Was There Really Ever Any Chance That “Roseanne” Could Be Great Again?

I grew up on Roseanne reruns, my weekend afternoons spent happily confined to the warmly shabby Conner family home. When I popped ABC’s screener DVD into my laptop back in January, a couple of months before the rebooted sitcom premiered, I didn’t know what to expect; by the time the familiar wail of the opening credits song began, I had tears in my eyes. I loved this show so much, and now, 21 years after it went off the air, it was back in my life.

It seems crazy now, in the wake of ABC’s decision to cancel Roseanne after its star and namesake tweeted a racist “joke” comparing former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett to an ape, but at the time I had forgotten about the sad, strange turn Roseanne Barr’s public life had taken since her show went off the air in 1997. She’d long been tweeting conspiracy theories — that tweet about Jarrett was followed by another one calling Holocaust survivor George Soros a Nazi who profited off the deaths of Jews during World War II — but it took the election of Trump to give her the megaphone she so clearly craves: In March, the New York Times reported that ABC executives met the day after Trump’s election to discuss how to reach out to the viewers they’d apparently alienated — those economically anxious, working-class, “heartland” Americans who, pundits have repeatedly assured us, are definitely not racist. Apparently, ABC decided the best evangelist for this mission was Roseanne Barr.

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On Tuesday, ABC president Channing Dungey abruptly announced the show’s cancellation with a one-sentence statement decrying Barr’s tweet. In retrospect, this unceremonious demise was inevitable, because the decision to revive Roseanne in the first place grew out of a cynical impulse: to cater to and placate Trump voters with a show that, as Trump himself boasted at one of his rallies, is “about us.” From my perspective as a liberal TV watcher (and critic), the revival also felt like a sneaky way to put viewers like me in a bind: Roseanne has been celebrated as a feminist working-class sitcom since its debut, and as I wrote shortly before the new season began, its reboot felt like a litmus test for the left — you say you can’t separate the art from the artist? What if the art is a beloved sitcom you grew up with and have deep affection for — one that featured openly gay characters, complex teenage girls, and Laurie Metcalf? By playing the nostalgia card, ABC seemed to be having it both ways.

Until it wasn’t. In time, I’m sure we’ll learn more about ABC’s choice to ax Roseanne. It can’t have only been about the tweet, which is just one of many abhorrent and unhinged statements Barr has spread among her copious followers — they now number over 800,000 — since joining Twitter in 2011. Executive producer Whitney Cummings had already left the show; after Barr’s tweet about Jarrett, consulting producer Wanda Sykes announced via Twitter that she, too, was out. Shortly after ABC announced the cancellation, Emma Kenney, who plays the teenage daughter of Darlene (Sara Gilbert) in the new episodes, tweeted that she had also been planning an escape route. These departures, along with declining ratings over the course of the season, might have helped contribute to ABC’s decision.

For me, though, the Roseanne reboot ended a long time ago. The nostalgic glow of the series faded around episode three. ABC hadn’t included this one in its screener package, which comprised episodes one, two, and four. Presumably they wanted critics like me to bask in the promise of those episodes before we reached the moment when Roseanne makes a cruel joke at the expense of two other ABC sitcoms, Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat: Roseanne and Dan have fallen asleep while watching TV, and when Dan points out that they “missed all the shows about black and Asian families,” Roseanne snidely reassures him, “They’re just like us! There, now you’re all caught up.”

It’s one thing to insist that Roseanne Conner is not Roseanne Barr, therefore any issues you may have with the latter shouldn’t affect your view of the former; but the revived Roseanne seemed to collapse the distance between the two, and it was never willing to truly challenge the character’s stubbornly ill-informed views (“He talked about jobs!”), which felt like a win for Roseanne Barr, too. The show could attempt to dress up Roseanne-the-character’s ignorance with liberal ornaments, like Darlene’s genderqueer son, or the black daughter of D.J (Michael Fishman). But Roseanne always got the last laugh.

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So I stopped laughing, and about halfway through the season, I stopped watching. It wasn’t a political choice, or even a fully conscious one. I didn’t take to Twitter to announce that I would no longer be tuning in. I didn’t even announce it to myself. My early enthusiasm just flagged; it felt flimsy all of a sudden. I felt like I’d been duped.

When the show was canceled, I thought I’d go back and watch the episodes I’d missed, but by Tuesday night Hulu had already scrubbed the new episodes, and streaming platforms that had housed the original series followed suit. ABC had even disappeared the show from its press site; when I searched “Roseanne,” no results came up, as if the whole thing was just a fever dream. Roseanne? Doesn’t look like anything to me.

This is a shame, and a woefully shortsighted decision. Having finally done the right thing, it’s as if ABC is trying to pretend the whole debacle never happened — that it never made a calculation on the day after Trump’s election to bob along the MAGA river so long as it could continue dredging up profits from it. (And can’t we leave the original Roseanne out of it?!) Already, viewers and critics are floating the idea of bringing back the show without its star, which seems like yet another attempt to purify something that has already been contaminated. And now that ABC has given Barr that megaphone, it’s not going to be so easy to take it away. The cancellation of her show has inevitably turned her into a martyr among right-wing fans who view ABC’s decision as a way to muzzle conservative voices. Roseanne ends its reanimated run as a cautionary tale about the dangers of trying to corral a volatile yet popular celebrity figure who will not be tamed. It’s one we’ve heard before.


Glenda Jackson Stands Tallest Among Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women”

I never met, and have read almost nothing directly about, Edward Albee’s adoptive mother. But like every theater critic who has watched the bulk of Albee’s work come to life onstage, I feel as though I have met the lady many, many times. I would not, however, presume to call her a friend. To judge by the mark she left on her adopted son’s collected plays, Frances Cotter Albee must have been, as they say, quite a piece of work. The formality-obsessed, bossy Mommy of The American Dream and The Sandbox; the haughty, fear-haunted Claire of A Delicate Balance; the tight-lipped, grudge-clutching Wife of All Over; the indomitable Gillian of Marriage Play: Even this partial list makes it hard to imagine what Albee’s career would have been without the unhappiness his mother seemed so ready to generate.

Never assume, though, that Albee would not have willingly traded all the prizes and box-office profits for a set of parents, and particularly a mother, with whom he could have — literally — felt more at home. The emotional baggage that playwrights’ parents visit on their gifted, perceptive offspring is a lifelong burden; each play is merely a way of setting it down, so the gasping baggage-carrier can rest for a moment and take stock of his or her situation. Then the burden is heaved onto the shoulders again, pressing the burdened soul onward to the next achievement. Forgiveness comes hard, and can take a lifetime to achieve.

The understanding that brings forgiveness is the substance of Three Tall Women, which ranks with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as one of the two great turning points in Albee’s career. Virginia Woolf’s arrival on Broadway in 1962 made Albee both a major commercial player and a literary figure of world-class stature. By 1991, when Three Tall Women premiered in Vienna’s English Theatre, those two roles were seriously at odds. World-class literary figures don’t tailor their results to the demands of the commercial market, and Albee had produced a succession of works virtually guaranteed to give that market palpitations. The puzzling but relatively graspable A Delicate Balance (1966) was the notable exception, blossoming like an oasis among what otherwise seemed (to the commercial marketers) a desert of paradoxical, eccentric, or downright incomprehensible productions. The infuriating adaptations — Malcolm (1966) even infuriated the author of the source novel, while Lolita (1981) infuriated everybody — and the literary experiments, like Quotations From Chairman Mao-Tse-Tung (1968), might be written off as make-work to fill the time between major plays. But there was no way for money-minded Broadway to dodge the resolutely uncommercial reality of Tiny Alice (1964), All Over (1971), Seascape (1975), The Lady From Dubuque (1980), and The Man Who Had Three Arms (1983). Whatever prestige Albee might still command in the wider world, or through revivals of his two “hits,” Broadway had consigned him to the outer darkness.

Then came Three Tall Women, its arrival coinciding with the season-long Signature Theatre salute that gave New York its first view of Marriage Play, Counting the Ways, Listening, and the one-act gem Finding the Sun. Albee in bulk Off-Broadway, with the superlative Three Tall Women crowning the season, might not be a Broadway-style commercial power, but he was suddenly a welcome guest, a figure clearly to be reckoned with. From then until his death in 2016, Albee stood in the role he should always have held: the playwright as public intellectual, with his earlier works, including some of the more challenging, being revived and re-tested, while he turned out new creations, inevitably varied in quality. He even ventured back onto Broadway with his deliciously provocative The Goat (2002).

Left to right: Alison Pill, Glenda Jackson, and Laurie Metcalf populate one of Edward Albee’s elegantly comfortable rooms.

And now Three Tall Women has joined the ranks of the Albee plays that have established a foothold on Broadway, in a clear-cut and largely excellent production (apart from some needless flim-flammery with an upstage mirror) by Joe Mantello. One assumes that Albee, who after his late-life return to success became a much warmer and more amiable man (at least to judge by my own occasional encounters with him), must be looking on and smilin’; one wonders if Frances Cotter Albee is also doing so. For the play is a triumph of empathy, in which a woman unyielding and unforgiving is made forgivable, and even somewhat admirable, through an effort of comprehension that could come only through a playwright’s long-practiced skills.

The woman, in the play, is nameless. Her son, who appears for a segment of its second scene, is silent. (On Broadway, he is not even listed in the program.) By the time he arrives, she has had a stroke and is either dead or comatose. The speaking roles in that scene are representations of her at three ages — 26, 52, and 92. In the first scene, A (Glenda Jackson), the 92-year-old, is the woman, facing the end of her life. B (Laurie Metcalf) is her 52-year-old hired companion. C (Alison Pill) is a smart 26-year-old envoy from her lawyer’s office, there to compel A to attend to some long-neglected legal business. (A has developed the rather Trumpian characteristic of preferring to challenge bills rather than pay them.)

A’s memory is fallible, her motor functions generally require B’s assistance, and she frequently loses the thread of what she was saying. None of which stops her from dominating the conversation, or from insisting on her right to dominate it. In the first scene, we see B alternately abetting and gently but firmly correcting her, while C, more coldly distant, registers her frustration — as strongly as she can without alienating a woman who’s clearly one of her firm’s major clients. In scene two, when all three have become avatars of the comatose figure in the onstage bed, the memories in which A has previously indulged are now distributed evenly among the woman’s three ages, each from her own perspective. C, bright, playful, and a shade arrogant about her youthful charm, does not relish the thought of becoming A. B, in a transitional stage, is laden with regrets for that playful past and new assurances stemming from the role she has learned to play as the wife of a wealthy and powerful man. A rebukes them both with the wisdom — and regret — that she has acquired over her late decades. Both A and B have much to say about the Boy (and to him, although he doesn’t hear them), who comes in to sit silently at the woman’s bedside, and then goes out as quietly as he came, leaving their turmoil behind him.

Less a piece of action than interaction, Albee’s text is really a dramatized poem, full of humor, sharp in its psychological details, and suffused with the complexity of human motives. We learn so much about the woman who has aged into A — her hopes, her background, her fears, her limitations, her needs — that when the talk traverses her unhappiness with her husband or her fury at the way her son has turned out, we understand each of these points of strong feeling as the sum of a vast calculation, adding up a lifetime of accumulated moments. Rich in its easy flow of language, Three Tall Women is also rich in its directness. While the sentences often display the ornate syntax of an educated class of bygone days — a syntax Albee grew up with and cherishes in his writing — they virtually never bog down, as other Albee plays sometimes do, in mere verbal quibbles. The words here come seamlessly, as in a poem the author sorely needed to write. The deep thought packed into them has clearly been building for decades.

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The quality that makes Glenda Jackson’s performance a transcendent one is something of a surprise. Jackson, for me, is one of the acting icons of the post-genteel, “Angry” generation in British theater — angular, politically aware, unafraid of the fierce and harsh sectors of the emotional spectrum. In my mind, she always appears first as I saw her in 1967, as Charlotte Corday in Marat/Sade: the eerie, rigid movements; the darting, frantic eyes; the strange, seemingly displaced voice. Yet here, amid the elegantly comfortable furnishings of an Albee room, draped in the lavishly ornate cascades of Albee’s language, she has absorbed into her persona a grande-dame actress of the generation her generation was rebelling against, in one of the innumerable cozy plays the West End theaters turned out in the Forties and Fifties for the particular delectation of matinee ladies — only, of course, with the difference that half a century makes. For everything is different: Three Tall Women may evoke such midcentury plays but is definitely not one of them, and the evident delight that Jackson takes in slipping into the character of a West End star amusing herself and her following with such a play is like an iridescent scarf of sparkling theatricality draped over a performance as solidly built and reality-based as the best sort of Greek tragic acting. Picture a playful Clytemnestra, and you will get some idea of Jackson’s work.

Jackson gets to blaze out so starrily, in part, because Metcalf, as B, has chosen a deliberately un-grand approach to the character’s impending grandeur: This is a woman who has not yet become the domineering dowager A has turned into. She is still experimenting with the role, testing her authority and learning fast what she can and can’t get away with. Where Marian Seldes’s unforgettable B vented her full rage on the disappointing son, Metcalf’s “Get out of my house!,” equally memorable in its way, is a half-choked sob of recrimination at her own failure. At every point, Metcalf builds with similar quietude, and every point strikes home. Understandably, Pill, constrained by the smallest of the three roles, sometimes pushes her character forward, especially in the second scene, a little too self-consciously. But it’s hard to imagine any actress sharing the stage with these two performances not feeling the itch to compete; the alternative would be to retreat in terror, and no actress worth her salt would do that, given a role with such opportunities in a play of Three Tall Women’s stature. It depicts a mode of life shared by very few, but its sense of living has the fullness that gives a play an unmistakable claim to be called a masterpiece.

Three Tall Women
John Golden Theater
252 West 45th Street
Through June 24


Laurie Metcalf’s Four-Decade Overnight Success

On a cloudy Thursday in March, I climbed two narrow flights of stairs to reach Laurie Metcalf in her dressing room in the Golden Theater, on 45th Street, where she’s appearing in the Edward Albee play Three Tall Women alongside Glenda Jackson and Alison Pill. There’s something simultaneously awe-inspiring and humbling about the backstage bowels of a nearly 100-year-old Broadway theater. On the one hand, you’re standing on the same hallowed ground where Glengarry Glen Ross made its Broadway premiere, where Falsettos and Avenue Q opened, where Mike Nichols and Elaine May helped shape a new era of comedy. On the other, to get back there, you have to enter through a dank alley squeezed between two buildings and filled with dumpsters.

It’s a humble ingress, but that suits a workhorse like Metcalf. “It’s always daunting to tackle a classic, because in the back of your mind you see ‘classic’ and you think you should be precious with it,” she says. “That you can’t be a little bit goofy, or you can’t show a sense of humor about your character unless it’s dictated by this classic script. But it’s fun to throw that out the window and look for it.” She sits with her legs crossed in the small but cozy room outfitted with a grey couch and a vanity mirror above a narrow dressing table. A side table holds a half-finished jigsaw puzzle made from a photograph of her grown son plowing a snowy field in Idaho, where Metcalf, who grew up in southern Illinois, owns property. The heat pipes start coughing just as I’m about to turn on my voice recorder, and when I jokingly complain, she gets up to turn it off with a look of such genuine concern I immediately regret opening my mouth.  

True to its title, Three Tall Women — for which Albee won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994 — features three women credited only as “A,” a wealthy but ailing woman in her 90s, played by Jackson; “B,” A’s caregiver, in her 50s, played by Metcalf; and “C,” a woman in her mid-20s (Pill) who works for A’s law firm. In the first act, set in A’s ornate bedroom, the two younger women listen and interject, with varying degrees of patience, as A reflects on her life in a series of monologues; in its second half, the play shifts to a more metaphysical space, and all three women debate the merits and drawbacks of the different stages of their lives. It’s both darkly funny and undeniably melancholy.

Three Tall Women’s director, Joe Mantello, has described Metcalf (favorably) as a “monster,” an actor who “supplies you with such a variety and wealth of choices, and she doesn’t need a lot of guidance.” But, sitting within the pale-yellow walls of her dressing room, in jeans, a grey hoodie with the play’s logo screen-printed on the front, grey slippers, and zero makeup, Metcalf doesn’t look so scary. She looks both attentive and deeply absorbed by the task at hand — this interview, sure, but mostly the evening performance that begins in just under two hours. She reaches for her dog-eared copy of the script, stuffed with loose-leaf pieces of notepaper. “It’s been slippery,” she says of the run of preview performances, which ends when the play officially opens on Thursday. “Some of the emotions go from high to low really quickly. They’re very jerky. We went down a lot of blind alleys, trying to make it more naturalistic than it wants to be.”

Making something inherently artificial look natural is Metcalf’s superpower. It wasn’t too long ago when it seemed Metcalf had already reached a summit in her career, achieving in just 18 months the kind of success most actors would be lucky to manage over the course of a career. She was nominated for three Emmy awards in 2016, for turns on Horace and Pete, Getting On, and The Big Bang Theory; nine months later, she won her first Tony award, for the role of Nora Helmer in A Doll’s House, Part 2, Lucas Hnath’s adaptation of the famed Ibsen play. But now, the 62-year-old is wrapping up another whirlwind month. Not only is she starring alongside one of her idols, Jackson, in a Broadway production of an Edward Albee play (her first); she’s also reprising her role of Aunt Jackie in the buzzy new reboot of Roseanne, which returned to ABC this week 21 years after the groundbreaking sitcom went off the air.

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And then there was the weekend earlier this month when she had to jet to L.A. to attend the Oscars, for which she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress — her first Academy Award nomination — in Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, for her role as the title character’s devoted but brittle mother.

“Yeah, that was a tough one,” Metcalf says of the weekend of the Oscars, chewing on the drawstrings of her sweatshirt. “That’s like a dream. We did two shows, we did a two o’clock and an eight o’clock on a Saturday. The Oscars are on Sunday, so Sunday morning I went very, very early to the airport and my flight was delayed for two and a half hours. And everybody in L.A. is waiting for me to show up at this hotel room so I can get into hair and makeup and cost—” she stops herself. “I said ‘costume.’ It is a costume! So I landed, went straight there, went to the ceremony, didn’t go to any parties, came straight back to the hotel room, and got up the next day and came back.”

According to Metcalf’s co-star Alison Pill, the first day of rehearsals for Three Tall Women also happened to be the morning of the Oscar nominations. “I’m sure other actors would have brought some of that energy into the room,” Pill says. “But Laurie is an actor for whom the most important thing is building a character that serves the show and building an environment that serves the ensemble. So within minutes the Oscars were pushed to the side. I’m not sure many other actors would be capable of that.”

Metcalf lost to Allison Janney, who won for her performance as another tough mother in the Tonya Harding biopic I, Tonya. But if Metcalf was disappointed, she didn’t show it. Frankly, she doesn’t have time for that. She’s more comfortable plugging away in a dark, cramped theater than sunning herself in the spotlight, and she approaches her career with the steely-eyed focus of a sharp shooter. Doing press for Lady Bird while rehearsing Three Tall Women, she says, was “distracting.” “But, you know, that came and went,” she adds. “I’ll never have another March like this in my life, I know that.”

Will Frears, who directed her in the 2015–16 Broadway adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery — she snagged another Tony nomination for that one — recalls directing a play in 2004 for the legendary Chicago theater company Steppenwolf, which Metcalf and a group of fellow actor-friends founded in the 1970s. He didn’t meet her then, but, he says, “People spoke of her in these hushed tones.” Years later, when Frears was preparing to cast Misery, he drove out to meet Metcalf in the Hamptons, where she was doing a play. He was stuck in traffic and tried frantically to call her, to no avail. Finally, he arrived at the diner where they had planned to meet, and she told him not to worry — and that she’d left her cellphone at home. “You’re already the most impossibly cool person I know,” he recalls thinking.

Once they were rehearsing Misery, Frears was struck by Metcalf’s levelheadedness. “There’s no airs,” he says. “I think she wore the same flannel shirt every day in rehearsal.” She writes down notes in a steno pad after run-throughs, and talks about moments in the play she hasn’t yet “problem-solved.” Metcalf doesn’t dismiss the recognition her work has received in the past couple years, but she approaches it gingerly, as if not to disturb the foundation of her labor that it rests upon. “It’s satisfying when you get compliments from peers,” she acknowledges. “It all depends on if you feel like whatever you’re being acknowledged for, that you actually did do a good job on it — that you gave 150 percent, you poured everything that you could into it.” She finds freedom in theater, where no one is shoving a camera in your face; she feels self-conscious when she’s being filmed, and for nine years on the original run of Roseanne, from 1988 to 1997, she’d “shut down a little bit” on tape day.

Laurie Metcalf in “Lady Bird”

All three actors in Three Tall Women give formidable performances, but when I saw the play, I was struck by how instinctive Metcalf’s performance looked — every word she spoke sounded like her own. When I mention this, her eyes widen and her face lights up. “Oh, that’s a huge compliment!” she says. “That’s the goal of interpreting, you know, is to make it look spontaneous and in the moment.” She pauses, pleased. “You didn’t see the typewritten words above my head!”

It takes a lot of sweat to make acting look so effortless — particularly comedic acting, which rarely earns performers the same kind of accolades as a dramatic role. But Metcalf is extraordinarily skilled at digging out the humor hidden in the most seemingly banal words. “She carves out every single moment to find the funniest delivery, the science behind the comedy or pathos of it,” Pill says. “These are small moments, but she will obsess and try things until it’s perfected.” Michael Fishman, who played youngest child D.J. Conner on Roseanne, was just six years old when the show began, and became close with Metcalf’s oldest daughter, Zoe Perry. (Perry’s father is Jeff Perry, another Steppenwolf co-founder; Metcalf has three other children with her now-ex-husband, Matt Roth, who played Jackie’s boyfriend Fisher on Roseanne.) Fishman told me he watched some of Metcalf’s best work on set take place when the camera wasn’t even on her, and he spoke of her meticulous method of adding layers of detail to a scene, even one in which she barely speaks.

“There’s an episode in the new season where she’s frustrated, and she’s cleaning up crumbs on the table,” he says. “She’s sweeping them into this little pile and you can just feel it building as the scene goes on, and as everybody walks away she’s building it and building it and building it, and she looks around and there’s nowhere to put them, and she takes the whole pile and just whacks it with the sponge and wipes them across the room. It was so perfect for the frustration she had throughout the scene, and it’s not in the script.”

Fishman adds, “I think she was underrated for a while because people didn’t fully grasp how detailed and nuanced she was. I think people have realized now. The secret’s out.”

I leave a few minutes before my time’s up, because Laurie Metcalf has a schedule to keep, and I’ll be damned if I get in the way of all that greatness. She goes over the script at 6:30 each evening before the show, saying every one of her lines out loud. “It’s very lonely,” she says. “But it’s a good mental and vocal warm-up.” I thank her for her time and slip back out into the alley.


Can Roseanne Make “Roseanne” Great Again?

In the words of its star and guiding spirit, the groundbreaking 1980s–’90s sitcom Roseanne, about a blue-collar family loudly making ends meet in the fictional town of Lanford, Illinois, was “television’s first feminist and working-class-family sitcom.” But in recent years, Roseanne Barr has — as is her tendency — gone down a strange and winding path, one that’s taken her from starring in a reality show about living on a Hawaiian nut farm to loudly shilling for Donald Trump and spreading Seth Rich conspiracy theories on Twitter. She has gone full MAGA. As her signature series is set to return, this raises the question: Can you love Roseanne and hate Roseanne?

As we’ve seen, again and again, in the last year, it’s not so easy these days to separate artists’ personal beliefs from their artistic output. That’s especially true when the artist has made her name playing a character based on herself and her experiences. That conversation has mostly concerned men who harass or abuse women and then ruin their careers, like Louis C.K., another comedian whose material is closely entwined with his personal life. The case of Roseanne is different, of course; Barr’s behavior doesn’t fit into a pattern of abuse that has shaped the entertainment industry.

But her mind, like Woody Allen’s heart, wants what it wants, which may make it difficult for some fans of the original series to get on board with the reboot. The first of Roseanne’s nine new episodes will air on March 27, but already the show’s producers have revealed, perhaps unsurprisingly, that Roseanne and Dan Conner (Barr and John Goodman) voted for Trump, which has created a rift between Roseanne and her sister, Jackie (Laurie Metcalf). Some fans have balked at that choice, but in terms of geography and socioeconomic status, it’s of course quite likely that Roseanne and Dan would be Trump voters.

In interviews and promotional events, however, Barr seems intent on collapsing the distance between her and her character. Speaking to the Hollywood Reporter — she appears on the cover of that week’s issue — Barr said she demanded the writers include a Hillary Clinton “slam” in the first episode, because, she explained, “I wanted to represent the country and how divided we are.” Fair enough, except anyone who’s been paying attention to Barr’s public remarks in the past couple of years knows she despises Hillary Clinton, which makes it difficult for me to hear that Hillary joke (I’ve seen the episode) coming from the character rather than the woman who plays her.

Of course, Roseanne Barr and Roseanne Conner have always been different entities. But in the decades since the show’s 1988 premiere, Barr’s life has veered pretty far from that of a Midwestern waitress and mother of three. She’s never been out of the spotlight — or off the air — for too long, which is why I take her political opinions with a whole pile of salt. The Trump era seems to suit Barr’s contrarian spirit: Reading her interviews and tweets, I get the sense she’s driven less by ideology than a juvenile impulse to throw sand in the gears, to “shake things up,” to set herself apart from the rest of the Hollywood sheep lock-stepping to the beat of the #resistance. After all, this is a woman who, in 2009, posed as Hitler in a magazine photo spread titled “That Oven Feelin’.”

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Sure, she’ll tweet out her Hollywood Reporter cover, but she’ll also tweet a celebratory piece on the Roseanne reboot from the far-right blog LifeZette, or an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post calling her “a moral giant” for giving a speech critical of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. (Barr, for the record, used to refer to Israel as a “Nazi state.”) The op-ed writer marvels that Barr spoke with “such moral outrage, truth and clarity that could have ruined her career and standing within the radical-left-controlled kingdom of Hollywood.” Like many media figures who support Trump, Barr seems to see herself as a courageous truth teller in a sea of pansy-ass liberal conformists.

Barr is certainly not the first celebrity to give over her platform to dumb ideas and dangerously uninformed people. I’m sure she’d agree with that LifeZette writer’s contention that left-leaning viewers simply “hate any sort of sympathy for Trump voters.” But beyond the maddening logic of this persistent argument — if that were true, would the New York Times still be running weekly stories on Joe Trump Voter at the diner in Idaho? — it’s an argument based on the assumption that what’s offensive to liberal viewers is the fact that a fictional character on a beloved show, and not Barr herself, voted for an unhinged con man who wants to rid the country of Muslims and immigrants.

So what are the non-deplorables among us to make of ABC’s reboot, and the fact that a woman who has spewed such inflammatory garbage over the past few years is back playing a paragon of blue-collar common sense? Roseanne’s politics have always been progressive, and Roseanne the character has always been a humanist. That’s true of the new episodes, at least the first two that I’ve seen; the show’s politics are still pretty liberal.

From the perspective of 2018, the old Roseanne is a relic of a time before conservative politics became all about resentments and enemies. In one episode from 1994, in which both Roseanne and Dan confront their own bigoted impulses, Roseanne says white folks who think they’re above black people are “just a bunch of banjo-pickin’, cousin-datin’, barefoot embarrassments to respectable white trash like us!” What defined the Conners politically wasn’t their tribal identity but their economic reality.

In the new season, money is still tight as ever, but the writers have filled the show with liberal signposts. Darlene (Sara Gilbert) has a middle school–aged son who identifies as a boy but likes to wear sequins and skirts, and D.J. (Michael Fishman) has a biracial daughter. The price of Roseanne and Dan’s medication has skyrocketed, and Jackie snickers about “the new health care all you suckers got promised.” Roseanne Conner may have voted for Trump, but she also sticks up for her grandson when the kids at school laugh at his clothes. The Conners appear to be that quasi-mythical family who really did vote for Trump because of “economic anxiety” and nothing else.

The politics of the new Roseanne speak to a kind of doublethink among a segment of white Trump supporters, who may love their one black co-worker but still feel comfortable explaining why black Americans have poor leadership that’s been holding them back all these years. Maybe the Conners, like so many subjects of those Times articles, truly believed Trump would bring back jobs and even entire industries. But that means they’d either have to believe in his demonizing of immigrants and minorities or be willing to overlook it — which maybe amounts to the same thing. There’s no such thing as a conditional vote. The Roseanne reboot is a rare Trump-era cultural product that epitomizes this contradiction, and from what I’ve seen, doesn’t try to soften or smooth it out. It may shock Barr to hear a liberal say this, but I think that makes for great TV. That doesn’t mean I would avoid trading this reboot for a Hillary presidency any day of the week.

It’s ironic, but entirely unsurprising, that Barr sees Trump’s supporters as a persecuted minority. Trump appeals to the pettiness in his followers, the perception that they’ve been oppressed. (I’m not sure what those followers would think of Barr referring to the time Roseanne dipped in the ratings and she could no longer get a last-minute table at the Palm as “a gut shot with a sawed-off scattershot, buckshot-loaded pellet gun.”) Barr doesn’t appear quite as concerned about the actual minorities who have been and will be targeted by Trump’s presidency, and that’s the noisy intersection at which Roseanne crashes into Roseanne.

During the Roseanne panel at the Television Critics Association Press Tour in January, one reporter, who is black, pressed Barr on her political opinions and expressed how disappointed she was to hear them, since the series — and Roseanne Conner’s forceful rejection of racism on it — meant so much to her growing up. The reporter pointed to a particular scene that appeared in a sizzle reel of old Roseanne clips before the stars and creators were brought onstage to answer questions. In the scene, from an episode called “White Men Can’t Kiss,” D.J. is supposed to kiss a girl in a school play, but he refuses, and his parents think they know why. “Is it because she’s black?” Dan asks. “You’ll be mad if I say yes,” D.J. replies.

“No, we won’t,” Dan says.

“Yes, we will!” Roseanne shoots back, to much laughter. “I didn’t raise you to be some little bigot!” Maybe not. But sometimes, people surprise you.

Roseanne returns to ABC on March 27 at 8 p.m.


The Village Voice Film Poll

It’s hard to feel too down on a film year in which titles like Phantom Thread, Lady Bird, Get Out, and Call Me by Your Name are vying for major awards and accolades. Those are the movies that not unpredictably placed the highest in our 2017 survey; they’re also among this year’s Best Picture nominees for next month’s Oscars. Still, our poll did offer up one genuine surprise, as Paul Thomas Anderson’s delicate, poisonous mushroom of a romance bested its rivals and landed on top. So, there you have it: Phantom Thread, winner of the 2017 Village Voice Film Poll.

To be fair, the Voice poll does like PTA: The Master and There Will Be Blood came out on top in 2012 and 2007, respectively, and even his divisive Thomas Pynchon adaptation Inherent Vice had a respectable showing in 2014. (In fact, every film Anderson made since 1999 has placed in our Top Ten; view past results of the Village Voice Film Poll here.) But perhaps more significantly, Phantom Thread is the kind of work — patient, subtle, sexy, disturbing — that sinks into your brain and lingers there for a while. It was a pleasant surprise to see it do so well with Oscar nominations; maybe these added weeks of reflection will prod the Academy to throw it an actual statue or two.

Elsewhere in the Voice poll, there were plenty of the usual, albeit worthwhile, suspects winning their respective categories, but dig a little deeper and there are all sorts of interesting choices to be found. David Lynch, for example, had a fairly respectable showing in the Best Director category for a work that many people don’t even consider a film. (More on that later.) It’s nice also to see some love for Bertrand Bonello’s Nocturama and Kogonada’s Columbus, as well as actors like Cynthia Nixon and Barry Keoghan.

Naturally, there’s more to come. Over the course of this week, we will be presenting a number of reflections on the year in film from different writers. We’ll also provide, on Friday, the full results, as well as individual ballots. So please feel free to check back often. —Bilge Ebiri

Vicky Krieps and Daniel Day-Lewis in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread.

Best Film:

1. Phantom Thread (348 points)

2. Lady Bird (326 points)

3. Get Out (318 points)

4. Call Me by Your Name (305 points)

5. The Florida Project (289 points)

6. Dunkirk (202 points)

7. Personal Shopper (169 points)

8. Nocturama (165 points)

9. A Quiet Passion (161 points)

10. The Shape of Water (152 points)


Lady Bird‘s Saoirse Ronan.

Best Lead Performance:

1. Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird (121 points)

2. Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name (108 points)

3. Cynthia Nixon, A Quiet Passion (101 points)

4. Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread (86 points)

5. Kristen Stewart, Personal Shopper (85 points)

6. Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water (81 points)

7. Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread (77 points)

8. Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (72 points)

9 (tie). Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out (52 points)

9 (tie). Robert Pattinson, Good Time (52 points)


Lady Bird‘s Laurie Metcalf.

Best Supporting Performance:

1. Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird (199 points)

2. Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project (147 points)

3. Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip (132 points)

4. Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread (101 points)

5. Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me by Your Name (74 points)

6. Allison Janney, I, Tonya (56 points)

7. Barry Keoghan, The Killing of a Sacred Deer (52 points)

8. Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (49 points)

9 (tie). Mary J. Blige, Mudbound (43 points)

9 (tie). Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water (43 points)


Paul Thomas Anderson

Best Director:

1. Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread (65 points)

2. Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird (52 points)

3. Jordan Peele, Get Out (51 points)

4. Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk (49 points)

5. Luca Guadagnino, Call Me by Your Name (42 points)

6. Sean Baker, The Florida Project (41 points)

7. Bertrand Bonello, Nocturama (37 points)

8. David Lynch, Twin Peaks: The Return (31 points)

9 (tie). Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water (22 points)

9 (tie). Dee Rees, Mudbound (22 points)


Jordan Peele

Best First Feature:

1. Jordan Peele, Get Out (42 points)

2. Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird (15 points)

3. Kogonada, Columbus (10 points)

4. Eduardo Williams, The Human Surge (6 points)

5. Julia Ducournau, Raw (5 points)


Faces Places directors JR and Agnès Varda.

Best Documentary:

1. Agnès Varda and JR, Faces Places (20 points)

2. Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous, The Work (11 points)

3. Bill Morrison, Dawson City: Frozen Time (10 points)

4. Errol Morris, Wormwood (8 points)

5. Ceyda Torun, Kedi (7 points)


Lady Bird writer and director Greta Gerwig.

Best Screenplay:

1. Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird (22 points)

2. Jordan Peele, Get Out (17 points)

3. Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread (14 points)

4 (tie). Noah Baumbach, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (4 points)

4 (tie). Terence Davies, A Quiet Passion (4 points)

4 (tie). James Ivory, Call Me by Your Name (4 points)

4 (tie). Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (4 points)

4 (tie). Ruben Östlund, The Square (4 points)


A scene from Lee Unrich’s Coco.

Best Animated Film:

1. Lee Unkrich, Coco (21 points)

2. Nora Twomey, The Breadwinner (13 points)

3. Chris McKay, The LEGO Batman Movie (11 points)

4. Makoto Shinkai, Your Name (8 points)

5. Sunao Katabuchi, In This Corner of the World (6 points)


The Voters:

Simon Abrams, Sam Adams, Siddhant Adlakha, Florence Almozini, Mallory Andrews, David Ansen, Ali Arikan, Sean Axmaker, Jason Bailey, Miriam Bale, Abbey Bender, Sheila Benson, Christian Blauvelt, Danny Bowes, Charles Bramesco, Sean Burns, Monica Castillo, Daryl Chin, Jaime Christley, Jake Cole, Sherilyn Connelly, Adam Cook, Jordan Cronk, Mike D’Angelo, Freja Dam, Morgan Leigh Davies, Peter Debruge, A.A. Dowd, Diana Drumm, Alonso Duralde, Bilge Ebiri, David Ehrenstein, Eric Eisenberg, Kate Erbland, Steve Erickson, Chris Evangelista, Molly Faust, David Fear, Jon Frosch, Cynthia Fuchs, Noah Gittell, Tim Grierson, Karen Han, Jesse Hassenger, Eric Henderson, Odie Henderson, Aaron Hillis, Jordan Hoffman, Eric Hynes, Caryn James, Ren Jender, Don Kaye, Ben Kenigsberg, Jonathan Kiefer, Nellie Killian, Dan Kois, Michael Koresky, Peter Labuza, Tomris Laffly, Joanna Langfield, Josh Larsen, Richard Lawson, Manuela Lazic, Will Leitch, Diego Lerer, Craig D. Lindsey, Phillip Lopate, Willow Maclay, Calum Marsh, Ben Mercer, Sean Mulvihill, Angelo Muredda, Noel Murray, Vikram Murthi, Sophia Nguyen, Michael Nordine, John Oursler, Gerald Peary, Sasha Perl-Raver, Ray Pride, Matt Prigge, C.J. Prince, Kristy Puchko, Jeff Reichert, Katey Rich, Vadim Rizov, Joshua Rothkopf, Mike Rubin, Nick Schager, Alan Scherstuhl, Michael Sicinski, David Sims, Matt Singer, Josh Spiegel, Emma Stefansky, David Sterritt, Elizabeth Stoddard, Alice Stoehr, Anne Thompson, Luke Thompson, Scott Tobias, Kyle Turner, Kathleen Walsh, Chris Wells, Matthew Wilder, Alissa Wilkinson, Alison Willmore, Charles Wilson, Kristen Yoonsoo Kim, Lara Zarum, Alan Zilberman, Esther Zuckerman

Ground Rules:

Voting took place in eight categories. For four of those categories (Best Film, Best Lead Performance, Best Supporting Performance, and Best Director), voters were given the option to designate their ballots as “ranked” or “unranked.”

This year, we decided to make the acting categories gender-neutral but increased the number of people that voters may vote for in each from three to five.

On ranked ballots, voters were asked to list their selections in order of preference, with number one their strongest, number two their next strongest, and so forth. For example, in the Best Film category, where ten votes are possible, their number one choice was awarded ten points, their number two choice nine points, etc. If a voter only listed eight films, then his or her number one film was awarded eight points, the number two film seven points, etc.

On ballots designated as “unranked,” films were awarded five points each, performances three each, and directors two each. Ties of any kind (e.g., two films for one slot, one actor for two films, two actors for one film, etc.) were not permitted.


A film was considered eligible if it was first distributed, streamed, or released in the United States in 2017. If piece of work met that criteria and a voter considered it a film, then he or she was instructed to feel free to vote for it.


Erection Season: For Domesticated Playwright Bruce Norris, the Political Is Personal

It’s not about the sex, we say each time a political scandal erupts. It’s not about the blowjobs, the penis pictures, the hookers. It’s about the hypocrisy, the stupidity, the abuse of power.

Ignore our fulminating. It’s completely about the sex — particularly when governors are rumored to leave their dress socks on to have it. We still expect our public figures to act more prudently (and puritanically) than we might. And we feel a perverse gratification as when they fail.

You’ll certainly feel it at Bruce Norris’s timely Domesticated, which concerns another disgraced politico. Bill Pulver (Jeff Goldblum) is a gynecologist-turned-statesman with a poised wife, clever daughters, and a sterling record on women’s issues — until police discover him at the bedside of an injured prostitute.

The drama opens at the ensuing press conference, in which Bill is meant to offer a mea culpa for his misdeeds while his wife, Judy (Laurie Metcalf), stands stoically beside him. But Bill doesn’t want to stick to the script. After stuttering his way through a pro forma apology, he questions “what there is to be gained by going through some predetermined ritual of self-flagella —” before breaking off entirely.

In the ensuing scenes — funny though programmatic — Bill claims that the world has turned against him not because of his actions but because of the truth they reveal about men, women, and their various sexual proclivities. Predictably, each new rant further imperils his family, career, finances, and health.

More than a mere satirist, Norris styles himself a scourge of liberal complacency. Here, as in The Pain and the Itch and Clybourne Park, he shows the sexism, racism, and xenophobia lurking just below our clean, moisturized skin. Were this an earlier era, you might have found him shouting in the marketplace, but in this one he gets to shout at Lincoln Center (and the play includes a cruelly precise scene aimed directly at the uptown ladies who fill the theater’s plush seats).

But Norris works best when he tethers his vitriol to real people and relationships. If the ferocious debate in Clybourne Park‘s second act made the play a triumph, it was the suffering family in act one that made it matter.

Those elements don’t merge as successfully here, though the ferocity remains. The first act forces Bill into silence; the second doesn’t let him shut up, and his tirades against women become increasingly unhinged. Some of what he says does produce the discomfort Norris specializes in — that prickle when you hear a character vocalize what you have secretly, shamefully thought. But Bill’s repeated contentions that women only want men for their sperm seem absurd rather than acerbic. It weights the play too much against him, when instead we should harbor an itchy suspicion that he might be right.

That said, Goldblum — intelligent, creepy, sleazy, and sexy — is expertly cast, and Metcalf’s Judy, beautifully suited and groomed, grounds the play, refusing both the harridan and martyr roles. Emile Meade excels as their mouthy teenage daughter and Mia Barron is an equally outspoken treat as their iPhone-clutching attorney. Anna D. Shapiro, Norris’s longtime collaborator, offers direction as clear and fluid as a double martini, and with a comparable kick. Her staging just might knock your dress socks off.



The Other Place’s Bad Brain

Mad scenes, as the opera composers of the bel canto era well knew, make great opportunities for divas. I had never previously thought of Laurie Metcalf—an actress who always seems to come bearing an ineffable, hardheaded reality—as a diva. Yet here she is, at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Broadway outpost, in Sharr White’s The Other Place (Friedman Theatre), a play in which the heroine’s apparently hardheaded grasp of the real world around her gets challenged as being only a species of dementia. Facts are toyed with; alternative explanations of what’s occurring are presented; scenes flash back and flash forward to help you assemble a plausible picture from the pieces of this puzzle.

The trouble is that White’s script doesn’t really offer much worth explaining. Aside from its trickiness, its principal function is to give a leading actress of Metcalf’s tough-minded straightforwardness an opportunity to do the demented-diva trip. This is a script for actresses who can display all the emotional colors of an opera heroine gone lunatic from grief. Expertly negotiating the twists and turns of White’s puzzle game, Metcalf proves that she can make those colors succeed one another vibrantly. To demand that she also handle the customary coloratura trills and high C’s would be petty.

A case history with a complex backstory, The Other Place offers excuses rather than dramatic justifications for its heroine Juliana’s problematic condition. A specific traumatic thing has happened to her, as a result of something that she may or may not have simply imagined, and now she imagines more, and more disturbing, things. At least so says her oncologist husband (Daniel Stern).

A medical-research physician who shares the patent on an important drug for restoring damaged DNA, she thinks she has brain cancer; he, and the shrink he sends her to (Zoe Perry), think she has dementia. I think that her relentless asperity—part of her no-nonsense scientific fact-facing—would have made living with her an agonizing haul long before any dementia set in, which makes his devotion to her rather puzzling. Stern’s avuncular woolliness doesn’t make it seem any more plausible, and the splashy media effects in Joe Mantello’s production don’t make the evening more riveting. The multihued flair of Metcalf’s performance notwithstanding, you might prefer to stay home and watch Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight, which is less quick with the sharp-edged quips but perhaps more gratifying overall.


The Other Place

In Sharr White’s play, Juliana Smithton (Laurie Metcalf) is a research scientist fearing a diagnosis of the brain cancer that killed her father and grandmother. But just as we settle in to this familiar disease play scenario, White adroitly flips the script and we must question everything we’ve come to believe about character and plot.

Tuesdays, Wednesdays, 7 p.m.; Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, 2 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Starts: Dec. 11. Continues through March 3, 2012


The Other Place Plays Head Games

Religious devotion isn’t a requirement for attending the theater—thank God—but watching a play demands that we take much on faith. We trust that characters are who they say they are, we accept that a few sticks of furniture constitute a room, we believe that the scenes are really occurring. Most playwrights seem grateful for this audience gullibility, but a few—Genet, Dürrenmatt, Albee, Stoppard, etc.—turn this credulity to their advantage and do it with such skill that we feel positively grateful to have been duped.

We shouldn’t add Sharr White to this storied list yet, but in his New York debut, The Other Place, produced by MCC at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, he ably toys with audience assumptions and expectations. As the play begins, we meet Juliana Smithton (a commanding Laurie Metcalf), a research scientist whom you might call authoritative and opinionated or might simply label a bitch. She has arrived on St. Thomas to pitch a group of doctors on an anti-dementia drug she has developed. But the lecture goes awry and Juliana returns to Boston, anticipating the diagnosis of the brain cancer that killed her father and grandmother.

So far, The Other Place anticipates the arc of the typical disease play and will likely put MCC devotees in mind of Wit. How will this imperious woman come to terms with her illness? Will she reconcile with her estranged husband and daughter? Will her suffering humanize her? But just as we settle in to this familiar scenario, White adroitly flips the script and we must question everything we’ve come to believe about his characters and plot.

The play, directed by Joe Mantello, doesn’t let us linger too long in that perfect uncertainty—what the Greeks would call aporia—and the second half retreats into comforting realism. Some of the writing is merely slick, but Mantello and his cast—Metcalf, Dennis Boutsikaris as her husband, Aya Cash and John Schiappa in various roles—mostly work against the script’s weak points. And not even a mawkish ending can counteract the wonderful surprise of the play’s middle, in which we the audience collectively discovered we’d been had. And that we’d liked it.