‘The Conners’ Season 3 Opens With Socially Distanced ‘Keep on Truckin’ Six Feet Apart’

The Conner family continues to survive as it moves into a socially distanced season 3. None of the family have caught Covid, because they’ve apparently set up a fortress against the impending pandemic. A very personal one, as the sickness hit the town pretty bad and the age of Covid-19 is all over “Keep on Truckin’ Six Feet Apart.” “The Conners” opens cute. Dan (John Goodman) has to outgun the fastest thermometer in Lanford to get into his own house, Becky (Alicia Goranson) loses her mashed potatoes in the kitchen partition which ensures diametric distance, Darlene (Sara Gilbert) would rather lose her sense of smell than whatever is being shoved up her nose to sniff. Family fun. 

The Conner family, of course, can never have too much fun for too long a time. The pandemic has hit the local businesses, restaurants are closing, Jackie’s (Laurie Metcalf) calves are now iron bars of muscular perfection because of all the miles she pumps delivering lunch meats by bike. The Wellman plastics factory is reopening, though, because it’s the most resilient unnatural creation on earth. “Game over, China,” Jackie gloats. Wellman Plastics looms large in the legend and canon of “Roseanne.” The now late Roseanne worked there with Jackie, who caught something contagious there from a coworker played by George Clooney. Booker was one of the first TV gigs the actor-director did coming up, and we get a flashback which is a major highlight for the episode. It is also a reminder of the vast difference the seasons in-between have made.

The episode has some great lines, and not all of them come from the main cast. “Whatever happened to the nice little drunk girl I made love to in a freezer,” Becky gets asked by her husband she’s hiding from ICE. The show excels at making fun of the universal disasters which make life miserable. Take Darlene, she has to give up the one job she’s ever been good at, and enjoys as much as the woman who wears her contempt for humanity as brazenly as she wears her face mask, because the economy takes down her outlet. The magazine she built with her boyfriend is one of the casualties of the pandemic, and not even free lawnmower repair for life can cure it. 

The scene between Darlene and Becky, while they are both in line to take the job they were obviously born to do, is the best act of the episode. It begins when Darlene says she’s giving up writing after “25 years of failure.” The crack comes when Sara Gilbert hits the word failure, it is a subtle but effective tic which serves as a teaser to when she finally breaks. Alicia Goranson downplays the response perfectly awkwardly. She lightens the mood, but it’s one she’d gladly darken.  

Of course, the pandemic hits the Conners where they live by the end of the episode. No, there aren’t any coughs or body failures, although it does look like Dan just might get a heart attack when he’s pulling solo duty stacking sheet rock, since the economic downturn forced him to lay off his crew. Dan needs all the money for himself, to save the only house the Connors have known from foreclosure. In an effective example of double pathos, Tito (Danny Trejo) is forced to serve Dan his eviction notice because hospital bills have wiped him out. The icing on the calamitous cake is when he says his son is rehabilitated enough to recognize the word “cat.”

“Keep on Truckin’ Six Feet Apart” is actually a first step in bringing the family closer together, or at least anteing up. The whole family gangs up on Dan who is too stubborn and proud to come to them when he needs help. Not that they can offer it, but it’s nice to be asked. It’s a wonder Dan Conner has any pride left at all after everything his family’s gone through. John Goodman may very well be the most emphatically engaging actor on screen. “The Conners” is a sitcom, but when Dan looks exhausted, we worry Goodman’s going to have a heart attack. 

“Keep on Truckin’ Six Feet Apart” is a markedly contemporary installment of “The Conners.” It spoofs very real fears with uncertainty being the common denominator. This may be the beginning of the lowest point the family can fall, and pratfalls are a comedy staple. The season 3 premiere works because it brings the promise of big suspense.

The Conners” season three premieres Oct. 21 and airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.