Can 'Roseanne' top itself in Week 2? Here's the answer.

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
Sara Gilbert, Roseanne Barr, and John Goodman in Roseanne. (Photo: Adam Rose/ABC)

The past week has been a very eventful one for Roseanne Barr. After the surprise success of the return of Roseanne (the debut’s audience is now estimated to have exceeded 25 million viewers), she got a call from her most powerful fan; Roseanne was renewed for a second season after only one airing; she scrubbed her Twitter feed clean of pro-Pizzagate and most other conspiracy theories; and she inspired countless online, print, and TV analyses about Roseanne as the Savior of the Working Class. Now, on Tuesday night, the skyrocketing phenomenon comes back down to earth: Turns out Roseanne is just a sitcom after all.

What I mean by that is, this new episode is more typical of what Roseanne will be going forward: less overtly politically themed than the premiere. There’s not a Trump argument or a pink pussy hat in sight in this edition. Which doesn’t mean it’s a bad one; quite the opposite. This week’s episode is built around a stair lift that John Goodman’s Dan has somehow miraculously installed in the house between last week and this one. He did it for Roseanne, who has a bum knee and a shortage of prescription painkillers for it. (Yes, we know from last week that’s because the Conners have lousy health care coverage — i.e., Obamacare vs. Trumpcare — but it’s not articulated that way here.)

There’s a subplot about Darlene’s 15 year-old daughter, Harris (Emma Kenney), selling clothes on the internet. Roseanne questions the parenting skills of Darlene (Sara Gilbert) when Harris behaves brattily. (You know you’re watching a network sitcom when Roseanne calls her granddaughter an “entitled little bitch” and the studio audience lets out a collectively shocked “Ohhhhhh!”)

Really, the most political the episode gets is with a non-PC joke aimed not at Trump or Hillary Clinton but at ABC itself. Roseanne and Dan fall asleep on the sofa in front of the TV, and Roseanne notes, “We slept from Wheel to Kimmel.” Dan responds, “We missed all the shows about black and Asian families.” That was the one time I laughed out loud, happily surprised. The most effective punchlines, though, are uttered by Darlene, and Sara Gilbert really sells this material with sharp timing and her poker-faced delivery.

The best thing about this week’s edition of Roseanne is that is draws attention away from Roseanne to emphasize the ensemble — the star reminds you that she’s a team player. And the jokes remind you that the writing staff here includes Norm Macdonald and Wanda Sykes. It’s a very solid sitcom they’ve all been building, one of the rare network ones that doesn’t have to feel inferior to any of the more experimental ones on cable.

Roseanne airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC.

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