Roseanne Barr’s ‘Ambien-Tweeting,’ Explained. Sorta.


The drug can cause unusual behavior, research shows. But online insults? Not likely.

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Roseanne Barr in March.CreditMike Coppola/WireImage, via Getty Images

The scientific research, too, suggests there’s good reason to be skeptical. It’s true that Ambien on occasion produces significant side effects, including hallucinations and memory lapses. But blaming the drug for bilious tweeting is a stretch.

Could Ms. Barr’s use of Ambien have led to a racist taunt?

It’s a far-fetched claim at best.

Since they were introduced in the 1980s, the so-called “Z-drugs,” like Ambien (zolpidem) and Lunesta (eszopiclone), have become enormously popular. They are sedatives used primarily to treat insomnia, and users have reported all variety of adverse reactions.

The best known (and yes, these are most often associated with Ambien) are sleepwalking and memory blackouts, as well as nighttime feasting — the discovery on waking that, say, an entire bowl of spaghetti has been consumed, and the only plausible culprit is oneself.

Many people have described zombielike behavior when on Ambien. Former Representative Patrick Kennedy, Democrat of Rhode Island and current mental health activist, in 2006 blamed the drug in part for his crashing a car into a security barricade at the United States Capitol.

But stories of such side effects tend to involve physical actions, often taken at night in a state of near amnesia — not specific and cogent comments made with apparent conscious awareness.

Could the drug cause a severe lapse in judgment?

It’s possible, to a point.

Most of the Z-drugs can have lingering mental effects the morning after use, and not just drowsiness. Verbal memory may slip; so may mental focus, the ability to read through a news article, to follow a complex email chain.

So-called working memory — the mental scratchpad where the brain manipulates numbers, names and images — may shrink temporarily. The evidence for these thinking effects is strongest for Ambien and Zimovane (zopiclone), compared to the others, according to a recent review, which also noted that other drugs in this class have not been so well studied.

Yet these effects, taken together, have much more in common with sleep deprivation than with Tourette-like outbursts of insults and epithets. Tourette’s episodes typically arrive as a deluge and generally have no rational connection to the person’s usual behavior.

Ms. Barr, by contrast, has a history of making inflammatory remarks, on Twitter and elsewhere.

Could the drug possibly have caused a “break” with reality, resulting in a racist insult?

Probably not.

Many people have reported hallucinations while taking Ambien. But these tend to be visual: letters swimming on the computer screen, figures in a familiar painting seeming to move, or daydreams so vivid they are like waking dreams — before the person snaps back into the here and now.

Sleep scientists suspect that at least some of these reactions represent “mixed states,” when mental processes of the slumbering brain leak into the patient’s waking hours. The nighttime forays to the fridge, for instance, are thought to result when the sleeping brain is active but the chemical that usually circulates to keep the body still is out of sync.

Still, these states tend to produce a spacey quality during waking hours, not the kind that lends itself to tossing off vituperative insults. For the agent causing that, Ms. Barr may have to look past the medicine cabinet.

Benedict Carey has been a science reporter for The Times since 2004. He has also written three books, “How We Learn” about the cognitive science of learning; “Poison Most Vial” and “Island of the Unknowns,” science mysteries for middle schoolers.

‘Roseanne’ Canceled by ABC Hours After Racist Tweet by Roseanne Barr


ABC canceled the hit sitcom “Roseanne” on Tuesday hours after the show’s star and co-creator, Roseanne Barr, posted a racist tweet about a former top adviser to President Obama who is black.

Early on Tuesday, Ms. Barr posted a comment about Valerie Jarrett, the former adviser to Mr. Obama, that said if “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.”

Ms. Barr, whose ABC sitcom about the Conner family ended a successful comeback season last week, initially dismissed accusations that the comment was racist, defending it as “a joke.” She also said on Twitter, “ISLAM is not a RACE, lefties. Islam includes EVERY RACE of people.”

Ms. Barr later deleted the post about Ms. Jarrett, and initially said nothing about the reference to “The Planet of the Apes.” About a half-hour later, she offered an apology.

“I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans,” she wrote. “I am truly sorry for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks. I should have known better. Forgive me – my joke was in bad taste.”

Ms. Barr also said she was “leaving Twitter.”

Hours later, ABC canceled her show.

“Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show,” ABC’s entertainment president, Channing Dungey, said in a statement.

The fallout over the Twitter post had begun earlier. Wanda Sykes, the black comedian who served as a consulting producer on “Roseanne” this season, said she was leaving the sitcom. Whitney Cummings — a showrunner for the revived comedy, and one of its most outspoken liberal supporters — had already left the series this month.

On Tuesday, before she apologized, Ms. Barr had an exchange with Chelsea Clinton after Ms. Barr referred to Ms. Clinton as “Chelsea Soros Clinton,” a reference to George Soros, the billionaire liberal donor who is often the focus of conservative critics. Donald Trump Jr. shared one of Ms. Barr’s posts in the exchange.

ABC was able to sidestep controversy in both instances.

“You can’t control Roseanne Barr,” Ben Sherwood, the president of Walt Disney Company’s and ABC’s television group, said in an interview with The New York Times in March, when asked about her Twitter account. “Many who have tried have failed. She’s the one and only.”

There have been other sources of controversy.

The revival’s third episode featured a joke about two ABC comedies with diverse casts, “black-ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat.” Ms. Barr’s character and her husband, Dan, played by John Goodman, wake up on the their living room couch, having fallen asleep in front of the television. “We missed all the shows about black and Asian families,” Dan Conner said. To laughter from the show’s studio audience, Roseanne Conner responded, “They’re just like us. There, now you’re all caught up.”

The joke prompted an outcry but ABC defended the show. “We felt writers were looking to tip a hat to those shows,” Ms. Dungey said this month. “It certainly wasn’t meant to offend. I do stand by the ‘Roseanne’ writers.”

Even as the “Roseanne” revival experienced success, ABC’s relationship with the “black-ish” showrunner, Kenya Barris, deteriorated. The network made the rare decision earlier this year to pull an episode of the show, which is known for its frank assessment of race relations. The episode involved the main character, Dre, raising socially fraught issues while telling a bedtime story to his son. Mr. Barris is in negotiations to leave his ABC contract and begin working with Netflix.

‘Roseanne’ Canceled by ABC Hours After Racist Tweet by Roseanne Barr


ABC canceled the hit sitcom “Roseanne” on Tuesday hours after the show’s star and co-creator, Roseanne Barr, posted a racist tweet about a former top adviser to President Obama who is black.

Early on Tuesday, Ms. Barr posted a comment about Valerie Jarrett, the former adviser to Mr. Obama, that said if “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.”

Ms. Barr, whose ABC sitcom about the Conner family ended a successful comeback season last week, initially dismissed accusations that the comment was racist, defending it as “a joke.” She also said on Twitter, “ISLAM is not a RACE, lefties. Islam includes EVERY RACE of people.”

Ms. Barr later deleted the post about Ms. Jarrett, and initially said nothing about the reference to “The Planet of the Apes.” About a half-hour later, she offered an apology.

“I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans,” she wrote. “I am truly sorry for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks. I should have known better. Forgive me – my joke was in bad taste.”

Ms. Barr also said she was “leaving Twitter.”

Hours later, ABC canceled her show.

“Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show,” ABC’s entertainment president, Channing Dungey, said in a statement.

The fallout over the Twitter post had begun earlier. Wanda Sykes, the black comedian who served as a consulting producer on “Roseanne” this season, said she was leaving the sitcom. Whitney Cummings — a showrunner for the revived comedy, and one of its most outspoken liberal supporters — had already left the series this month.

On Tuesday, before she apologized, Ms. Barr had an exchange with Chelsea Clinton after Ms. Barr referred to Ms. Clinton as “Chelsea Soros Clinton,” a reference to George Soros, the billionaire liberal donor who is often the focus of conservative critics. Donald Trump Jr. shared one of Ms. Barr’s posts in the exchange.

ABC was able to sidestep controversy in both instances.

“You can’t control Roseanne Barr,” Ben Sherwood, the president of Walt Disney Company’s and ABC’s television group, said in an interview with The New York Times in March, when asked about her Twitter account. “Many who have tried have failed. She’s the one and only.”

There have been other sources of controversy.

The revival’s third episode featured a joke about two ABC comedies with diverse casts, “black-ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat.” Ms. Barr’s character and her husband, Dan, played by John Goodman, wake up on the their living room couch, having fallen asleep in front of the television. “We missed all the shows about black and Asian families,” Dan Conner said. To laughter from the show’s studio audience, Roseanne Conner responded, “They’re just like us. There, now you’re all caught up.”

The joke prompted an outcry but ABC defended the show. “We felt writers were looking to tip a hat to those shows,” Ms. Dungey said this month. “It certainly wasn’t meant to offend. I do stand by the ‘Roseanne’ writers.”

Even as the “Roseanne” revival experienced success, ABC’s relationship with the “black-ish” showrunner, Kenya Barris, deteriorated. The network made the rare decision earlier this year to pull an episode of the show, which is known for its frank assessment of race relations. The episode involved the main character, Dre, raising socially fraught issues while telling a bedtime story to his son. Mr. Barris is in negotiations to leave his ABC contract and begin working with Netflix.

Trump Rings Up Roseanne Barr After Her Show Is a Ratings Winner


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Roseanne Barr received a call from President Trump on Wednesday congratulating her on the high ratings her comedy had received. “Roseanne” is back on the air after more than two decades.

Credit
Brinson+Banks for The New York Times

President Trump made a personal phone call on Wednesday to a political supporter with a huge megaphone — Roseanne Barr.

Mr. Trump called Ms. Barr to congratulate her on the revival of her comedy, “Roseanne,” and to thank her for her support.

The call was confirmed by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary.

The president, an obsessive about how TV shows perform, was enthralled by the “huge” ratings “Roseanne” had received, said a person familiar with the call. The show’s first episode, broadcast Tuesday evening on ABC, averaged 18.2 million viewers.

“Roseanne,” featuring a working-class family of five and assorted relatives, returned to the air this week more than two decades after it ended its run. The lead actress’s character plays a backer of Mr. Trump. (Roseanne’s TV sister, Jackie Harris, by contrast, supports Hillary Clinton, though ultimately voted for Jill Stein.)

Ms. Barr herself has been a vocal defender of Mr. Trump.

In an interview with The New York Times published Tuesday, Ms. Barr said that she decided to turn her character, Roseanne Conner, into a Trump supporter because she felt it was an “accurate portrayal” of the political preferences of many working-class Americans.

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‘Roseanne’ Revival Wins Huge TV Ratings


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The actress and executive producer Roseanne Barr at the premiere of “Roseanne” in Burbank, Calif., last week. The star, a supporter of President Trump, has said the show would deal with the hot political moment the country is in.

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Valerie Macon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

At least for a night, America said it really did want more “Roseanne.”

The revival of the vintage ABC sitcom got off to an enormously strong start on Tuesday night, drawing 18.2 million viewers and a 5.1 rating among adults under 50, according to Nielsen. The “Roseanne” numbers rank as the highest total of any comedy on the broadcast networks since the 2014 season premiere of “The Big Bang Theory.”

For comparison’s sake, NBC’s reboot of “Will & Grace” in September drew a little over 10 million viewers and a 3.0 rating among 18- to 49-year-olds. Earlier this month, ABC’s revival of “American Idol” reached an audience of 10.3 million viewers and scored a 2.3 rating in the prize demographic. Both debuts were cause for celebration at both broadcast networks.

The “Roseanne” numbers, however, are in an entirely different category and stand to grow when delayed viewing is factored in.

Many TV industry executives were divided on whether or not a new version of “Roseanne” would take off. Though the industry has been in a reboot craze for the last two years (series like “Full House,” “Twin Peaks,” “The X-Files,” “One Day at a Time” and “Murphy Brown,” have all been brought back to life), the results have ranged from “meh” to solid.

Unlike those shows, “Roseanne” has seemingly appealed to viewers for reasons having nothing to do with nostalgia: In interviews leading up to the sitcom’s premiere, the show’s Emmy-winning star, Roseanne Barr, made it clear that she was a supporter of President Trump and let it be known that her program would grapple with a hot political moment that has divided some American families.

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Ms. Barr and John Goodman in a scene from the reboot of “Roseanne.”

Credit
Adam Rose/American Broadcasting Companies, Inc., via Associated Press

“I’ve always had it be a true reflection of the society we live in,” Ms. Barr said during a Television Critics Association press event in January. “Half the country voted for him, half of them didn’t. It’s just realistic.”

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Roseanne Conner Has Become a Trump Supporter. Just Like Her Creator.


Considering that Trump opposes many of the principles that you and Roseanne Conner have stood for, how can you support him?

No, he doesn’t, I don’t think he does. I don’t think so at all. I think he voices them quite well.

I’m thinking of abortion rights, same-sex marriage rights, labor protections —

He doesn’t oppose same-sex marriage.

He doesn’t favor it. He has not come out in favor of it.

He does. Yes, he does. He has said it several times, you know, that he’s not homophobic at all.

What about labor union protections and blue collar workers, and

What do you mean, the — oh, let’s not get into this.

[A representative for Ms. Barr interjected: “You don’t have to get into it. We can move on.”]

Well, you know, it’s —

Yes, let’s do.

A question people wonder about.

Well, I think working-class people were pissed off about Clinton and NAFTA, so let’s start there. That’s what broke all the unions and we lost all our jobs, so I think that’s a large part of why they voted for Trump because they didn’t want to see it continue, where our jobs are shipped away. So, it’s more, why did people support shipping our jobs away?

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Ms. Gilbert, pictured with Ms. Metcalf and Ms. Barr, is also an executive producer on the revival.

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ABC

Why is Trump O.K. but Pence is objectionable, by your lights?

I think Pence is not as good as Trump, not as accepting, and not as, you know — I think that he’s way more radical.

O.K. Let’s talk about the impact “Roseanne” had as a show. I remember your same-sex kiss with Mariel Hemingway in 1994 and all the queer characters on her show. Do you think that paved the way for the L.G.B.T. characters that followed?

I don’t know. You’ll have to ask somebody else. It’s not up to me to say those things.

But you thought those were important stories at the time, right?

I wouldn’t have taken the heat that I took if I didn’t think it was an important thing to do. Just like now. I’m taking a lot of heat, and if I didn’t think that I was right and that it was important, by God, I wouldn’t be doing it.

How has America changed since the first incarnation of “Roseanne”? How has that affected the current show’s humor?

Same jokes, same kind of thing. Just trying to get through paycheck to paycheck and handle it. Having no jobs and people losing their homes and you know that never, ever being talked about on television.

How did you guys address whether to have John come back since his character Dan is dead?

I always knew how I would do it, and I wrote it. Once John was in, I thought, well, I’m going to get a chance to continue the story that I always wanted to tell.

How Should I Rewatch ‘Roseanne’?

Before the reboot arrives, revisit some of the family sitcom’s smartest, funniest and most poignant episodes.


A lot of fans are wondering, how should we regard Dan’s death?

Well, I can’t tip it. You’ll see in the first show.

A lot of people thought the last season of “Roseanne” was pretty bad. In hindsight, do you?

No. I love it. I just watched a few of them and they were really funny. It was a departure though, but once you see why, you know I think it explains it all.

How many seasons do you think the new Roseanne will continue?

We all want to keep doing it so we just hope people like it and they watch it, and it gets renewed, you know, we all want that.

Is there a new character or story line you think is kind of a trailblazer, like the show was the last time around?

I like that Darlene’s a mom now because my kids are all parents. I thought that would ring a bell with most people, my age anyway. Like what are you doing with these kids? And it’s fun to have Darlene and her kids living in the house because we really get to dissect and discuss parenting.

Do you have an arc in mind for the next season if it comes to be?

Oh, yeah, of course I do. A family grows older.

Is Dan still alive?

Oh, yeah, hopefully. Hopefully we’re all going to be alive.

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Review: On ‘Roseanne,’ Times Have Changed, but They’re Still Tough


[ Hoping to catch up on the original “Roseanne” before watching the new episodes? Here are the key episodes to stream. ]

Roseanne never became a professional writer. Neither did her daughter Darlene (Sara Gilbert), who’s boomeranged back home with her two kids. Roseanne’s other daughter, Becky (Lecy Goranson), is a widow waiting tables, never having gotten a college degree. (Glenn Quinn, who had played Becky’s husband, Mark, died in 2002.)

The Conners aren’t just preserved. They’re stuck. And they’re stuck in a way that underlines the show’s original mission of representing the kind of paycheck-to-paycheck life that other, more upscale sitcoms of the era left behind.

In 1988, Roseanne and Dan were in their 30s, stretching to pay the mortgage. Now they’re in their 60s, swapping pills because their insurance doesn’t pay enough to fill all of their prescriptions. Dan lets Roseanne have all the anti-depressants: “If you’re not happy, I have no chance of being happy,” he says.

Close your eyes, and you could be listening to vintage “Roseanne.” This is good and bad. The series’s voice is intact, but the zinger-based dialogue and rhythms can feel dated.

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“Roseanne” picks up the story of the Conner family more than two decades later, with, from left, Michael Fishman, Jayden Rey, Ames McNamara, Mr. Goodman, Ms. Barr and Sara Gilbert.

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Adam Rose/ABC

But the beauty of the show’s language is how many feelings those zingers can communicate. The Conners use insults to express love and test old wounds. A conversation can shade from friendly chain-pulling to actual fighting and then back again.

In the first episode, the big fight is America’s big fight. Roseanne supported Donald J. Trump in 2016, as Ms. Barr vociferously did. This has alienated her from her sister, Jackie (Laurie Metcalf), who greets her, “What’s up, deplorable?”

Roseanne’s Trumpism has alienated her from some fans too, who say it doesn’t sound like the feminist who stood up to her bosses and shot down sexist pigs. “All human beings connect sex and love,” she once told Darlene. “Except for men.”

Personally, I wouldn’t have predicted it. But I buy it. First, the election left a lot of people stunned at the choices of (actual, nonfictional) friends they thought they knew. Second, Roseanne has always been a version of Ms. Barr, reimagined in different circumstances. And finally, well, people are complicated — “weird” is the Conners’ preferred self-description — and a strength of the show has always been its refusal to put people in neat boxes.

In any case, the story line is confined to one episode of the three screened for critics. The original series rarely talked politics openly; it just lived the country’s realities in all the little ways that matter. As Ms. Barr told The Los Angeles Times in 1992: “We do it. We don’t talk it.”

The other plots are more about personal struggles — work and school, bills and pills. The Conners’ son D.J. (Michael Fishman) is back from the Army, raising his young daughter while his wife serves in Syria. (The youngest Conner son, Jerry, is off somewhere working on a fishing boat.)

Becky, meanwhile, is applying to be a surrogate mother for a well-to-do woman — played by Sarah Chalke, who took over for Ms. Goranson as Becky in the show’s original run. It’s another meta joke, yes, but with a kick: Becky is trying to better her prospects by having a baby for another, more fortunate version of herself.

In one of the stronger new stories, Darlene’s son, Mark (Ames McNamara), a spirited nine-year-old who likes to wear skirts, discovers that Lanford, Ill., is not as tolerant of daring fashion choices as his old home in Chicago. It’s a nuanced episode, pitting his grandparents’ worry for him against the Conners’ constitutional mandate to be defiantly different.

It also echoes the third-season episode “Trick or Treat,” in which Dan fretted that D.J. would get bullied for dressing as a witch for Halloween, while Roseanne went to the bar in a convincing beard and passed herself off as one of the guys. (In the end, Dan broke up a bar fight she was about to get into: “He’s my husband!”)

There’s a lot more here that recalls earlier “Roseanne,” which I mean as a compliment, but also points up a limitation of today’s many revivals. In the best-case scenario, they can approximate the original. (Ms. Metcalf and Mr. Goodman fall back into their characters seamlessly.) But they’re too wed to expectations to improve on it.

This “Roseanne” at least has reasons to exist beyond, “Why not?” One of them is the same reason it was refreshing 30 years ago: There are scant few sitcoms now about working-class families, like “The Middle,” about to end its run on ABC, and “One Day at a Time,” just renewed at Netflix.

“Roseanne” is a revival that’s willing to grapple with the time that’s passed rather than deny it. It’s feisty and funny and a little sad. And like that old couch you can’t throw out, it may just have a good year or two left in it.

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