Good Cinema: It’s a Gift (Dir: Norman Z. McLeod, 1934)

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“If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull.
– W.C. Fields

W.C. Fields is a celebrated, yet underrated, singular icon in the history of entertainment – the lovable misanthrope who hated kids and loved booze, heavily armed with a cynical zinger. Yet I fear this is too simple. This deprives Bill, as he was informally known, of his humanity. The archetype of Fields as a mean ol’ drunk was one built toward the end of his career, thanks mostly to his cantankerous radio tête-à-têtes with Charlie McCarthy, his escalated levels of drinking (which only rose with age and the impending doom of his declining career), and also the ways in which his latter films like You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man (1939) had anything resembling sentiment removed from them by the studio for the sake of slowing down the jokes. But if you look at his earlier films, behind the snark, behind the swindle, was a lonely man, hiding behind the bombast, trying to do right by the family who seemed to hate him.

To know his family history taints, or more accurately, paints his work with an autobiographical brush. Born in Philadelphia in 1880, Fields left school to work with his father selling fruit at age 12. It was here where he first learned to juggle, using the merchandise from his father’s fruit cart, and practicing his craft by watching a traveling circus act. His family completely discouraged any dreams of stardom (his grandmother even destroyed all of his props he had been collecting) and Fields eventually ran away from home to get away from his father’s abusive ways, promising not to return until he was a star.

Fields met and married his wife Hattie when they were both cast in a review called The Monte Carlo Girls. Hattie became his juggling partner, touring the world as a double until she became pregnant. Now with child, she returned to the States, wanting Fields to abandon his career for a life of provincial Americana. But Fields refused. Hattie held this decision against him for the rest of his life, using their son as collateral to guilt money out of him, and turning the young Fields against his father. Fields, having emotionally moved on with other women, begged Hattie for a divorce, but her Catholicism wouldn’t allow it. They remained married – and bitter rivals – until he died; and even then she strong-armed his estate into giving her the lion’s share of his earnings. The nagging, manipulative Hattie and their helpless son Claude (who relied on his father’s checks for survival well into adulthood) were the models for all of his “wife” and “son” characters in his work.

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***

Fields’ genius afforded him a rare level of autonomy in his work during the Studio System of Hollywood. He had starred in vaudeville and burlesque as the most respected and versatile juggler in the business; Broadway musicals; and the Ziegfeld Follies with Will Rogers, Fanny Brice, and Eddie Cantor where he honed his comedic zest and skills as a writer; worked in both silent and sound films, directed by luminaries like George Cukor, D.W. Griffith, and Mack Sennett and acted alongside such formidable talents as Elsa Lanchester and Mae West. Later, he performed in radio with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, with whom he had an ongoing “feud.” The only medium he didn’t tackle was television and that was only because he died in 1946.

He rehearsed his physical bits tirelessly until every movement was choreographed to perfection (an obvious harken to his juggling days), yet struggled to remember his lines. Or possibly he was just contemptuous of the idea of playing by anyone else’s rules. Whichever the reason, Fields was an ingenious improvisor, never doing a second take the same. No one ever really directed W.C. Fields – or wrote for him for that matter; if they knew what was good for them, they merely stayed out of the way and allowed him to be brilliant.

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He was a shrewd businessman, grossing $50000 a week in 1930s cash, in addition to his fees for the writing, which could earn him an additional $15000 – $25000. Even though Fields was quite wealthy, he never wanted to appear so on film. He believed that comedy came from struggle and always made his characters circus performers (based on his own experiences as a traveling performer) or working class men trying to find his slice of the American Dream among the crash of the Stock Market and the Great Depression, a character not so subtly modeled after his father and the family life he left behind in Philadelphia. Occasionally, his characters would hit a windfall, but in the end, it was all a way for him to enjoy the simple things in life. Like a drink in the middle of the day with his best pals.

Like the greatest comedians, he recycled material relentlessly, trying to create the “authoritative” version of a bit. Many of his films were based on sketches he had written for the Ziegfeld Follies or Earl White’s Scandals (another review show in which he starred on Broadway): For example, You’re Telling Me!, a sound remake of the silent So’s Your Old Man, featured his famous golf routine, which had been its own short film based on his sketch from the Follies.

W.C. Fields – like Mae West, Lucille Ball, Abbott and Costello, the Marx Brothers, and really any other legendary comedian of the first half of the 20th century – is not solely defined by a single performance, a single film; they exist as personalities with very little deviation; well honed “types,” variations on a theme, that find themselves in a series of situations with similar results: Mae’s sexuality (and sharp witted tongue) could always get her out of trouble; Lucy’s schemes (whether as Mrs. Ricardo/Carmichael/Carter/Barker) always got her in trouble with the male authority in her life; Abbott was the con-man to Costello’s naif (yet ended up getting conned himself in the end); and Groucho and his Brothers existed in a world with no consequences, where zaniness and chicanery were met with reward.

Fields essentially played two characters in rotation:

  • the Swindler, a carney who uses his gregarious charm to coax chumps out of a dollar
    • For examples, see:
      • Pool Sharks (1915)
      • Sally of the Sawdust (1925)
      • Two Flaming Youths (1928)
      • The Old Fashioned Way (1934)
      • Poppy (1935)
      • You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man (1939)
  • the Everyman who tries against all odds to provide for his family while they – led by the nagging wife – are embarrassed by his failures and refuse to believe in him.
    • For examples, see:
      • It’s the Old Army Game (1926)
      • So’s Your Old Man (1926)
      • The Potters (1927)
      • Running Wild (1927)
      • The Dentist (1932)
      • The Barbershop (1933)
      • The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933)
      • You’re Telling Me! (1934)
      • It’s a Gift (1934)

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In It’s a Gift (1934), possibly his greatest and tightest film, Fields plays Harold Bissonette (which his wife insists on pronouncing “bis-o-nay” to sound fancy), a small town New Jersey grocer who uses his inheritance from his uncle’s death to buy an orange grove in California, much to his wife’s chagrin (played by the indomitable Kathleen Howard). The film is comprised of five distinctive bits that could stand alone, but collectively create a beautiful patch work of family dysfunction. They can stand alone because in true Fieldsian fashion, they had their roots in earlier material:

  • The opening scene in the bathroom where Harold struggles to shave, as well as the idea of being “duped” into an investment, came from The Potters.
  • The swing scene on the porch was reworked from a bit in The Comic Supplement, a play he did for Ziegfeld; in fact, the film’s original title was Back Porch 
  • Their car trouble departing for California was the combination of two Ziegfeld sketches, “The Family Ford” and “The Sport Model.”
  • The picnic scene and some basic elements of the plot were reworked from It’s the Old Army Game.
  • Only the scene in the grocery store with the blind Mr. Muckle (played to the hilt by Charles Sellon) was originally conceived (and mostly improvised) for this film – with the hilarious additions of Baby LeRoy (Fields favorite foil and somewhat improbable star; rumor has it that he once spiked the baby’s bottle with gin…) and Tammany Young (his favorite doofus; check out his deadpan as the caddy in You’re Telling Me!) as his neighbor’s child and his inept clerk, respectively.

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What anchors It’s a Gift amongst the hilarity is Harold’s humanity. As our Everyman, he braves on for the promise of a better life, deflecting insults from strangers and loved ones alike for what they all see as embarrassing folly, a flimflam, or both. Harold believes in his heart that the end will justify the means. So when they arrive to the lot in which he has sunk his life’s savings, his integrity, and dignity, of course it is a barren wasteland. Disgusted with Harold’s failure, his wife grabs the children and starts to abandon him. Notice Fields’ delivery of the line, “Come on back, Amelia. I’ll drive you” – imbued with such sincerity that it was obviously a choice by the studio that he not be given more chances to shine in dramatic work for fear of losing one of their preeminent comedians.  Harold sits on the running board of their car and it, like his life, collapses. He meanders to the front porch of his rickety shack and in probably the most tender moment in Fields’ whole oeuvre, the family dog nuzzles up beside him, kissing him on the cheek.

But suddenly, a car rounds the bend, passing Amelia and the children on the dirt covered bridge. And their future takes another unsuspected turn.

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It wasn’t until Fields’ final three starring roles that he seemed to really break the mold from his aforementioned archetypes – or at least he combined them in new ways: My Little Chickadee (1940) casts him as a con-man, but this time as a bachelor and for the first time shows him as a somewhat pathetic Lothario to Mae West’s chronic troublemaking bachelorette (in real life, Fields definitely enjoyed having much younger women on hand as his secretaries and assistants, but history is unclear whether or not bedding him was part of the job description…); The Bank Dick (1940) saddles him with the shrewish wife, but his desire to “get ahead” seems to be for his own hedonistic purposes (laziness and drink) instead of providing for his family; perhaps this is why it is his most popular film, embracing a modern cynicism. And Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941), the most surreal of his films, literally has him playing himself, pitching a script to a Universal executive and being hit with all the reasons why it should not be made (ironically, this film, possibly his most scrutinized and rewritten – and autobiographical – work ended up being shot as close to his original intentions as possible).

The constant in all of his films was the daughter who believed in him despite life spitting in his face. It’s telling that Fields never had a daughter nor any daughter surrogates in his life; it seems that he was, to paraphrase one of Alvy Singer’s famous quips, trying to get things to come out right in Art because they so rarely do in Life. It should come as no surprise that Fields was hired for the most quintessential of W.C. Fields roles, The Wizard of Oz – the charlatan with a heart of gold, ready to help the lost, little girl find her way home – but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts with You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man. 

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But it is another famous Alvy quote (taken from Fields’ friend, Groucho Marx) that could have summed up Fields’ life: “I don’t want to belong to any club that would have someone like me as a member.” Fields, while not the misanthropic recluse people presumed, was a private man with few friends and traveled with cases of booze in his early years on the road as bait to ingratiate himself to his fellow cast members. Ironically, the booze, the very thing that once made him popular in private, became his way of alienating others in his old age – all the while being embraced by the public as our favorite, lovable louse.

 

Bad Cinema: Steel Magnolias (Dir: Kenny Leon, 2012)

The 1989 theatrical version of Steel Magnolias, directed by Herbert Ross and starring Sally Field, Julia Roberts, and a handful of other Hollywood heavy hitters, is one of those movies that almost everyone has seen, but is never discussed in any list of Greatest Whatevers. Which is a shame. Like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, A Prairie Home Companion, or About Schmidt, Steel Magnolias‘ greatness lies in its simplicity and grace. It doesn’t call attention to itself with fancy filmmaking or beg you to love it with its melodrama; instead, it touches you, repeatedly, on repeated viewings, with just enough emotion to keep from being saccharine and slays you with its lived in performances from some of the best in the biz. It is one of the only films that no matter how many times I have seen it – and they are many – when it comes on TV – which is a lot – I can’t help but stop what I am doing and watch the whole damn thing, laughing at the same parts, and crying like a baby in the cemetery and that final scene where Daryl Hannah, at the Easter celebration by the lake, is suddenly rushed to the hospital in labor with her new old friends for support and that swelling piano theme coming in for the kill.

When I first heard they were making an all-black cast version of the film, I was uncharacteristically elated (historically, I have been against remakes or reimaginings or revamps or whatever they are calling them now, particularly when the original is so good; but with age, my dogmatism is softening and I have realized that there may be more than one way to tell a great story – Rise of the Planet of the Apes, anyone?!) In fact, I was annoyed that it was denigrated to a Lifetime MOW (I think we all know the typical quality, style, and content of these films; my brother Stephen used to joke when Mom and I would sit down to watch one after school, “OK, does she have cancer or is she beaten by her husband?” Can you imagine one with both! I’m sure there is one out there somewhere starring Bonnie Bedelia…).

Academy Award nominees Queen Latifah and Alfre Woodard, Phylicia Rashad, Jill Scott. How was this not being released by a major studio (or at least Lionsgate; do they only do black movies with Tyler Perry at the helm?) This is ridiculous! If this revamp starred white people (Katherine Heigl? Kathy Bates? Anne Hathaway? Frances McDormand?) they would be pimping this for a summer release (or an October long-shot Oscar film if enough revered women got into the project). RACISM! Can we not trust people to go see this movie? And must everything be about the all mighty dollar!? Can’t we just make art? There will always be Transformers and The Avengers making studios money. This could have been a side project, a Paramount Vantage or a Sony Pictures Classics, a passion project for some indie director (Lee Daniels, Spike Lee, or maybe the directorial debut of some great black actress – “And from the acclaimed Academy Award winning Whoopi Goldberg comes her first outing behind the camera…”). Hell, they wouldn’t even have to be black (although let their voices be heard for God’s sake!). It could have been a nice little fall picture directed by Sam Levinson (check out Ellen Barkin’s Why Was I Not Nominated for a Fucking Oscar turn in Another Happy Day) or Sam Mendes.

Kenny Leon seemed like a suitable choice. 1) He is black. 2) He is from the theatre, directing Denzel Washington and Viola Davis to Tony Awards in Fences. 3) He directed another white/black transfer of A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway and directed the MOW of A Raisin in the Sun. Having never witnessed his stage work, nor his retelling of Raisin, this was my first experience with Mr. Leon. And Steel Magnolias is a failure because of him. Partially. Or completely, depending on your idea of what a director is supposed to do.

Let’s start with the way the film looked. Cheap. The use of video would have been fine to tell this story if the framing was creative and impactful. More often than not, the frame was cluttered with people too close to the lens and/or barely hanging on to its edges with camera moves and mis-en-scene that just did not make sense. Clearly, “art” was not something they were going for here. (Lifetime’s constraints or Leon’s ineptitude?) More egregious was the quick editing style that never gave you ample time to make emotional connections with the characters nor their plight, whose stakes are pretty high. Which brings me to the tone. Which was ALL WRONG. What makes the original work beautifully is that it is a comedy infused with moments of melancholia and triumphant sisterhood. Leon’s version has it ass backwards, dragging you through a maudlin wasteland of an inevitable diabetic death march with a moment or two of levity thrown in, as if against his will because, sigh, Robert Harling actually wrote a hilarious play and a lot of it (save the modern references to Facebook, Iraq, and Beyonce) has been retained by Sally Robinson’s “adaptation” (the only scene missing from the original that I missed was seeing Spud put on his tie for Shelby’s funeral; that could have been a nice moment for Jill Scott to play, although she is given a similar scene with her husband earlier). But of course the film was serious. The star/executive producer no doubt made it so.

Queen Latifah started out as a rapper (one of the best, I am told) and a singer (one of the great ones, I know). She segued into acting via comedy on television’s Living Single, Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. She was one of the stars of the dramatic heist thriller Set It Off and then hit the mainstream in a big way with Chicago, netting an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. In Entertainment Weekly’s Oscar Issue, Latifah stated that her aspirations were to be a serious actor like Robert DeNiro and win a bunch of Academy Awards. Well, it’s nice to have a dream.

I’m not saying that Queen Latifah is a bad actress. She is very good in Set It Off, The Secret Life of Bees, and Stranger than Fiction. I also enjoyed her work very much in Mad Money and Hairspray. But there is something about her that is always working a little too hard, a little too forced, as if to say, “Look at me! I will ACT for you!” Her performance as M’Lynn is so stoic and serious and closed off and forced and disconnected and just plain bad that it is amazing they signed her up in the first place. Where was Viola Davis?  Was Angela Bassett busy trying to get her groove back? It doesn’t help that the comparison we have is Sally Fucking Field, the epitome of Southern Charm meets Drama Queen. Who can resist reciting “Juice is better” in that lithe tone or screaming “I Wanna Know WHHHHYYYYYY!” when talking about this film?

Sally Field’s M’Lynn defines the ’89 version. Which is saying something when your daughter is Julia Roberts and your friends are Dolly Parton, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis, and Shirley MacLaine. Latifah misses the ball almost every time she is up to bat, particularly in the post-funeral climax (which is now set in Truvy’s Beauty Shop and not the cemetery; is this to make us not compare the two? We’re going to anyway and “Hit Ouiser!” loses most of its zing when they are not all gussied up in their Sunday best). Latifah’s performance in this monologue (and the all over the place staging of it) is almost laugh-out-loudable. If a director’s main job is to encourage, tame, and manipulate performance, Leon failed us big time. (Let’s not even bother going into the cheese ball ending with the black and white montage of Shelby’s wedding and the repetition of the play’s most famous quote).

Almost as bad, if not worse, are Condola Rashad and Adepero Oduye as Shelby and Annelle, respectively. Rashad (daughter of Phylicia) marks through Shelby as if it is the second rehearsal in her community college’s acting class. We care nothing about her, nor see the inherent dimensions that Roberts gave us, leading to her first Oscar nod and the beginning of her illustrious career. Notice the stark differences between their “interpretations” of the insulin attack scene: Roberts gave us full body shake and embarrassment, which yields one of her best moments in the film with Field; Rashad goes for complete internal shutdown, which doesn’t really work in a visual medium, especially when your scene partner is trying desperately to be noticed as a serious actress and has nothing to play off of so she looks ever more ridiculous. Oduye has stripped the humor from this simple girl who is definitely twisting braids without a full bag of rubber bands (“My personal tragedy will not interfere with my ability to do good hair”) who morphs into a devoutly Christian woman amongst these gossiping, sex talking menopausals. Was she/Leon afraid of offending a black audience who are traditionally religious by poking fun at faith?

Jill Scott knew she could not duplicate Dolly Parton’s bombastic chutzpah and doesn’t try. Instead, she imbues Truvy with gentility and a romantic tenderness without losing the role’s requisite bite. Ms. Scott is further proof that some artists truly can do it all. Phylicia Rashad (somehow passing none of her amazingness to her daughter) and Alfre Woodard respectively play the sophisticated dirty old lady Clairie and the bombastic bitch Ouiser to perfection (It is a credit to Harding’s play that Woodard, without ever having seen the ’89 version, gives us a Ouiser Boudreaux that is similar to MacLaine’s, but different enough to give her her own flavorings and shades; that’s good writing). Watching Scott, Rashad, and Woodard interact is the highlight in this mess of lowlights.

What Doesn’t Kill Us is Making Us Stronger: Or The Distance Between Lanford and Troy

Every year, hundreds of television pilots are written. Less than 100 of them get made, less than 50 of them get picked up, less than 25 of them make it to Season 2, less than 10 of them become part of the cultural conversation, and less than five in any given year become an irrevocable part of history. Hit shows are hard to come by.

Why do some shows make it and others don’t? Originality plays a factor, the personnel involved, time slot, relevancy to the zeitgeist, etc. but this doesn’t explain the obsessive love fans feel for the series and the public outcry when they are cancelled. Nor does it explain why they stand the test of time. The shows that last and stay with us are the ones that create a family of which we can become a part.

This could be an actual family like the Ricardos, the Winslows, the Fishers, the Bluths, the Bunkers, the Griffins, or the Cosbys. Or it could be a surrogate family like patrons in a bar, surgeons in Korea, members of the six o’clock news team, vampire slayers, potty-mouthed 4th graders, neurotic New York Jews, or a group of Friends. The important thing is that the series is built around a group of people that we love, worry about, and to whom we can relate. They become the people we turn to whenever we have a bad day, the world we feel safe in; the place where every situation can be made light of and every problem solved within twenty-three minutes.

Like the way we feel about our own relatives, the TV families with whom we choose to align may change over the years depending on the places we are in our personal lives. How many 30 year olds do you know that watch Saved By the Bell or Buffy anymore, even though those are the shows of their youth? They represent distant memories. Our interests change on a societal level depending where we are as a culture; television is always looking for the newest most relevant phenomenon (this is why many shows consist of copious cultural references to keep viewers dialed in) or to look at the past through a critical lens. If Archie and Edith came over for dinner tomorrow, most of us would feel uncomfortable because a woman’s place no longer has to be in the home and racial epithets can’t be spoken without looks of discernment, but we can still watch All in the Family because it show us how far we supposedly have come. Is it even possible for the Petries or the Stephens’ to attract a modern audience without nostalgic irony? Even Ricky and Lucy, arguably the most beloved and famous television family, are trapped in a bygone past. But we watch rerun after rerun because Lucille Ball and her cohorts are a fearless group of brilliant performers in any era. A show can only surpass its era if its success is not solely reliant on relevancy.

Many of the shows mentioned above have been off the air for decades, but we continue to find them – or continue to love them – because they still speak to us. People evolve, cultures evolve, but there are some things that are ingrained in us, unchangeable things, and like our own DNA, when our TV family seeps into the blood stream, there is no getting them out.

I respect All in the Family for its daring, I admire The Mary Tyler Moore Show for its liberation, and if I were making a list of the greatest sitcoms of all time, Seinfeld and I Love Lucy would be the Top 2 (and if we are talking best show ever of any kind, it would be without a doubt Six Feet Under) But if I had to choose one sitcom that has fulfilled me as a human, inspired me as an artist, and literally without exaggeration changed my life, there would be only one.

Anyone who has known me for any length of time or those who make sub-cultural assumptions would guess that I was speaking about The Golden Girls. Yes, my love for The Girls is unyielding. I have seen every episode dozens of times; know their rank, file, and serial number; and I fall asleep to it every night. I spot their guest stars in other projects like they were main characters, I quote them in daily life, and still laugh years later as if it were the first time I had heard the jokes. But the show has numerous problems. The revolving writers clearly didn’t do their research on the existing back stories and anything was game for the sake of a joke: Blanche’s middle name is changed from “Marie” to “Elizabeth” so her initials could spell BED; Rose has a heart attack and almost dies yet her boyfriend Miles is not in the episode; and numerous impossibilities like Dorothy hosting a high school reunion in Miami when she went to school in Brooklyn, or like in “My Brother, My Father” where Dorothy and Stan have to pretend to be married so Sophia’s brother Angelo, a priest, won’t know they are divorced – only to discover that Angelo is not a priest (nor ever has been) and no one knew this for 40 years.

No, the show I am speaking of is Roseanne.

It takes a MidWestern upbringing to fully understand the breadth of its greatness and a knowledge of television history to comprehend the degrees of its cultural relevance. A blue collar, fat, loud mouthed, political mother had never been seen on TV before- nor since. Her fights with Matt Williams (the “creator” of the show, although Roseanne has always claimed that title should have been hers) are TV legend and solidified Barr as Bitch to any one who crossed her path. Roseanne, yes a comedy – and one of the funniest – is full of some of the most powerful drama ever seen on a network show. Theatre vets John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf respectively play the World’s Greatest Father and the World’s Biggest Train Wreck of a Sister as if they are playing themselves (is this why John Goodman has never truly been believable as anyone else?). Lecy Goranson, Michael Fishman, and Sara Gilbert are perfect as the bratty, tempestuous, back talking kids to parents who communicate mostly through sarcasm (sorry Sarah Chalke, but you just did not understand Becky). But the show rests on the broad, Atlas like shoulders of Roseanne Barr.

Like Phyllis Diller before her, Barr was a struggling housewife who turned to comedy to help support her family. She scored a few commercials before getting her big break on Carson in 1985. Roseanne debuted in 1988 to become the #2 show in the country and became a fixture in the Top Ten for seven of its nine seasons, netting four Emmy Awards (yet nary a nomination for Best Comedy Series) and the prestigious Peabody, which celebrates Excellence in Television from programs that “recognize meritorious public service.” “Roseanne” the character and Roseanne the actress were interchangeable in most people’s minds (and still are); the show was clear autobiography (Barr and first ex-husband Bill Pentland had three kids and were living a blue collar existence in the MidWest; child abuse was brought into the Connor/Harris universe when Barr “uncovered” in therapy that she and her sisters were molested and beaten as a child at the hand of their parents, a “fact” that got her essentially ostracized from her family, including her siblings who emphatically denied its occurrence; “Roseanne” enters the scene wanting to sing after Barr bombed singing the National Anthem; Barr wanted to be a writer, “Roseanne” wanted to be a writer; Roseanne was created to give the poor a voice, “Roseanne” became a mouth piece for poor people after they won the lottery (the entire 9th Season – greatly underrated and widely misunderstood- is almost the definition of postmodern); Barr’s sister was gay as was Jackie – see the finale for this and other revelations) and she didn’t shy away from using her real family as employees (Pentland and second ex-husband Tom Arnold wrote, produced, and appeared on the show and Barr’s daughters wrote the finale with her).

But even if Roseanne played “Roseanne” as Roseanne, this doesn’t take away from an ounce of her onscreen magic. Goodman called her the most honest actress he has ever worked with, claiming she was unable to fake it. And you see the realism in that house on 714 Delaware St. Watch when Becky returns home from her elopement. Or Darlene leaves for college. Or the time she spanks DJ. Or when Fisher beats Jackie. Or when she apologizes to Dan for ruining their anniversary. Or tries to convince Jackie not to be a cop. Or walks out on Dan after trashing the house. Or thanks her dead father for his humor. You can palpably feel the love and the warmth behind every quip, every zinger, every shout in her eyes.

*Roseanne helps Jackie leave her abusive boyfriend.

*Roseanne and Dan have an epic fight after he gets out of the hospital.

Roseanne must have been a foundational part of my child hood, growing up in the 90s in the MidWest not to mention Metcalf and Goodman hailing from the St.Louis area, but my most vivid memories of watching Roseanne are after I moved out of my parents’ house.

I left home when I was 19 to find fame, fortune, and love, but being stripped from my family – once close, forever inescapable – was harder on me then I thought it would be. Living in the dorms wasn’t so bad. I was constantly surrounded by creative people in a city full of energy. But when I moved out on my own, the days off of work and school were long and the nights were even longer. Virtually isolated from everyone – because that’s what happens when you live in College Point and East New York – I turned to television for comfort and serenity, specifically The Girls and The Connors. While the Girls gave off zaniness and camaraderie, The Connors gave me a modicum of the family I missed – and longed for. I dreamed of Roseanne and Dan as my parents (Marge and Richard are not completely dissimilar to them, but fail to see humor sometimes where it could be inserted). And I definitely saw myself as one part Darlene, one part Jackie, and the older I get Roseanne. The milieu reeked of Troy and my history of horrible customer service jobs and snarky attitude towards them definitely paralleled Roseanne’s contempt for her own life. What got her through it was Dan and Jackie. I longed for finding a great husband like Dan and a best friend like Jackie (sadly, Stephen and I have never been as close as they, a bond that is more easily acquired living in the same physical space). I found Joshua first, a best friend for the ages who supports without the cutting jabs of a loud mouthed older sister. Eight years, man. Thank you for listening and laughing and loving. And four years ago I found a man I can be sarcastic with, fight with, share dreams with, and stay with forever because the love despite all else runs wide and deep. You old poop. The Connors allowed me to see the shortcomings and the assets of my own family and appreciate, forgive, accept, and love them as they are.

Last month, Roseanne was “honored” with a roast by Comedy Central, an annual low brow affair where legends and nobodies pay “tribute” to comedians and crazy public figures by making fun of them and the others on the dais. Roasts are a time honored tradition for comics and can be a truly sincere form of flattery if executed well. Roseanne’s Roast was not as funny as Pam Anderson’s and it was funnier than Charlie Sheen’s. Most of the jokes revolved around her being fat, just as most of the jokes about Joan Rivers were about her plastic surgery, and most of the jokes about William Shatner were about his age. I think I laughed out loud once (of course from Gilbert Godfreid, the most insane comic on any dais now that Greg Geraldo is dead). Perhaps this is because Roseanne is a sacred cow (no pun intended) to me that I kept vigilant by her side as if she needed my defense. Or perhaps it’s just that the jokes weren’t funny. The only thing they got right was inviting Tom Arnold to speak. And in typical Roseanne fashion, he killed with his humor and slayed with his earnestness, bringing your humble narrator to the brink of tears.

It was lovely to see Roseanne back in the spotlight for her career as a comedienne (as opposed to her career as a reality star, Presidential candidate, nut farmer, or just being nuts), but it didn’t have to be like this.

Downwardly Mobile was to be her great return to the sitcom world. A three camera comedy following a bunch of residents in a trailer park, where Roseanne was the matriarchic landlord and John Goodman was her handyman side kick. NBC ordered a pilot and it looked like all systems were a Go. But NBC didn’t pick up the series (yet found space for Go On on their line up) and we were deprived of what was destined to be – could have been – a Newhartesque Second Act.

Though we may never see the Return of the Domestic Goddess, Roseanne will forever live on as a stunning, culture shocking, masterwork of comedy, drama, and reality television, giving every small town boy with dreams to do something worthwhile hope that no matter your circumstance, no matter how many times you fall down, no matter the cards life has dealt you, What Doesn’t Kill Us is Making Us Stronger.