Mar 16, 2013

Roseanne: Gay Middle America

A dozen nuclear-family sitcoms sprang up during the conservative retrenchment of the 1980s, but Roseanne (1988-1997) was vastly different from the standard TGIF Family Ties and Growing Pains.

1. The usual TGIF family was affluent, but the Connors were strictly working class.  Dan (John Goodman) was a mechanic, and Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) worked in a factory and a hair salon before opening a "loose meat" restaurant.

2. The usual TGIF family was kid-dominated, with Dad to offer sage advice and Mom mostly irrelevant, but Roseanne was the undisputed head of the household.

3. The usual TGIF family was aggressively polite, at least to each other, but the Connors argued, fought, and traded insults (with the requisite undertow of affection, of course).

4. There was no teenage hunk; the Connor kids consisted of teenage girls Becky (Lecy Goranson, Sarah Chalke) and Darlene (Sarah Gilbert, left), and preteen boy DJ (Michael Fishman).  Eventually Becky married Mark (Glenn Quinn), and the Connors adopted the shy, artistic David (Johnny Galecki, right), who began dating Darlene, but neither provided many beefcake shots.

5. There were gay people.  Lots of them. And they weren't even living in Manhattan. Including one of the first bisexual characters on tv who wasn't evil or "confused": Roseanne's friend Nancy. Plus Leon Carp, Roseanne's  uptight boss, and his partner (for whom Roseanne arranges a wedding, with drag legend Milton Berle as a guest).

Roseanne goes to a gay bar, and acts the part of the "helpful heterosexual" by teaching all the gays to dance.  She negotiates an amorous kiss.  She deals with the possibility that DJ might be gay.  She plans Leon's wedding.  By the time Roseanne's mother, Bev, came out as a lesbian at age 62 -- and instantly found a girlfriend at a senior citizen gay club -- Roseanne had about as many gay-themed episodes as Will and Grace.

Although Roseanne herself has come out as quite homophobic in her old age, many of her cast members have been involved with gay-positive projects.  Glenn Quinn (right) played a gay-vague demon with a crush on the vampire detective Angel.  Johnny Galecki played a gay character (with a full-frontal nude scene) in The Little Dog Laughed.  John Goodman, who was rather homophobic as Dan, starred (briefly) as a gay man in Normal, Ohio.  Sarah Gilbert came out as a lesbian in 2010.

Michael Fishman hasn't been involved in any gay-themed projects, but he has grown up into quite a hunk.