‘Roseanne’ gets caught up in the opioid crisis

  • Roseanne Barr and John Goodman appear in the “Roseanne” revival on ABC. Adam Rose / ABC

Washington Post
Wednesday, May 16, 2018

This could explain why the new Roseanne isn’t like the old one. Drugs. Lots and lots of drugs.

Since its politically steeped premiere, ABC’s Roseanne reboot has been promising an upcoming opioid story line. As regular everyday Main Street dwelling Americans, it made sense that the Conners would be touched by the prescription drug epidemic that’s dominating headlines. The only question was who? Which member of the clan would be a statistic.

The episode began with a familiar scene in the new-old Conner HQ: Roseanne complaining about her bum knee. Throughout the season, the family matriarch has been in pain and popping the occasional pill for it. Now the bottle is half empty, and Roseanne claims her pills have gone missing.

“We have a serious opioid problem in this country,” explains Aunt Jackie, the show’s liberal chorus. The former police officer does some light interrogating to smoke out the suspected pill thief, but everyone in the house appears clean. Dan suggests they just “hide the pills in a safer place” going forward. Cool, but what to do in the meantime?

“I can’t get a damn refill for two more weeks, and my knee is holding a gun to my head,” said Roseanne while holding an old school rubber ice bag to the offending body part. Dan, of course, comes to the rescue – sort of. The couple don’t have full medical coverage, you see, so he’ll have to pull some strings and get more of his own back pain pills to give to Roseanne. It’s a classic Conner hustle move.

Meanwhile Darlene has been offered a waitressing gig at the local casino that has full benefits, oh, and a very racy uniform attached. At first, she isn’t too keen on the whole “river boat whore vibe” (her words), but Dan, the family hero, convinces her otherwise.

“You know what I’d give right now to have full coverage for your mother’s knee? Sometimes you just have to suck it up and put your family first,” he tells his younger (and let’s be real, favorite) daughter. In the end Darlene, who has dreams of being a writer, and who also has two kids to raise alone, swallows her pride and takes the job slinging cocktails to slot machine junkies.

All the while, the case of the missing pills goes unsolved until Dan and Roseanne’s wedding anniversary celebration. The couple end up sharing a bottle of cheap Mexican champagne, and Roseanne, who’s way more drunk than she should be (even on cheap Mexican champagne), spills the beans in a tipsy truth moment. She had some extra Vicodin stashed away. Suddenly her signature laugh seems a little seedier. The show’s title character has a major problem.

The next morning Dan confronts his wife of 45 years at the worn-down Conner kitchen table. Exhibits A, B and C are three bottles of prescription pain pills that Dan’s discovered hidden all over the house. We find out that Roseanne has managed to finagle leftover pills from other folks around town.

“I’m in pain, so I take a few extra pills,” she said. “It’s not like I’m a drug addict.”

The standoff between the two of them is classic Roseanne. As always the reigning matriarch takes matters into her own hands – this time her health – while the lovable patriarch remains largely in the dark until things come to a head. And money is always a thing for the Conners. They need $3,000 to pay the insurance deductible for Roseanne’s knee surgery, which means the problem won’t get fixed anytime soon.

“I just didn’t say anything because we can’t afford the surgery, and I got these pills because were going to be dealing with this for a long time. You don’t have any idea how bad it hurts,” explains Roseanne.

Dan counters, “You’re taking this for more than pain.”

She promises to cut back as Dan heads to the door to “take a walk” and try to get his head around the problem. His plan is to magically make ends meet somehow, get Rosie’s knee fixed and put a bow on it. But this show was never known for pretty bows. Roseanne always rejected the typical tidy sitcom ending where all problems are solved in a tight 30 minutes. So while Dan is out stewing, Roseanne unscrews the top of her trusty ice bag and reaches inside to pull out, you guessed it, another hidden bag of prescription pills.

The show promised to bring the opioid crisis into focus for middle America, and saddling its star – the tough as nails Roseanne – with addiction is gut punch move that could actually bring the show, which thus far has featured almost gimmicky political one-offs, closer to its original authenticity.