Roseanne is back on television, but will — and should — the LGBT community be watching?
In its original run from 1988 to 1997, the ABC sitcom was a pioneer in its portrayal of a blue-collar family and gay storylines. The show, in the 1994 episode "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," became one of the first major network TV series to air a kiss between two women.
Moreover, Roseanne Barr, who plays the titular character Roseanne Conner, emerged as a vocal ally. She was named The Advocate's Person of the Year in 1994 for her fearless fight for LGBT visibility, which included her own network, vowing to pull the show for the sake of representation.
However, the show's revival, which premiered Tuesday night to a huge viewership, has left some fans divided. Both Barr and her character are supporters of President Donald Trump — a foe of queer people, whose administration has worked to unravel their rights and protections.
In a recent interview with The New York Times, Barr even defended Trump's record on LGBT issues. "He doesn’t oppose same-sex marriage," she said, pushing back on the interviewer. "He has said it several times, you know, that he’s not homophobic at all," she added.
So, should LGBT people watch the revived Roseanne, in light of the current political climate and Barr's views?
Out, The Advocate's sister magazine, called the revival "must-watch TV for the Trump era." Writer Jason Lamphier acknowleged that the Trump connection may be a "deal-breaker" for some, but he raved that "few half-hour sitcoms in recent memory have packed in as much topical humor, empathy, and heart as this one."
Lamphier praised the show's handling of hot-button issues. One such storyline involves the rift between Roseanne and her liberal sister, Jackie (Laurie Metcalf), who cannot understand "why you voted the crazy way that you did." Another centers on Darlene's (Sara Gilbert) 9-year-old son, Mark, who is gender-noncomforming.
A representative of GLAAD praised Mark's storyline, on which the LGBT media organization advised, as a key reason to tune in. "Mark's feminine gender expression is embraced by his family and that’s a critical message for millions of viewers to see," said Zeke Stokes, GLAAD's vice president of programs. "Many LGBTQ viewers will separate the episode's theme of love and acceptance from Roseanne Barr’s deeply troubling personal views."
And many stars of the LGBT entertainment world have thrown their support behind Roseanne — if not the politics of its star.
"It was hilarious, groundbreaking, and perfect," said Drew Droege, the star of the off-Broadway hit Bright Colors and Bold Patterns, of the original run. "Many brilliant people were on it and wrote on it, and that continues to be true in the reboot. I choose to support them and the show."
"It isn’t always necessary to judge an artist by their political opinions all of the time," said Mean Girls actor Daniel Franzese, who noted that Barr "is not who I would look to as a source for political insight."
"The show is a comedy. She is a comedian," Franzese added. "We will probably love laughing at her as Trump supporter just as much as we laughed with her before. I’d be less likely to listen to her stand-up if it was political, but the show I’m looking forward to with nostalgia and curiosity."
"Roseanne's said a lot of things I disagree with, but I'll be watching because good comedy tells political truths in ways no other art form can," said Andrea James, a filmmaker producing a transgender film, Becoming a Man in 127 Easy Steps. "While I encourage anyone to boycott the show and its sponsors if so moved, the only purity test for me will be if it's still good comedy."
Among those boycotting the show is Tracy E. Gilchrist, The Advocate's feminism editor.
"While Roseanne Barr’s original sitcom broke down barriers in terms of LGBT representation with queer characters played by Sandra Bernhard, Martin Mull, and Estelle Parsons — not to mention Roseanne’s innocuous yet thoroughly groundbreaking kiss with Mariel Hemingway — her continued support of Donald Trump is problematic, and I won’t be watching," declared Gilchrist, who was outraged by Barr's defense of Trump in the Times.
"I wouldn’t dictate to LGBT people that they should not watch Roseanne, and I know that Sara Gilbert produced and costars and that Wanda Sykes is on the writing staff, but that does not move the needle for me," she added. "At this point, to me, Barr is a privileged white woman with a lot of money who can afford to burn it all down while claiming to be revolutionary, to the detriment of not only LGBT people but women, immigrants, people of color whose lives he’s put in danger with dog whistles to the white supremacists and so on."
Kit Williamson, the gay star and creator of the gay Netflix series EastSiders, is also disturbed by Barr's "garbage political views." But given her show's meaningful impact on his childhood in Mississippi, he is willing to give the reboot a chance.
"I’m probably going to give the first few episodes a watch, because I can’t in good conscience look away from Laurie Metcalf," said Williamson, "but if it feels like the show is a mouthpiece for some of Roseanne's more extreme views, I’m out."
James Berg and Stan Zimmerman — who recently made headlines for developing Silver Foxes, a Golden Girls-style comedy about LGBT seniors — were the gay writers who penned the historic "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" episode. Even for them, coming to terms with Barr's political views was not easy. But they also see the show as adding a necessary dialogue to network television that they haven't seen since the election.
"It’s very complicated for me to separate the actor and her political views from the show," said Zimmerman."The reality is that the character of Roseanne Conner — I don’t know if she would have been a Trump supporter. But people like that character would be, so I think it is important to shed a light and talk about it. And laugh and argue it out!"
"If you’ve seen the show, it’s trying to emulate what’s going on in real life across the country. Families have been broken up and aren’t speaking because of this issue," said Berg, who praised how Roseanne handles the clash of political beliefs between the titular character and Jackie.
"How refreshing was it to see that represented on television?" he marveled. "If we can all laugh together, maybe we can get through some of the obstacles that are keeping us apart."