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Home > Columnists > Doug Strassler
March 27, 2018

The Ten Best Episodes of “Roseanne”


The original cast of "Roseanne." ()

by Doug Strassler

Roseanne was one of the great watershed pieces of entertainment – ever. More than a comedy, more than a television series, it was a revolution that cut class commentary across race and gender and proved to be one of the most fertile sandboxes for actors and writers, giving many of the industry’s great talents their start. Twenty years after the series’ initial finale, the first of its nine new episodes airs tonight in its old perch on ABC. Can any of these episodes work their way into the Conner canon? It’s possible, but as the list (in descending order of greatness) below makes clear, they have an uphill battle ahead of them. They’re staring at an army of giants.

“Terms of Estrangement” Season 5, Episodes 1 and 2

Roseanne’s fifth season doesn’t only represent the midpoint of its run; it’ also the show’s most ambitious, taking great dramatic risks while continuing to find humor in flaw and misfortune. In a response to the tumultuous (and oddly, oft-forgotten) George H. W. Bush recession of the early 1990s, Dan and Roseanne’s bike shop folds, leaving Becky, their sole academically-minded child, with few options and forever upending the dynamic of the Conner household. Note: these two episodes were both directed by Andrew Weyman, who would helm almost the entirety of this seminal season.

Line: Roseanne: “I knew we shouldn't have gone into business for ourselves! There's no one to steal from.”  

“Homecoming” (Season 6, Episode 9)

Dan revisits his glory days when his high school football team celebrates its twentieth anniversary, but this is also the episode where Sarah Chalke replaces Alicia Goranson as Becky. Unlike in the daytime world, characters were usually written out when an actor passed away or left the show; “New Becky,” as she would be called, was the first example of replacement casting in prime time in several decades, and the show milked this move for the remainder of its run, especially when Goranson signed back on later.

Favorite line: Roseanne to “New Becky:” “Watch it, young lady. You can be replaced.”  

“Let’s Call It Quits” (Season 1, Episode 23)

Much of the show’s debut season took place at Wellman Plastics, where Roseanne, Jackie, and their friends worked. But Roseanne leads a walkout when she calls out her boss, Keith Faber (Fred Dalton Thompson), on his chauvinistic behavior. It would not be the last time Roseanne would have to find a new job. One of the elements the series dealt with so magnificently was the difficulty, and often the indignity, of trying to find and keep blue-collar work.

Favorite line: Roseanne: “We wouldn't have anything if I quit. I wouldn't get hospitalization, I wouldn't get unemployment, none of the kids could get sick, or grow.”

Dan: “We got along without hospitalization before. We got married and they said we'd never make it. We had 3 kids and they said we'd never make it. You know what we are? We're like one of those clown balloons, every time somebody punches us, we just rise back up.”

“It’s a Boy (Season 5, Episode 19)

Roseanne Conner often objected to Darlene’s boyfriend, David, because he was the younger brother of Becky’s husband, Mark. But when she witnesses the cruelty David experienced at home under single mother Barbara (Oscar-nominee Sally Kirkland), she changes her tune and tells David to move in with them. This episode demonstrates the typical compassion that underscored every episode of the show, regardless of how brash the Conner family members might have been to one another.

Favorite line: Roseanne: “Welcome to Roseannadu!”

“Lies My Father Told Me” (Season 6, Episode 21)

John Goodman was the first performer to be Emmy-nominated for the series, and speculation contends that he never won for the series because he submitted episodes that failed to show him at his best. This episode, written by Eric Gilliland and Rob Ulin, should have been the one to secure him a statuette. Dan learns the depth of his mother’s (the late, great Ann Wedgeworth) mental illness and also must reconcile with his errant father (Ned Beatty). Alas, Goodman lost to Kelsey Grammer – but would eventually pick up an Emmy for guest starring on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

Favorite line: Darlene: “Only in our family can someone be nutcase for twenty years without anyone noticing.”

Roseanne: “We notice, Darlene, we're just ignoring you.”

“Aliens” (Season 4, Episode 25)

It’s the best of times and the worst of times for the Conners: they have to tell Becky that there is no money in her college fund, but DJ turns out to be a spelling genius, winning at the local Lanford spelling bee (the tiebreaking word: “foreclosure”). Well, almost a genius: DJ still can’t figure out a way to wash out hair gel without removing his suit jacket first. The post-bee ice cream celebration perfectly epitomizes the show’s central crux: through the hard times, always love, always fun. And a bonus for giving DJ, the least-utilized Conner, a moment of glory.

Favorite line: Dan: “Remember our family motto: we're Conners, we gotta eat.”

Second favorite line: Mike Summers: “Hi, I'm Mike Summers, your state representative. I'm going door-to-door, trying to get to know my constituents.”

Roseanne: “Oh, door-to-door, huh. That takes a lot of time. Why don'tcha just go down to the unemployment office, and see everybody all at once.”

“A Bitter Pill to Swallow” (Season 4, Episode 1)

High schooler Becky admits to her mother that she is sexually active and wants to go on birth control – at a time when most network sitcoms avoided such conversation. This episode, written by Amy Sherman (later to create Gilmore girls and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) and Jennifer Heath, is the one episode to ever receive an Emmy nomination for writing.

Favorite line: Jackie: “Roseanne, maybe you need to sit down.”

Roseanne: “No, I need to lie down...In a big pine box!”

“An Officer and a Gentleman” (Season 2, Episode 15)

My God how I love this episode. Roseanne Barr had a dispute with ABC at the time of this episode’s writing, so they worked around her: Jackie plays mom while an emergency sends her sister out of town. The children get to experience life with an attentive mother for once, and Jackie gets to experience a heretofore sense of fulfillment. But the killer is when Jackie and Dan reminisce about their high school years, when she was just the younger sister of his steady. Dan reveals he remembers exactly who she was the first time they met, and for Jackie, it’s the kind of love she rarely experienced from the many she dated. (Laurie Metcalf does more with a silent reaction than most can with a full monologue – though the show often put those to magnificent effect in her hands as well.)

Favorite line:  Dan: “What are you doing here?”

Jackie: “Playing housewife.”

Dan: “I don't think this room has ever been used for that before.”

“Crime and Punishment” (Season 5, Episode 13) and “War and Peace” (Season 5, Episode 14)

Case in point, from above: I’m pairing these linked episodes together because only then do they tell the full story. Roseanne learns that Fisher, Jackie’s current boyfriend (and for a long time, real-life partner of Laurie Metcalf), has been beating her. And here we understand the code among people like the Conners: no matter what, they do their best to provide, and to protect. Dan confronts Fisher, his colleague, and beats him, knowing he will be arrested. Weyman also directed these episode, expertly navigating between the humor (Roseanne leaning on Darlene for help during this sensitive time) and the pathos (Jackie’s shame, Roseanne’s clandestine pride for Dan). Metcalf won her second straight Emmy for these episodes – and they might not even be her best. Read below.

Favorite line: Roseanne, after Dan has returned from attacking Fisher: “Oh, my God. You didn't kill him and then go buy chicken, did ya?”  

“A Stash From the Past” (Season 6, Episode 4)

I’ve seen this episode dozens of times, and the same exact moments continue to crack me up. Roseanne mistakenly thinks a hidden bag of marijuana belongs to David until Dan remembers that it is their own. Cut to Dan, Jackie, and Roseanne post-toke in their own bathroom, craving food, experiencing paranoia, and ultimately realizing that toking up might just not be their thing anymore. This episode is genius.

Favorite line: Jackie: “Look at me, I've got nothin'. No boyfriend, no meaningful job, no husband, no family. It's just me. It's just me and my ganja.”

"Wait Till Your Father Gets Home" (Season 5, Episode 16)

Roseanne the series often interjected serious social issues into its storylines, but among the most potent was the revelation that Roseanne’s father had abused his two daughters as children. The series addresses that topic again when Roseanne learns her estranged father has passed away.  This episode begins with such hilarity (Jackie desperately struggling to inform a hearing-impaired relative of her father’s death over the phone) that its seamless transition to confessional drama (Roseanne and Jackie getting no closure from their father’s mistress) is downright instructional. But its Roseanne’s solo monologue, addressing her father’s casket and addressing her own confusion about loving a monster, that likely did the impossible – it brought the show’s audacious star her lone career Emmy.

Favorite line: Jackie: I said Dad has passed away... He's passed away!... Dad is gone!... Dad's dead!... He's dead!... NO, *DEAD!*... *DAD!*... He's fine! He sends his love! Bye!”  (seriously, how could this woman be denied an Oscar this year?)

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