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Happy Birthday, "Roseanne"

By Rich Heldenfels Published: October 18, 2013

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the series premiere. I remember when the then-Roseanne Arnold was on a press tour to promote show; she was whip-smart, funny, unassuming (she said if the show was a hit, she and her husband might go to different homes to thank people directly), provocative (her description of Mormons was especially blunt) -- and charming. I liked her, and I really liked her show. Years later, as the show was winding down, I said this:

From the late '80s to the early '90s,  Roseanne was one of the best series on television, sometimes the best of all. ... The story of the working-class Conner family, headed by Dan (John Goodman) and Roseanne (Roseanne Barr, later Arnold, now no-last-name), the series was funny in a serious way.

The Conners had recurring money troubles. They had deep problems with some of their relatives. The Conner children were good but far from perfect. And somehow the family found a way to keep going.

Many critics, infatuated with the more upscale (and far less adept) Murphy Brown or offended by the assertive Roseanne's off-camera behavior, did not at first see the values in Roseanne. Fortunately, audiences caught on immediately after it premiered in 1988.

Roseanne was second only to The Cosby Show in its first season, and was among the five most popular series in prime time for six seasons. Though disdained by the television industry -- which chronically overlooked Roseanne at Emmy time -- the series was blessed with good writing, solid acting (particularly from Goodman and Laurie Metcalf, as Roseanne's sister, Jackie) and a strong sense of what the show was.

Like so many families watching the show, the Conners did not thrive so much as get by. But they did it with a core of love and affection which, even if it could not overcome problems, made them bearable.

The show could not keep up the high quality through its entire run; the final season was disastrous, and the series finale an even bigger mess. But it deserves to put next to other great sitcoms.

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