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In the 'Roseanne' finale, 'government can really help people'; for the series, it helped ratings

The Washington Post

In a single tweet, the president swooped in and saved the day on the season finale of ABC 's "Roseanne" on Tuesday night. It was a fitting end to a show that has deftly used politics and President Donald Trump (though never mentioning his name) to gin up ratings and reactions, while still somehow claiming to be nothing more than a quaint family sitcom.

In the final episode, the Conners, as usual, face a financial crisis as the pricey surgery for Roseanne's knee (the source of her pain-pill addiction) looms, "illegals" (a term that continues to go unchecked) drive Dan's construction profit margins down, and a storm floods their basement.

In the old "Roseanne" of the '90s, none of the Conners' problems would have been solved in 30 minutes. But in the new "Roseanne," where politics are in your face, the family's woes disappear after the president declares a state of emergency because of the storm, which means FEMA money for the basement flood and probably extra left over for Roseanne's knee. In the end, she thanks God for the leg up, and the family prepares a last supper of ham and tuna casserole in celebration.

After nine installments that ripped through "hot-button issues" such as xenophobia, racism, the opioid epidemic, veteran benefits, gender identity, health insurance costs and undocumented workers (sometimes all in one half-hour), "Roseanne" is to Trumpian politics what a superhero movie is to nerds: a celebration. And despite the protestations of the network, the executive producers and a few of its stars, the show's identity is steeped in controversy. It thrives on it, promos it and bakes it into plotlines. So why fight it?

Season One co-showrunner (and resident liberal) Whitney Cummings told Vanity Fair that 20 years ago, the show used to anger people on the right, and now, it's having the same effect on the left. "But it always pissed someone off," she said.

Executive producer and actor Sara Gilbert , who plays Darlene, was the driving force behind the reboot and admitted to being a tad bit naive about the reaction to the show's new and improved creative model.

"My goal was always to be a more unifying force, and, probably, I was a little pie-eyed about it," Gilbert said in an interview. In a sit-down with the Los Angeles Times, Gilbert pushed back on the sitcom's characterization - by Trump himself - as a network-sponsored safe space for the forgotten conservative demographic.

"It's not a show about one political party, or it's not a show that's a platform for one set of ideas. It's really about a family that is divided over politics," explained Gilbert, who has repeatedly underscored the fact that Roseanne is the only member of the Conner family who voted for Trump.

But comedian Roseanne Barr, who plays the Trump-voting matriarch with the iconic cackle, was never confused about the direction of the series, which averages 19 million viewers per episode, according to Nielsen.

"Our show is always political, even if people don't see it that way, it is. Because it's about a class of working people, so of course that's political, but it's local politics. Every episode of the show is kind of addressing culture wars," Barr said in an interview with Adweek.

Barr also called the finale "the best message that I could send to Americans." And what was that message exactly?

"It's about rain and health care and God," Barr told the Associated Press. "We're wrapping up the season in a great way that kind of gives the idea that government can really help people. That's something that I wanted to end on."

The government, it seems, can also help ratings. "Roseanne" will return with new episodes this fall.

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