Is ‘Roseanne’ the conservatives’ ‘All in the Family’?

If there’s one TV show in history that has not held up well over the years, it’s All in the Family, perhaps the most groundbreaking television show of my generation. It, of course, confronted things — racism, for example — that TV steadfastly avoided.

Then the country moved on, or so we thought.

There hasn’t been anything like it on TV since, really. But now, many of the experts are trying to boost the reboot of Roseanne to that status. Roseanne Barr, who makes no secret of her admiration for President Trump, is representing a segment of America that — the conventional wisdom says — is underrepresented: the conservative in Middle America, even as it controls virtually every level of government.

“She’s talking about jobs and the economy and how her family almost lost her house and President Trump was actually talking about jobs. That’s something you don’t see on television. Most of the time we see how Trump supporters have horns and they’re horrible and they’re ruining the country,” Meghan McCain said this week, hours after Roseanne against showed a strong audience in flyover country.

Like All in the Family before it, Roseanne is angering the political opposites.

On Twitter today, Kelvin Yu, a writer on Bob’s Burgers finds little redeeming value in the show, using this joke as a reason why.

In the scene, Roseanne and Dan fall asleep while watching ABC (Roseanne’s network), sleeping through all of the network’s offerings.

“We slept from Wheel to Kimmel,” says Roseanne.

“We missed all the shows about black and Asian families,” Dan says.

“They’re just like us. There, now you’re all caught up,” Roseanne responds.

What’s wrong with making fun of two ABC shows, one featuring a black family and one featuring an Asian one?

Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, an organization fostering acceptance of LGBTQ individuals, doesn’t see the show as a mere affirmation of traditional conservative values.

Ellis, who worked with producers on the show’s reboot, writes in USA Today that the story lines speak to a much broader reality of middle America.

We’ve now also met Roseanne’s biracial grandchild Mary, heard Roseanne and Dan discuss the realities of rising health care costs, received a warning from Jackie about guns, and met Darlene’s son, Mark, a young boy who likes to express himself by wearing traditionally feminine clothes — all topics that millions of Americans are dealing with in their daily lives, often with no representation on television that feels accessible and real.

Like spanking, for example, something that has Vanity Fair’s Laura Bradley worked up because the urge for a cheap laugh trumped an issue that once dominated a season of the old Roseanne.

“Your generation made everything so P.C.,” Roseanne gripes to Darlene. She’s incensed that Gen X parents won’t spank their kids; instead, she says, “you tell them to go over there and think about what they did wrong. You know what they’re thinking? I can’t believe this loser isn’t spanking me.”

Let me tell you something,” Roseanne’s husband, Dan, adds. “I wrote a poem for my dad. Then he hit me with a broom. And then he said, ‘This broom will do more for you than any poem.’ And that was the greatest generation.” Eventually, Roseanne shoves her granddaughter’s head in the sink and sprays her with the faucet to teach her a lesson, while Darlene realizes that perhaps she’s given her daughter more leeway than she should have. Throughout all of this, nobody acknowledges the repeated trauma Roseanne and Jackie faced at the hands of their father, who used to discipline them with a belt. And no one mentions the fact that, at least as far as viewers of the original series saw, Roseanne never spanked any of her children, either—save for one incident that ended with an emotional apology from Roseanne to D.J.

It came in Season 6, Episode 11, “The Driver’s Seat,” in which D.J. stole the family car and drove it into a ditch. Wracked with stress from work, Roseanne snaps, yelling at D.J. before spanking him. As D.J. flees to his room, Roseanne is visibly shaken as Dan, who knows about Roseanne and Jackie’s history, tries to assure her that what she just did was “not that big a deal.”

“You’re not helping, Dan,” Jackie says. “You didn’t grow up in our house . . . She was out of control; it was just like Dad!” Later on, she says, “These patterns repeat.”

Roseanne agrees. Once she gathers herself, she sits at the table with D.J. and apologizes: “I’m really sorry that I hit you, D.J. I mean, it was totally wrong. I never should have done that, and I am so mad at myself for doing it.” While it was clear that the series understood the historical difference between spanking and the kind of abuse Roseanne and Jackie endured, it also establishes that the relationship between those two actions is too close for Roseanne—who tearfully vows to D.J. that she will never hit him again, “no matter what you do.”

This history makes Roseanne and Dan’s unambiguous support for corporal punishment in the revival more than a little jarring. Even Darlene’s response to her parents’ attitude ignores their shared past, instead taking aim at Dan’s father’s general craziness—something we never really saw during his appearances on the original series. It’s possible that Roseanne and Dan never revealed details of her trauma to Darlene—but Jackie, who sits silently at the table throughout the discussion about Harris, certainly knew about it.

“It’s that lopsided dynamic that makes it difficult to buy arguments that the new Roseanne isn’t as political or as conservative as it was originally perceived to be. Roseanne Barr and Roseanne Conner might not be the same person, but at the very least, it’s clear that Roseanne-the-character has become a vehicle for conservative talking points—even when they don’t precisely match up to the person she once was,” she argues.

Will the show reveal a complexity that any ‘groundbreaking’ program must have to be truly groundbreaking? Maybe. Maybe not. We’ll never know. Instead the show will likely extend the daily battleground of political conversation and the ratings report every week will be considered a referendum on national politics.