It's hard to believe it's only been a year since the The Conners first aired on ABC. The spin-off born from the canceled revival of Roseanne launched to a tsunami of headlines and think pieces speculating about whether or not it could escape the shadow of its former namesake star. But while revewers and pundits quicky turned their gaze to the many other shiny objects of Peak TV, a funny thing happened: The Conners has become a much stronger show than its revived predecessor, giving its characters meaty and engaging serialized plotlines that have put each in a transitional place in the early episodes of Season 2.
Darlene is struggling to pick between the two men in her life: her boss, Ben (played by Jay R. Fergueson) and Johnny Galecki's David, her former husband and the father of her children.
Becky is dealing with the difficulties of motherhood with her newborn Beverly Rose — who was born prematurely — and is now faced with raising the baby without a partner. Emilio, the father of her baby, was deported during an ICE raid in the season one finale.
Dan has begun dating again with Louise, played by new recurring cast member Katey Sagal. Sagal fits into the world of Lanford like a glove and has a great rapport with John Goodman.
And last but certainly not least, Jackie has become the show's unofficial female lead in Roseanne's absence, and while the series hasn't given her much of her own storyline so far, it has put her in the center of almost all of the action, and as always Laurie Metcalf has made the most of the material she's been given.
One of the biggest questions going into The Conners was if (and how) the show would continue to address politics without its resident politiical lightning rod. In its original run in the '80s and '90s, Roseanne was lauded for its realistic portrayal of issues like domestic violence, homosexuality, racism, and the threat of poverty that constantly hung over the family's head. Although the revival seemed poised to tackle current social issues just as it had in its heyday, the personal politics of its star seemed to constantly pulled focus.
Storylines involved Darlene's gender fluid son Mark, as well as Roseanne's addiction to opioids. With the Emilio storyline, the show seemed to be aiming for the conservative/liberal dichotomy that was very much a part of the original Roseanne's appeal, with Dan having to reconcile his conservative beliefs about illegal immigration with his admiration for Emilio.
Each of these storylines continued in The Conners, which began, of course, with Roseanne herself dying from an opioid overdose. Emilio continued to be presented as a hardworking, caring man whose deportation tears a family apart, and Darlene's son Mark's identity continues to be explored on the show.
A few episodes into its second season, the show continues to tackle weighty topics, as Becky adjusts to the realities of single motherhood, Mark is caught kissing a boy at school, Darlene's daughter Harris is caught baking pot cookies, and -- in tonight's episode -- DJ's biracial child Mary contends with classmates assumptions about her background. .
That the show's success in continuing to continue on has been greeted with little more than a shrug from TV critics would seem to be more a sign of the times than anything else. At any other time in TV history, its ability to rise from the ashes to become both a creative and (relative) ratings success would likely be the TV story of the year. Instead, it seems that spot this year is reserved for other things.
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Stephen Hladik is a freelance culture writer and actor. You can follow him on Twitter @stephen_hladik