The highly-anticipated Roseanne spinoff, The Conners, premiered last night on ABC to huge numbers. According to Nielsen, 10.5 million people tuned in to see how the Conner family would carry on without their matriarch Roseanne, played by Roseanne Barr. The actress, who led last spring’s Roseanne reboot, found herself in hot water after she made racist comments about Valerie Jarrett, a former aide to the Obama administration. Her remarks caused ABC to cancel the reboot, and in its place is The Conners, which has all the elements that made Roseanne successful—just without Barr.
And naturally, how The Conners killed off Barr’s character is causing some serious chatter online. By the end of the pilot, we learn that Roseanne died from an opioid overdose. It’s a bleak way to send off a character, and especially poignant given the prevalence of opioid abuse in our culture. But Barr took to Twitter to express her disapproval in how the show finished off her character. “I AIN’T DEAD, BITCHES!!!!” she wrote.
Shortly after this, Barr released a statement on Facebook through her friend, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Here it is, in full:
While we wish the very best for the cast and production crew of The Conners, all of whom are deeply dedicated to their craft and were Roseanne’s cherished colleagues, we regret that ABC chose to cancel Roseanne by killing off the Roseanne Conner character. That it was done through an opioid overdose lent an unnecessary grim and morbid dimension to an otherwise happy family show.
This was a choice the network did not have to make. Roseanne was the only show on television that directly addressed the deep divisions threatening the very fabric of our society. Specifically, the show promoted the message that love and respect for one another’s personhood should transcend differences in background and ideological discord. The show brought together characters of different political persuasions and ethnic backgrounds in one, unified family, a rarity in modern American entertainment. Above all else, the show celebrated a strong, matriarchal woman in a leading role, something we need more of in our country.
Through humor and a universally relatable main character, the show represented a weekly teaching moment for our nation. Yet it is often following an inexcusable — but not unforgivable — mistake that we can discover the most important lesson of all: Forgiveness. After repeated and heartfelt apologies, the network was unwilling to look past a regrettable mistake, thereby denying the twin American values of both repentance and forgiveness. In a hyper-partisan climate, people will sometimes make the mistake of speaking with words that do not truly reflect who they are. However, it is the power of forgiveness that defines our humanity.
Our society needs to heal on many levels. What better way for healing than a shared moment, once a week, where we could have all enjoyed a compelling storyline featuring a witty character – a woman – who America connected with, not in spite of her flaws, but because of them. The cancellation of Roseanne is an opportunity squandered due in equal parts to fear, hubris, and a refusal to forgive.
The Twitter reactions to Roseanne’s death are mixed. Some are outraged:
Others, however, are unbothered and even find the plot twist funny:
We’ll update this post if Barr says anything else. The Conners airs Tuesdays at 8 P.M. ET on ABC.