrative that remotely resembles a life the rest of us can relate to, and only the Kardashians have somehow matched the unctuous watchability of “Jersey Shore.” As reality stars, most celebrities stink.
Roseanne Barr is a curious character, still, at 58. If you thought she didn’t give a flip what anyone thought of her back when “Roseanne” was a hit show two decades ago, you should hear her screech now. Beyond her unhinged propensity for tantrum exists the remote possibility that she might have something important to tell us — as evidenced by the borderline brilliance of an essay she wrote a couple months ago for New York magazine, reflecting bitterly on her years of Hollywood success, her mental illnesses and how one’s star can quickly fade.
As Oprah Winfrey, Gloria Steinem and others have well noted, something wonderful can happen to a woman in her late 50s as she jettisons society’s gender restrictions and discovers a more adventurous, radical self. It’s hard to imagine that Roseanne could age into something more wild, but what about more wise? Becalmed? Aren’t earthiness and tranquillity part of the point of spending a couple million dollars buying a farm on a faraway island?
The Roseanne persona on display in “Roseanne’s Nuts” — who does indeed live on a nut farm on the Big Island with her musician boyfriend Johnny Argent — is that of a person who seems to have been caught off guard, as if a camera crew had dropped by without warning and so she must now peevishly think of something clever to do for them, besides making disturbing noises at goats and saying the word “nuts” over and over in the perpetual hope that the double-
entendre will become funny.
The entire first episode revolves around a wild pig that sneaks onto the farm to munch macadamias. “I resent that it’s a pig and that it’s smarter than me,” she announces.
Armed with her gun and an endless supply of anger, Roseanne verges on a 21st-century makeover as a sort of tea party ideal, transformed from the loudmouthed celeb who butchered the national anthem back in 1990 to a get-off-my-land patriot trying to protect what’s hers. When some ingenious neighbors come by with pit bulls to trap the pig and cut its throat, Roseanne hollers for mercy and lets the animal go — perhaps on the hunch that chasing pigs may be the show’s only shot at drama.
Otherwise, “Roseanne’s Nuts” would consist of Roseanne yelling at whoever’s within earshot and giggling as a beet salad slides off the patio table and spills onto the grass — it’s that stultifying. Roseanne’s 30-something son Jake arrives from Los Angeles for an extended, sarcastically antagonistic visit, which is just another way of becoming a character on a reality show. Mother uses the opportunity to bad-mouth Hollywood, which is her only remaining shtick.
Meanwhile, Johnny, who met Roseanne via e-mail nine years ago, explains to viewers the degree to which he self-sacrificed his masculinity to coexist with Roseanne, who has been married three times before. At one point it seems Johnny looks with some envy at the pig frantically fleeing into the forest when Roseanne opens the cage.
The longer the cameras stick around, the more irritating (and irritated) Roseanne becomes. Edited with what appears to be a dulled pair of scissors, “Roseanne’s Nuts” unfolds like a random encounter with an unpleasant family — something that might happen to you if your car broke down on their road and you unwisely knocked on the door. One thing the show gets approximately right is the lackadaisical tilt to life on the Big Island, where nothing is terribly urgent and a tropical loopiness rules the day. Into this beauty comes the piercing shriek of Roseanne, TV cameras in tow. Pigs scamper, and a paradise is lost.
(two 30-minute episodes) premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m. on Lifetime.