When we last saw the Conner family, lives were in a familiar state of tatters.
Dan (John Goodman) saw his drywall business stumbling and his home was foreclosure. One daughter, Darlene (Sarah Gilbert, shown here with Goodman) struggled to start a local magazine; another, Becky, tried to cope with belated motherhood.
Could anything else go wrong? Definitely. “The characters were built for disaster,” producer-writer Bruce Helford said in a virtual session with the Television Critics Association..
The “Conners” season-finale aired in May, but was taped before the virus shutdown. Now the show is back, at 9 p.m. Wednesdays; its return (Oct. 21) makes ABC the first network this season with a non-rerun night of situation comedies. And yes, the pandemic is instantly reflected. As Helford put it: “A family that knows how to get through hard times … is thrown a curve like never before.”
The fictional troubles of the Conners reflect “the things that we’ve all been going through,” said John Goodman, who stars as Dan Conner.
Well, some of us more than others. The actors, one assumes, haven’t had any money problems. Their crises were more emotional, as Lecy Goranson (who plays Dan’s daughter Becky) described.
“I have just been totally by myself …. Menial tasks really were helping me get by, because it was just something to do, to not think. (But) that wore off and then other things wore off.”
For the fictional family, being alone isn’t a problem. Dan has three children and four grandchildren, plus his late wife’s sister (Laurie Metcalf), his girlfriend (Katey Sagal), his daughter’s boyfriend (Jay R. Ferguson) and more. This little house is often stuffed … and he’s had trouble paying for it.
Viewers met these people 32 years ago, as the the scope of TV comedies suddenly broadened.
That was a post-Bunker era, when sitcoms were filled with white-collar comfort. The most popular one, “The Cosby Show,” centered on a doctor married to a lawyer.
Then “Roseanne” (as it was called back then) arrived in 1988. Roseanne Barr starred as Dan’s wife, working with her sister Jackie at Wellman Plastics, where their boss was George Clooney. “Working with George was fantastic …. He’s infamous for being such a practical joker,” Metcalf said.
Viewers embraced it instantly. In its first year, “Roseanne” was second only to “Cosby” in the Nielsen ratings; the next year, it tied “Cosby” for No. 1. It spent four more years in the top-four and two more at No. 10 and 16. After ratings fell the next season, it ended its nine-year run.
Two decades later, ABC timidly approved a reboot, for eight late-season episodes. Ratings were huge, the show was given a key spot in the fall line-up … then was dropped after Barr’s tweet drew disdain.
Sara Gilbert (who plays Darlene) led the charge to keep the show alive. It returned with Dan widowed.
Goodman, 68, describes him as a guy who’s “pretty much where I’m at – broken-down, a shell of my former self, and on my knees, begging for mercy from God.”
And wishing he could get mercy from the bank. The “Conners” third-season opener flashes the money problems and brings key job changes. As usual, it finds a fair amount of humor and hope.
The second episode, Helford said, will be keyed to its Oct. 28 date. It “discusses Halloween, because Halloween won’t be the same this year” and discusses “the polarization of America.”
The show has always been like that, willing to suddenly turn serious. One episode, Gilbert said, “deals with toxic work environment.” Chances are, it will be funny and the Conners will survive.
– Oct. 21: “The Goldbergs” at 8 and 8:30 p.m., “The Conners” at 9, “Black-ish” at 9:30.
– Oct. 28: “American Housewife” takes the 8:30 spot.
– Other comedies – “Mixed-ish” and the new “Call Your Mother” – will be mid-season.