‘Roseanne’ Ends Season 10 Knee Deep in Tides of Change

ABC’s “Roseanne” came back to great ratings and response, bolstered by both the long-anticipated reunion of one of America’s favorite TV families, but also because of a perceived turn in political loyalties. So much ink and online press was dedicated to the Trump support, you might have thought Roseanne Barr leaked the Benghazi emails herself. Tim Allen’s “Last Man Standing” was renewed on the power of the gravitational pull, in spite of being yanked by the very same network that found gold in Lanford, Illinois. It turns out, as the first season of the revival comes to a close on the eve of a knee operation that will determine next season’s content, this was all fake news.

“Roseanne,” which shattered boundaries of production rights and decorum during its original run, from October 18, 1988, to May 20, 1997, condensed the nation’s sociopolitical struggles into relatable human form: a working-six-jobs class American family from the heartland itself. The show built its reputation on the gnawed bones of the authoritarian class, and was an equal opportunity offender. This has not changed.

The season opened with Roseanne and Dan Connor (John Goodman) trading each other’s pills to keep their regulated ailments prescribed and ends with those pills taking center stage. It’s been reported that “Roseanne” will move away from politics as it moves into its next season, but the prescription pill problem is a political football. And the Connors, and Roseanne specifically, has been kicking that pigskin into groin of the social landscape like a George C. Scott cameo on “The Simpsons” from all angles all year. A late-season entry saw the conservative and paranoid mom-and-grandma on 714 Delaware Street pay the balance on a grocery bill and lash out at a racist cashier who tried to publicly humiliate her next-door neighbor, who is from the Middle East. Roseanne did this just hours after she herself was filled with unease after spying too many bags of fertilizer being dumped on her family’s lawn.

Everybody’s got issues. Making ends meet is a universal problem, D.J. (Michael Fishman), who served in Syria, couldn’t re-up after his tour of duty and goes into the gig economy with his father, fixing motorcycles. Becky (Alicia Goranson) waits tables at an upscale taco joint who eye-rolls her way through Spanish-language versions of “Happy Birthday.” She gives up a job with full benefits as a casino cocktail waitress to her sister Darlene (Sara Gilbert), who repays her by showing her the outfit she has to wear. Becky one-ups her sister by gifting her with a push-up bra to push up tips.

As the title of the last episode promises, the family finds itself “Knee Deep” in the rising flood of overwhelming responsibility, and the need for inclusiveness. Dan considers hiring the cheap labor of non-union immigrant workers, abandoning his long-time friend and usual business partner, in order to pay for the knee surgery that’s waylaid Roseanne with pain. This brings us back to the pill problem. The second-to-last episode sees those pills disappearing, and former police officer Jackie goes into investigator mode, giving Laurie Metcalf one last chance to out-Barney Fife Don Knotts himself.

The hype leading up the season was a bait-and-switch job. Roseanne proclaimed herself as the rising voice of the far right, but not the all-white. Her steadfast support of her gender-questioning grandson, the threats she made on behalf of her Muslim neighbor, and her diverse group of close-knit friends shows the struggling classes as an international coalition. As the arc moves past the knee surgery next year, we will witness another bait-and-switch. The new showrunner may promise that “Roseanne” will be less political, but the show will continue to feature the large problems of little people as an artful way to paint a big picture.

Roseanne” season 10 finale aired on May 22 on ABC.