How many hot-button issues can the “Roseanne” reboot stuff into one very special episode? So far four, but the season isn’t over yet.
Tuesday night’s “Go Cubs” episode was teased earlier this week as an eye-opening culture clash. The Conners were getting new neighbors! Plot twist: They are Muslim. So high jinks were bound to ensue. But the Yemeni family next door, who — surprise! — turn out to be just like us, were hardly the only political flash point.
In just under 30 minutes, “Roseanne” managed to deliver on xenophobia, the mess that is the Department of Veterans Affairs, undocumented workers and food stamp restrictions. If that sounds like a lot of toppings on a sitcom pizza, that’s because it was. Yet somehow everything came together.
The episode began with the Conner family matriarch snooping on her front porch with a rake that could’ve easily been a pitch fork or even a tiki torch. She’s convinced that her new neighbors from “Talibanjistan” are, in fact, a “sleeper cell getting ready to blow up our neighborhood.” Exhibit A? The surplus of fertilizer stacked up against their garage. Aunt Jackie, of course, is ready with the progressive punchline when Roseanne references “the news” as her justification for snooping.
“You don’t mean the news,” Jackie says. “You mean Fox News.”
Also on hand are Anne Marie and Chuck, the Conners’ longtime black friends who, in the show’s original run, rarely called attention to that fact. But this is 2018. Anne Marie, who Jackie tries to enlist against Roseanne’s casual racism, quips: “Oh, because I’m black I’m the expert on racism?” Later Chuck agrees that the people next door, with their freshly painted fence and American flag, might be trying too hard. “When I drove through the South I had a Lynyrd Skynyrd bumper sticker,” jokes Chuck.
Because it’s always busy at Conner HQ, son D.J. shows up to drop his daughter Mary off for the night so that he can get a full day’s head start waiting in the VA hospital line. “A lot of vets live on the sidewalk,” he says, “so they have an advantage.”
Later Dan and Chuck, both still installing drywall for a living, lose out on a big contract to “illegals” (Dan’s word) who underbid them. This, of course, puts the Conners in an all-too-familiar money bind which, in turn, gets their Internet service cut off, which then leaves little Mary without a way to Skype call her mom, who’s serving in Afghanistan. Guess whose WiFi is still working. That’s right, the Muslim neighbors’.
The exchange between both sides is strained from the start. Roseanne, after putting her foot in her mouth, tells the couple: “We don’t hate you; we’re scared of you.” To which Fatima and Samir reply: “We’re scared of you.” In the end they give the Conners their WiFi password, a 21st-century olive branch. It’s “Go Cubs.” They’re big fans and clearly good neighbors. Fatima tells Roseanne, “The ignorance of adults shouldn’t punish children.”
But that’s not all the show has to offer in the ripped-from-the-headlines department. In one of the last scenes, Roseanne spots Fatima at the grocery store trying to buy, among other items, rotisserie chicken with her EBT card. As “prepared food,” the chicken is on the no-buy list plus Fatima’s short $30 dollars. The snotty cashier basically tells her to go back to her country. True to form, Roseanne lets the cashier, and perhaps the millions watching with any of the same racist hang-ups, have it.
On Twitter, Roseanne told fans that they should expect even more newsy plots next season.
“I like to do TV episodes about REAL ISSUES & REAL PEOPLE. That’s what I do. Next season will be even more current events-I will challenge every sacred cow in USA.”
The show, which has been embraced by President Trump, has thus far been defined by its hot topic water-cooler moments, and Tuesday’s episode took its After School Special for Adults tone to the next level.