Given that most marriages end in divorce, it’s a given that a family show like Roseanne – especially a show that’s predicated on realism and naturalism, would tackle the issue. But like every other serious topic, divorce is handled with a lot of grace and humor in “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” the third episode in the show’s first season. Directed by Ellen Falcon and written by Lauren Eve Anderson, the episode sees Dan and Roseanne on date night, enjoying each others’ company, and cracking the usual sarcastic jokes. While eating, the two see a friend who announces to them that she’s divorced, and that it was Roseanne’s advice that led her to that decision. The news leaves Dan a bit insecure, until Roseanne assures him of their love.
What is so great about “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” is that it gives the characters and the viewers a brief respite from the grinding working class struggle of the other two episodes. Money is barely mentioned in the episode, only a quick nod to the Connors’ finances, when Dan is worried that Roseanne’s choice for date night – the Lanford Inn – is to chi-chi for their budget. Other than that, the episode leaves behind financial matters and instead explores the relationship between Dan and Roseanne a bit more. Interestingly enough, aside from the brief opening scenes, we also don’t see a whole lot of parenting, either, which is great, because viewers are reminded that Dan and Roseanne are parents, sure, but they’re also people. Too often sitcom parents – and this is true more for sitcom moms than dads – but too often, sitcom parents are depicted as nurturing satellites to their kids, whose whole lives revolve around raising their children. It’s great that Roseanne shows its viewers that both Dan and Roseanne have lives and identities outside their children’s – and even more interesting is how Dan discovers that his wife is a bit more complex than he imagined.
The episode opens with Roseanne giving D.J. a homemade haircut. And growing up in a working class household, I can attest that there has been many a time that I perched on a kitchen chair, draped in a bath towel, while my mom did her best to cut my hair with a pair of scissors (this practice ended though, when she tried to do my bangs, and they ended up looking like a ragged row of teeth). Jackie is at the table reading some trashy tabloid and laughingly recounts a story of a Utah housewife who stabbed her husband 37 times. Roseanne’s retort: “I admire her restraint.”
The two discuss Roseanne’s date night, and Dan walks in, exhausted from his job. He and Jackie banter – and we’re given a view of the contentious relationship the two share. Later on in the series, Jackie and Dan become close friends (he even pummels her abusive boyfriend), but at this point, the two are still vying to be the center of Roseanne’s world (she’ll become a mediator between the two throughout the early seasons). Laurie Metcalf and John Goodman are acting geniuses in my book, and the brief exchange in which they sling insults at each other work great because while on the surface, it looks like all fun, the two actors manage to still inject a slight hint of malice, to make the scene just a tiny bit uncomfortable.
As Roseanne gets dressed for her date, Becky flies in, begging to be left in charge. At 13 she is deemed too young to babysit, but is promised the job if Jackie fails to turn up later in the evening. There’s a great bit where as Roseanne leaves, Darlene insists that if “Becky has a heart attack, I’m in charge.” When Roseanne agrees to this, D.J. pipes up with, “Mom, if Darlene has a heart attack, I’m in charge,” to which Roseanne says, “That’s right D.J., if both your sisters are dead, you’re in charge.” The audience responds to this with a loud laugh, which is a shame because it stepped on D.J. enthusiastic, “yay!” to his mom’s consent to be left in charge in the tragic occurrence of his sisters’ deaths.
As mentioned before, Roseanne is hyper-realistic, which is why I was overjoyed when I saw the set for the Lanford Inn. Instead of dressing up a restaurant set to look like an overpriced place that served haute cuisine, the settings designer chose to make the place look like a nicer Applebee’s. In an earlier scene, Roseanne calms Dan’s worries about affording the Lanford Inn by mentioning a two-for-one coupon. Places like Spago or Le Cirque don’t offer coupons, but places like the Lanford Inn do. It’s the kind of place where middle-management and possibly lower-management level people go – it’s still out of the price range of working class folks, but not ridiculously so, that it would stretch credibility. We also have to believe that Lanford is a tiny town in Illinois that is dependent on Wellman Plastics for the majority of its jobs, which connotes a blue collar economy, so a restaurant like Le Cirque would look ridiculous and fail in a place like Lanford. But the Lanford Inn works because it’s the kind of place that a working family would take its kids out on a special occasion, once in a while.
It’s at the restaurant that Dan and Roseanne spot a friend – Patsy (played by actress Patricia Gaul, who was once married to Jeff Goldblum). The two see that she’s not with her husband, Bob, and immediately start to gossip, assuming she’s having an affair. Patsy spots her friends and walks over to their table to say hi and to let them know she and Bob have split up. They try to do a postmortem on the marriage, Dan expressing surprise because Patsy and Bob were so affectionate with each other. Roseanne points out that the PDA was a big sign of the impending collapse of their marriage because it’s the “fighting that keeps the marriage together.”
The two take this news well, which makes me think that Patsy and Bob weren’t all that tight with Dan and Roseanne. They start to joke around about what they’d do if the two of them ever split up. It’s this kind of playing that Goodman and Roseanne Barr excel at – each trying to outdo the other, at one point Dan threatening Roseanne with leaving her all the kids. “I’d give ’em to Jackie,” she shoots back. “Hell, even I don’t hate ’em that much,” he reasons. The teasing continues and it’s all in good fun, until Patsy returns to say goodbye. As she leaves she thanks Roseanne for inspiring her, telling her that when the two spoke at a barbecue a few months earlier, Roseanne shared her dreams of being a writer, which left Patsy with an epiphany: if Roseanne can do it, so can I – and so Patsy decided to go back to school, which angered Bob. Roseanne, touched that she was able to help her friend, thanks her.
What I think is great is that we’re introduced to a more complex Roseanne, and we’re given a peek into Roseanne, the frustrated writer. This theme would return sporadically throughout the show – though Roseanne never went to college, she was extremely well-read and she wanted to be a writer. She gave up her dreams when she married Dan and had a family, which is depressing as hell. We’re still too early in the show to watch Roseanne’s understandable disappointment with her decision, but Lauren Eve Anderson wonderfully slides that bit of back story in.
Instead of continuing the jocular tone of their conversation, Dan gets worried. It’s here that Goodman excels as an actor. Dan is scared to learn that Roseanne has still some unfulfilled hopes and dreams that aren’t directly related to being his wife. He’s also worried that her feelings of discontent may push her away from him. But he can’t bring himself to ask her outright, so he hedges and he procrastinates, a shy and nervous smile hiding his internal feelings. As Dan squirms in his chair, occupying himself with his coffee, you can see the blushing embarrassment of having to bring up this serious issue with his wife.
It’s here that I wish Anderson prodded Roseanne’s motivations a bit more. She seems content, sure that she still has time to pursue her writing career. I know we’re only three episodes into a show that would last nine years, but at this point we’re to understand that Dan and Roseanne have been married for quite a bit of time – at least for as long as Becky’s been alive, so she’s put off her dreams of writing for over a decade. But she doesn’t seem too fazed by it, and assures Dan with a line that’s classic Roseanne in that its sweet, but barbed with her sarcasm:””Face it, this marriage is like a life sentence, with no hope for parole.” Moved by his wife’s devotion, Dan does the one thing he vowed he wouldn’t, despite his wife’s persistent begging: he asks her to dance.
There’s another, very minor subplot that has Becky babysitting Darlene and D.J., with Jackie late from the mall. When she finally arrives, the three snots don’t let her in, thinking she’ll just toddle off home, but are surprised because she somehow magically appears in the house. I didn’t like this smaller story because it wastes Metcalf, and it doesn’t do anything to develop the kids more. One of the many things that Roseanne excelled at was creating interesting and three-dimensional child characters, but there’s little complexity in this episode when it comes to the children (or Jackie, for that matter). It wouldn’t have hurt the episode at all if all of the kids at home nonsense was excised for more Dan and Roseanne at the Lanford Inn.
Some random thoughts:
- Dan to the waiter: “May i see a wine list, please? And I’ll have a beer while we’re waiting.”
- Dan to Roseanne: “I’ve been thinking.” Roseanne: “Don’t do that.”
- Though I didn’t care much for the kids in this episode, I did get a kick out of seeing Darlene try to pop popcorn on a heating pad.
- Barr gets a great bit of minor physical comedy when Roseanne, tired of waiting for their overworked waiter, gets up to get some coffee herself. As she walks back to her table with the pot, she starts to pour coffee for the patrons at the restaurant.
- “Well, Cindy Clark’s mother is a drunken slut.”
- There’s a fantastic blooper clip with Sara Gilbert and Michael Fishman, during which Gilbert flubs the line about being in charge when Becky dies, and Fishman gives her grief. It’s great to see just how restless Fishman is, and just how professional Gilbert is despite her youth. And Fishman’s delivery of “yay” is heard by the audience and is given the laugh it deserves.