I approached Roseanne’s Nuts with a bit of trepidation. Roseanne Barr is a hilarious and crucial comic whose self-titled 90’s sitcom spanned nine seasons and remains fresh and fantastic today. It was, and is, one of the greatest sitcoms of all time. After its controversy-filled run drew to a close, Barr slipped out of the spotlight. She briefly hosted a late-90s talk show (of which I was a fan), and re-emerged in 2003 with a pair of projects: Domestic Goddess, a cooking show for ABC Family, and The Real Roseanne for ABC. The latter was a reality show about the making of the former. I thought that sounded great, the cooking focus and meta-aspect indicated a self-aware docu-series experiment rather than the last-ditch barrel-scraping one might fear. Roseanne became regular tabloid fodder very early in her fame, a disappointing amount of her press focused on her personal life and trials rather than her excellent and groundbreaking work. I didn’t want to see her try to cash in on her tabloid queen crown with a degrading reality show, a sadly plausible prospect. This plan looked like it had potential, so I was disappointed when The Real Roseanne was cancelled after only two episodes. Domestic Goddessnever aired at all.
It was almost a decade later that I’d readabout Roseanne’s choice to undergo a semi-elective hysterectomy in order to get out of her contract and end both shows. She says that the producers were shaping The Real Roseanne into an unflattering freak-fest behind her back, cutting her family into unflattering caricatures. She claims her son found a producers notebook:“It said, Jake, ‘lazy,’ my son-in-law Jeff, ‘stupid,’ Roseanne ‘drunk,’ Johnny ‘golddigger,’” Barr said. “Thank God I had control. Because kibosh. When we saw the edited version, we were just appalled. We were just fucking appalled.”
Now Barr has returned to reality television with Roseanne’s Nuts, a Lifetime channel project I hoped she was whole-heartedly endorsing out of something other than wishful thinking or purely profit-driven pragmatism (as if either has ever been Roseanne’s way.) Roseanne’s Nutsis an odd and charming twist on the reality format that follows the titular star around her Hawaiian macadamia nut farm where she battles wild pigs and pontificates on saving the world. While the relationships between Barr, long-time boyfriend Johnny Argent, and the rest of her family and friends come off as authentically alive and loving, particular events are intentionally, campily stagy. The show wears its reality-fakery as a badge of comedic honor, a wise choice. It is often funny as hell.Roseanne’s Nutsis more than just a chance for wacky stunts (Roseanne learns to surf, a museum is haunted, Roseanne, Phyllis Diller, and Sandra Bernhard get delightfully smashed on kava drinks), though. Roseanne’s interest in growing nuts as an environmentally sustainable protein source, in leaving Hollywood to grow her own food and live a healthier life, are genuine and engaging. Her politics and personality are on full display: if you like her, you will enjoy this show. A less-expected pleasure is the family dynamic; Roseanne’s extremely believable Conner clan was the center of Roseanne’s success, and here Roseanne’s real-life family is (thank god) no less realistic. Roseanne’s relationship with Argent, a calm presence who balances her often volatile vibrance, is particularly touching. They bicker a lot (arguments are often both obviously staged and completely plausible) and clearly adore the hell out of each other. I was struck by how rarely I see believable, happy adult partnerships on TV. This one (like Dan and Roseanne Conners’ before) does my heart good. It’s also moving when Roseanne’s kids drop in, they’re a sharp bunch who seem to have turned out wonderfully despite childhoods inside a Hollywood pressure cooker of scandal.
The Lifetime network’s reality format does have some drawbacks and limitations. It is frustrating to see some of the more compelling content shoe horned in to this formula. One of my favorite episodes is the third, in which Roseanne faces her own past demons and works through genuine terror to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” at a local girls’ little league game (for our younger readers: a botched rendition of the same almost derailed Roseanne’s skyrocketing career almost two decades ago, the event has plagued her ever since.) It’s an episode packed with real pathos and struggle, and its frustrating to hear the exact specifications of these pathos and struggles spelled out over and over again to meet the demands of reality (and maybe most current) television, editing which caters to the distracted. Those of us actually watching the show don’t need to be reminded every three minutes that this is a very important event for Roseanne, that she is very scared, that the last time she publicly sang the national anthem, it almost ruined everything. We would (I hope) rather be shown than told, and there are plenty of rich, emotional scenes in the show. It pains me that guest Bonnie Bramlett (Barr’s friend and “Bonnie” on Roseanne. She shows up to help Barr prepare for her performance) is not heard singing. Her rendition of the National Anthem was apparently slashed to make room for the upteenth repetition by Barr’s son that his mom’s original anthem butchery was a major calamity of his childhood, so he’s skeptical of attempt to right past wrongs and blah blah blah…got it. Heard you the first time. Producers: please either let your editors include interview footage that goes deeper into these themes as they recur, or move the fuck on.
I appreciate how Roseanne has goosed the reality format with her Nuts, but I would love to see her work with a looser formula, or one that enhances rather than restricts the material. Until that opportunity knocks, it’s great to have her back on TV and I hope Roseanne’s Nuts is renewed for a second season. It’s been a delightful and invigorating summer treat.
Roseanne’s Nuts airs on Lifetime at 10pm. Full episodes are also available streaming online (I particularly recommend episode 10: “Weed is Wack”)
This entry was posted in Nicole Solomon
, Reality TV
and tagged Bonnie Bramlett
, Phyllis Diller
, Reality shows
, Roseanne Barr
, Roseanne's Nuts
, Sandra Bernhard
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