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Glance at the current TV listings, and you may think you’ve time-traveled back to the ’90s, with “Full House,” “The X-Files” and “Will & Grace” all airing new episodes in the past year. On Tuesday, ABC’s era-defining family sitcom “Roseanne” joins the nostalgia fest with a two-episode premiere of its first new season since 1997. True to form, the revival looks to be very much of its time: Its acerbic matriarch, played by Roseanne Barr, is a Trump supporter; her grandson is gender-fluid.
“Roseanne” cranked out 222 episodes during its original nine-season run. So, the prospect of revisiting Roseanne and her clan in advance of their comeback can seem daunting. Luckily, it only takes a few episodes to understand what made this love letter to the working-class American family so special.
This selection of highlights represents “Roseanne” at its smartest, funniest, and most poignant, and you should easily be able to get through these 22-minute episodes before the show returns at 8 p.m. on Tuesday. All the original episodes are available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
“Life and Stuff”
Great sitcoms don’t always start with great pilots. (See: “Seinfeld.”) But the first episode of “Roseanne” is wonderful, thanks to the immediate chemistry between Roseanne Barr and John Goodman, who plays Roseanne’s husband, Dan. There’s a lovely warmth to the Conners’ marriage, whether they’re flirting, fighting or just making each other laugh. The premiere also features a young George Clooney, in his first appearance as Roseanne’s boss at the plastics factory.
“Let’s Call It Quits”
Roseanne isn’t a big fan of her boss — until a new supervisor arrives, jacks up production quotas and starts calling his female employees “sweetie.” When Roseanne confronts him about his unreasonable demands, he agrees to ease up if she’ll start respecting his authority. The episode, which could easily have aired in 2018, smartly tackles class and gender in the workplace without devolving into over-earnestness.
“Inherit the Wind”
The Season 2 premiere has a very simple, very funny premise: Becky (Lecy Goranson), the eldest and most self-conscious Conner sibling, passes gas during a student council meeting. Of course, along with all of the other popular kids, the boy who’s supposed to take her out on a date that night is in attendance. Many inspired fart jokes follow, but the best thing about the episode is the way it balances that humor with empathy for teens and their fragile sense of self-esteem.
Some family comedies are famous for their Thanksgiving shouting matches or their heartwarming Christmas specials, but the Conners aren’t your average sitcom clan. Roseanne and Dan are Halloween people, and in the show’s inaugural celebration of the spooky holiday, the kids look on in mild mortification as their parents take turns scaring the pants off each other.
“One for the Road”
When Becky mixes up a batch of cocktails to impress a study buddy, both girls end up very drunk. It’s up to Darlene (Sara Gilbert), Becky’s younger sister and primary antagonist, to cover for them — which she does, but not without unleashing a whole lot of teasing. The result is the first of many excellent episodes focused on the delicate bond between these two very different sisters.
“An Officer and a Gentleman”
This classic episode stands apart for two reasons: First, Barr barely made an appearance; second, it’s among the best in the series. With Roseanne off to visit her injured father, her daffy younger sister, Jackie (Laurie Metcalf), steps in to play mom and finds herself bonding with Dan. Although the show certainly isn’t the same without Roseanne’s one-liners, it’s a different kind of treat to see two actors as talented as Metcalf and Goodman play off one another.
Roseanne holds plenty of jobs over the course of nine seasons. But she also spends some time as a stay-at-home mom, an undervalued role that she proudly explains to Darlene’s class in “Home-Ec.” Although her daughter finds the Career Day speech humiliating, Roseanne is such a hit that she gets permission to take the students on a field trip to the supermarket, where they get a pithy lesson in how a working-class mother keeps her family fed.
“A Bitter Pill to Swallow”
I like to think of this season premiere as the origin story for Amy Sherman-Palladino (who went on to create the Golden Globe-winning “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”). One of the many big-name showrunners who got their start on “Roseanne,” she helped write this episode when she was still Amy Sherman. As in “Gilmore Girls,” Sherman-Palladino’s first hit, the mother-daughter bonding quotient here is high. When 17-year-old Becky asks her mom for help getting birth control, Roseanne struggles to reconcile her feminist beliefs with an instinct to protect her kid.
“Darlene Fades to Black”
TV has made great strides in representing mental illness in the past few years, but it wasn’t always so sensitive to those issues. In that respect, as in many others, “Roseanne” was ahead of its time with this 1991 episode about Darlene’s depression. Without getting too dark, the show paints a realistic portrait of a teen who suddenly loses her enthusiasm for school, family, sports and her social life — and two parents who desperately want to help her but don’t know how.
When “Roseanne” ended its fourth season, in May of 1992, the United States was recovering from a recession, and the unemployment rate was higher than it had been since the early ’80s. The show addressed that crisis with a wrenching finale that illustrates the real impact of economic flux on a family that’s trying to live the American dream while surviving from paycheck to paycheck. First, Roseanne loses her job as a diner waitress as Dan’s bike shop hemorrhages money. Then the Conners realize they don’t have the money to send Becky to college.
“Terms of Estrangement: Parts 1 and 2”
This two-part season premiere takes place in the aftermath of the episode “Aliens,” as Dan is forced to close his business, Roseanne combs the obituaries for job leads and Becky blows up at her father for leaving her boyfriend and his former mechanic, Mark (Glenn Quinn), unemployed. In their unflinching refusal to offer easy solutions to the Conners’ plight, these episodes use searing gallows humor to convey the pain of feeling responsible for your children’s broken dreams.
“Crime and Punishment” and “War and Peace”
In another great two-part story, the Conners reckon with violence against women — and the destructive cycles it can perpetuate. When Darlene discovers that Jackie’s boyfriend has been hitting her, a family-wide reckoning ensues. As Roseanne pressures Jackie to leave him, the sisters are forced to confront their very different responses to having grown up with an abusive dad.
“Wait Till Your Father Gets Home”
Roseanne’s and Jackie’s complicated feelings toward their father resurface in this emotional episode, which takes place in the aftermath of his death. After Jackie bristles at her sister’s lingering contempt for him, Roseanne searches for some sign that he regretted hitting his kids. What she learns raises poignant questions about how we mourn the people who hurt us.
“A Stash From the Past”
Many “Roseanne” highlights veer into “Very Special Episode” territory, so the show’s take on marijuana is refreshing. When Roseanne finds a bag of weed in the house, she assumes it belongs to Darlene’s boyfriend, David (Johnny Galecki), and gives him the standard sitcom “You’re ruining your life” lecture. Then Dan realizes that the bag is actually Roseanne’s from way back when, and … they relive their youth by getting high with Jackie. The scene in which Barr, Goodman and Metcalf are stoned in the bathroom is among the funniest moments in TV history.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
“Roseanne” helped break ground for L.G.B.T. representation with this episode from 1994, which was so provocative at the time that ABC almost didn’t air it. Roseanne and Jackie spend a night at the gay bar with their friend Nancy (Sandra Bernhard) and her girlfriend, Sharon (Mariel Hemingway, in a charming guest appearance). While Jackie worries people will think she’s a lesbian, Roseanne has a ball — until Sharon kisses her. Roseanne’s subsequent reckoning with her own internalized homophobia is years ahead of its time.
“Lies My Father Told Me”
Like Roseanne, Dan carries around plenty of baggage from childhood. So, when his beloved mother checks into a mental institution, he immediately blames the father who neglected, then left them when Dan was a kid. The story that develops from there is a remarkably generous meditation on how family narratives are shaped and whether it’s possible to repair a relationship that has been broken for decades.
It is widely acknowledged that “Roseanne” exceeded its natural life span by approximately three seasons. But even though they’re pretty wacky, Seasons 7 through 9 feature their share of fun episodes. With that in mind, here’s a quick selection of late-period “Roseanne” highlights for every kind of fan.
If you want to see the Conners reckon with racism, watch “White Men Can’t Kiss.”
If you wonder what “Roseanne” would look like as a 1950s sitcom, watch “The Fifties Show.”
If you like Jenna Elfman, “Thelma and Louise” or riot grrrl, watch “The Getaway, Almost.”
If you want to see television’s first gay wedding, watch “December Bride.”
If you want to watch Barr stick it to her Disney overlords, watch “Springtime for David.”
If you wonder what “Roseanne” would look like as a 1960s sitcom, watch “Call Waiting.”
If you’re an “Absolutely Fabulous” fan, watch “Satan, Darling.”
If you want to bawl your eyes out — and, potentially, have some context for the reboot’s inevitable jokes about the original two-part series finale — watch “Into That Good Night.”