‘Roseanne’ revival offers more nostalgia than laughs

It’s now a lot harder to watch ‘Roseanne,’ if you wanted to
Adam Rose/American Broadcasting Companies, Inc./ABC via CNN
Roseanne Barr, John Goodman in 'Roseanne', a popular sitcom that premiered in 1988. 

Thirty years have passed since “Roseanne” burst onto the scene, which makes it ripe fodder for nostalgia. Yet ABC’s revival quickly moves past the kick of seeing the gang back together, going out of its way to awkwardly embrace politics. While the title character’s cackle has been a big a big part of the promo campaign, the likelihood of viewers drowning that out with laughter of their own appears slim.

There’s nothing wrong with the notion that Roseanne Barr’s eponymous blue-collar character would support President Trump, as the comic herself has off screen. But “Roseanne” seemingly veers out of its lane to gin up that dialogue, placing Roseanne at odds with her sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf, who probably wishes this wasn’t the first place people see her after her Oscar-nominated turn in “Lady Bird”).

Like everything else about the show, the politics thus feel more abrasive than clever. The one-liners fly fast and furiously, naturally, as the Conners deal with more mundane problems, such as their grown-up kids and grandchildren — Darlene (Sara Gilbert) is conveniently forced to move in with them — while glossing over that little matter of Dan (John Goodman) having, you know, died.

The producers are more creative regarding the fact that two different actresses (Lecy Goranson, Sarah Chalke) played the couple’s older daughter, Becky, although frankly, that sort of inventiveness is in distinctly short supply.

Roseanne gradually became a handful for ABC by making star-sized demands when the show became an unexpected hit, discarding producers during the show’s heyday as if they were temporary Christmas help. This time, executives have handed her the keys to the kingdom from the get-go, clearly hoping the name alone would do most of the heavy lifting ratings-wise.

That might work initially, as “Will & Grace” has for NBC, and with CBS planning a “Murphy Brown” revival. Still, the result here is a show that should conjure a few smiles among those content to see the renewed interplay of the characters, but which exhibits none of the creative spark necessary to invigorate a comeback that transparently exists because the cast was willing and the network desperate to make some noise.

Notably, “Roseanne” is just one of three new sitcoms ABC is introducing the same week, and while the others don’t have three decades of history in their corner, the concepts do possess a retro flavor.

Adapted from a Danish series, “Splitting Up Together” feels like an ABC sitcom from the 1990s, about a couple (“The Office’s” Jenna Fischer, Oliver Hudson) that grows closer after their divorce.

As romantic comedies go, it’s a perfectly durable (if familiar) concept, the problem being that while there’s a movie in it, as a series, the teasing-out process feels strained after only a couple episodes.

“Alex, Inc.,” meanwhile, stars Zach Braff (“Scrubs”), who doubles as one of the producers, as a guy who chucks his career as a radio producer to pursue his dream of launching a podcast company, where he intends to tell “stories that matter.”

Based on Alex Blumberg’s podcast “Startup,” the word “podcast” is about the only thing that makes “Alex, Inc.” feel like a 21st-century enterprise, from the title character’s adorable yet precocious sitcom children to his supportive if understandably concerned wife (Tiya Sircar). The show also features “The Sopranos'” Michael Imperioli as Alex’s peculiar cousin, who assists him with the fledgling enterprise.

As one of the centerpieces of ABC’s spring hopes, “Roseanne” does figure to benefit from a built-in curiosity factor. But while there’s always some excitement in reuniting an old band, this one mostly winds up belting out a tune equivalent to Roseanne’s legendary version of the Star-Spangled Banner.

“Roseanne” premieres March 27 at 8 p.m. on ABC. “Splitting Up Together” and “Alex, Inc.” premiere on March 27 and March 28, respectively.