Sunday, September 28, 2014

Through an Introvert's Lens: Roseanne

For about its first five seasons, Roseanne (1988-1997) was a revelation.  Those put off by Roseanne Barr's abrasive personality missed one of the few television shows (let alone sitcoms) to portray family and the working class in a realistic manner.

You just didn't see shows like this on the air.  Its fellow sitcoms included The Cosby Show and Growing Pains, both shows involving well-to-do families with large, impossibly neat houses.  Whereas Roseanne and Dan Conner's house looked like the house you might have: an old, faded afghan covering a worn-out couch; magazines strewn over the coffee table; odds and ends crowding a desk in the background.

And their family seemed like one you (or *cough* at least I) might have as well.  Not one where the kids were endlessly subservient to, and stupider than, the parents, like on The Cosby Show.  Becky and Darlene fought with their parents, sometimes viciously.  They fought with each other the same way.  They frequently derided and ignored their younger brother, DJ.  Yet the family also had wonderful bonding moments, individually and as a family, that somehow seemed sweeter because you knew that they were also capable of being cruel.   

And the show was funny, so funny.  Roseanne's war with her neighbor Kathy.  The Halloween episodes.  The diner episodes.  Jackie doing... anything (at least until she became a caricature of herself in later seasons).  Roseanne and Dan's reaction to Becky's boyfriend, Mark.  And so on.

I'm not doing the show justice with my description, but just wanted to give you an idea.  Anyone who bases their view of Roseanne on its last dreadful seasons, or on Roseanne Barr's off-screen antics or *shudder* Tom Arnold, is missing out on something truly special.  Roseanne was at least watchable midway through its sixth season, when its big shark-jumping moment happened with the casting of "new" Becky, Sarah Chalke, in place of Lecy Goranson.  It's not that Chalke was so bad in the role, but her persona was markedly different from Goranson's Becky.  Also gone was the believable sibling chemistry between Goranson's Becky and Sara Gilbert's Darlene, or Goranson's chemistry with the rest of the cast.  The Conners ceased to feel quite as much like a family, and that problem would only grow worse as the show continued.

Um, Isn't This Article Supposed to Be About Introverts?

I just was getting to that.  When one thinks of introverts on Roseanne, Darlene Conner almost immediately springs to mind.  She was Daria before Daria existed.  To reiterate the generalities about introversion, introverts tend to be:

  • reserved
  • interested in big ideas rather than small talk
  • needs to be alone to replenish after socializing
  • thinks before he/she speaks
  • prefers to observe rather than be the center of attention

As applied to Darlene: check, partial check, check, not sure, check.  Which is to say that Darlene carries a lot of introverted traits.  She wears all black and likes to sit alone in her room, reading or writing.  With other people, she stands there in a dry, detached manner, before launching a sardonic quip, like so:



She doesn't care about impressing people.  She doesn't even seem to like people most of the time.  If she could live in her room forever, she would probably be happy.

The interesting thing is, that description only applies to Darlene from midway through Season Four onward.  From Season Five especially, she is the sarcastic Goth writer.  But before then?

She was a joker and a jock.  While not super-popular, you never got the impression that she was unpopular.  Pre-Season Four Darlene seemed pretty happy-go-lucky, at least compared to the moodier Becky.  From time to time you got a sense that there was something deeper and more contemplative there, such as the Season Two episode where Darlene had to deliver the poem.  But otherwise, Darlene the introverted writer was treated as a personality change, specifically in the Season Four episode "Darlene Fades to Black."  In that episode, Darlene's loss of interest in sports, and sudden interest in book shops, was treated like the onset of depression.

Would a person who is naturally introverted just change like that?  Forget the obvious explanation, that the writers just started to write Darlene differently.  Could a naturally introverted person act chirpy and perky and then change to moody and contemplative?  Maybe, if you accept that the more social personality was a mask for the more introverted one.  Many introverts become skilled at faking extroversion, acting as though they could be social forever when, in fact, it wipes them out.

Then again, even joker jock Darlene was never super extroverted.  We never saw her be the life of the party, just making quips at her family's expense much of the time.  And it's a bit of a stereotype that introverted people are always unhappy and moody.  It's possible for an introverted person to be generally happy, and to express that happiness, just in an introverted way.  Therefore, it's possible that Darlene Conner was always an introvert, even while her pre-Season Four jokey persona seemed to suggest she was not.              

That being said, is she the only introvert in the Conner household?

Probably not.  Becky could be an introvert as well, depending upon which actress plays her.  As played by Lecy Goranson, even though she is popular, she is also serious, a good student, and cares about big issues, like the environment.  As played by Sarah Chalke, she loves Mark and likes being happy... and stuff.  There is such a depth gap between the two actresses' portrayals that the show even made a joking number about it (starts at 1:04):


Based on the first five seasons (since I refuse to admit the last three, at least, even exist), it's definitely possible that Becky is an introvert.  While we don't see that she prefers to spend time in her room recovering from social situations, she has gone to her room to contemplate the deep issues.

But one Conner I think could definitely be an introvert is DJ.  He is frequently by himself, doesn't talk a whole lot, and enjoys activities that often defy his family's understanding.  As he gets older, he takes an interest in film making.  DJ tends to be deemphasized as a character, which accounts for part of his absence.  But you could just as easily argue that he doesn't appear often on screen because hey, he'd rather be off doing his own thing.

Roseanne and Dan, though?  Nah.  Despite the occasional claims that she should have been a writer, Roseanne rarely goes off by herself to write and seems to gain energy from interacting with other characters.  Dan, too, seems to like to hang out with other men, bonding over men stuff... and stuff.  It's tough to tell with Jackie, since we mainly see her only when she comes over to interact with Roseanne or the family.

How Does Roseanne Treat Introverts?

Going by the way Darlene is treated, pretty well.  While Roseanne initially expresses concern about Darlene's growing introversion, she realizes that the best thing she can do is respect Darlene's wishes to be left alone.  She also respects Darlene's goals, going so far as convincing her to go to art school (after initially opposing it) when Darlene is reluctant due to fear.  The show itself never treats Darlene's wishes like they are trivial or beyond a "normal" person's understanding.

Likewise, Becky's point of view is usually treated with respect, even when she is being absolutely horrible (no one could throw a good, realistic teenage temper tantrum like Lecy's Becky).  Compare this with the Huxtable kids on The Cosby Show, who are too-frequently treated like props for Bill Cosby's standup routine.

DJ, on the other hand, does not come across as well.  Much of this may have been due to the fact that Roseanne Barr understood girls better and wanted to emphasize the older girl characters more (not to mention Michael Fishman's more limited acting skills), but DJ is frequently treated as the "weird" kid.  Not just weird, but so quiet, he is forgotten on more than one occasion.  (In one episode, he points out that he hadn't spoken for two days, but no one noticed.)  

Then there is David, Darlene's boyfriend.  David is quiet and sensitive, possibly more introverted than Darlene.  While in the atrocious later seasons, these qualities would lead to David being treated like a wimpy girly putz, in Seasons Four and Five, his point of view tends to be treated with respect (by the show, at least, if not by Darlene).

On the whole, Roseanne (the good seasons, anyway) seems to respect characters' desire to be alone to think and create.  Pretty impressive for a show that gets such charge from character interactions.

Conclusion

To sum up, how does Roseanne treat introverts?

Number of Introverts: As many as three.  Four if you count David.

Is the Introvert Prominent?: Yes.

Is the Introvert Active?: Yes.

How Do the Other Characters Treat the Introvert: Mostly with respect, though sometimes (in the case of male characters, especially DJ) with derision.  That might say more about Roseanne's view of men than it does about its view of introverts.

I would encourage anyone who hasn't to check out Roseanne.  Just accept that the show ends after the eighth episode of Season Six.

Now to end with the best moments of Darlene and Becky.  Just because.




The above images are used under the Fair Use Doctrine. 

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