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The Resurgence of Roseanne Barr: Interesting Timing

Posted: 02/14/2012 11:43 am

This fall, NBC is hoping we'll be ready to welcome Roseanne Barr back to prime time in a new comedy called "Downwardly Mobile" -- and to make it truly retro, they're in negotiations with John Goodman to co-star. All this assuming, of course, that Barr doesn't get elected President of the United States. Yes, as you've probably heard, Barr is running for the head of the Green Party in the US, and has outlined her campaign via her Twitter feed. She says she'll make pot legal, make war illegal, forgive all debt and outlaw bullshit. It isn't the worst platform I've ever heard, but let's continue assuming, as Barr herself does, that Jill Stein will get the Green Party nod and we're not looking at a Barr White House in 2012.

"Downwardly Mobile" sounds an awful lot like "Roseanne" 2.0, with Barr playing the owner of a trailer park, where she's a tough-but-tender surrogate mom to the motley crew of residents. Goodman's character is a handyman buddy to her character, where one imagines he'll do the job he did so well on "Roseanne" -- making Barr more likeable and relatable by ably acting as though she's a normal, reasonable woman.

It's an interesting time to bring back a "Roseanne"-style sitcom about poor people, working people, and displaced people. Barr has been a fundraiser for people affected by Hurricane Katrina, and the setting for this show would speak to her experiences in that region. Looking back at the show that made her famous, Barr told Entertainment Weekly, "I'm very proud of its timelessness, and the fact that it has a political edge that is even more relevant now than it was then." She may be right.

The recession of the 1990s sucked, but it was played off as a glitch. The current financial crisis has been accompanied by a political awakening. The themes "Roseanne" had to introduce somewhat gently back then show up as Facebook photo memes now. Imagining what Barr could do with her smarts, her bitter sense of humour, and an audience that is already attuned to the issues is pretty exciting. On the other hand, picturing Barr at the helm of a show, with her complete (and somewhat commendable) inability to restrain herself from saying whatever pops into her head, is a little scary.

Not that she's really been gone all these years. She's had a talk show, a few reality shows and lots of guest roles. This could all come to nought, just like those projects did. I wonder if viewers are still mad at her? Barr delighted in destroying her last hit sitcom, turning the final season of "Roseanne" into a farce. Then there was the infamous performance of 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' the many marriages and divorces, and the admitted plastic surgery.

But the timing for a comeback couldn't be better. Not only is the political and economic climate ripe for someone with a sharp tongue and an avowed disgust for the status quo, but the television landscape is also somewhat barren of really strong women. Obviously, we've got some great performers -- Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Sofia Vergara and yes, even Zooey Deschanel -- but post-Oprah, we're lacking a polarizing media queen. If Barr managed to stop picking Twitter fights with Beyonce and Barack Obama fans and use her platform to speak plainly and sensibly about debt, health care and war, all while making us laugh? Well, that would be delightful.

But it's hard to trust her, isn't it? No matter how many old "Roseanne" cast members NBC digs up for "Downwardly Mobile," we can never go back to a time before Barr's antics marred her otherwise intelligent and hilarious commentary. How long before she goes just as far off the rails as the government she calls out? I'm hedging my bets until this show goes beyond the pilot. And who knows? Maybe Americans will vote their interests and give Barr a mandate to go to Washington and outlaw bullshit, like "Glee."