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Why The Conners' Producers Think Nothing Is 'Off-Limits' When It Comes To Roseanne References

Becky, Darlene, Louise and Dan sitting around kitchen table in the Conners
(Image credit: ABC)

As The Conners heads into its Season 4 midseason hiatus, the ABC sitcom is keeping things hectic for the titular family and everyone surrounding them. And few things in Lanford could create more hectic chaos than the matriarch of the midwest herself, Roseanne Conner. The character’s legacy and influences have popped up a bit more in Season 4 thanks to Dan and Louise’s marriage, as well as Darlene’s crisis of faith, relationships, and motherhood. And so long as there are legitimate reasons to recall Roseanne’s glory days, fans are going to see them.

CinemaBlend spoke with The Conners’ showrunner Bruce Helford and executive producer Dave Caplan ahead of the Season 4 winter finale, and when I asked if there were any narrative areas they wouldn’t want to call back, they both agreed that everything is feasibly on the table. According to Caplan: 

Tell me if I'm not thinking about the way you are, Bruce, but I don't think there's anything off-limits for us, and I say that sincerely. Because I think we take it on such a case-by-case basis where, in the writers' room, we'll say, 'Well, is this a place that one of the characters would mention her?' Would Dan refer to her because there's something about the old marriage that pertains to his new marriage with Louise? Or would Darlene say it? And in upcoming episode, she does say something. Because she was raised by the woman, and now she's raising her own kids, so it's natural. So I think we don't shy away from it where we think it would be right and honest for the characters to to mention her.

As Dave Caplan put it, The Conners has been bringing in references to Roseanne Barr’s iconic character not just through Dan and Louise’s marital status and their furniture decisions, but also through the narratives for the younger generations. Becky is likely just as appreciative for both of her parents’ guidance over the years during her sobriety struggles, even if we didn’t see her directly dig into those reflections like Darlene did. Maybe we’ll even see D.J. having some kind of childhood nostalgia issues along the way where he’ll also be taking a personal look back to how he was raised. Which was probably on a diet of Darlene insults and ham around that iconic kitchen table.

Roseanne in the living room on Roseanne Season 10

(Image credit: Peacock)

Showrunner Bruce Helford carried on that same train of thought in saying that references to Roseanne the show and the character are considered as they’re brought up during the creative process, as opposed to somebody’s predetermined motive to try and shoehorn as many callbacks as possible. In his words:

Yeah, we're respectful of the memory. But also, there are issues that the kids have, sometimes the kids have beef with the way they were raised. And on Roseanne, they mentioned it. Anything that feels that feels honest at the moment. We don't go out of our way to put a mention, obviously, in every episode. It's only when we all just kind of stop and look at each other and go, 'You know, they would bring up Roseanne here at this moment, so we should do it.' And we do it. It's loving of the character, because the character was beloved, in her family and by viewers, and we try to keep it respectful to that. But yeah, there's really nothing off-limits about that. We really will discuss anything that pertains to the relationship between Dan and his wife, or the kids and their mom.

While things were obviously awkward early on in The Conners' standalone existence after Roseanne Barr's exit, that was years ago, and it only makes sense for this family to want to cling to more youthful memories as the characters themselves get older. Even if those memories involve couches and chairs that almost definitely house their own ecosystems at this point. 

Of course, part of this show's draw is the generation-spanning lore that has been brought to life since Roseanne premiered back in 1988. And when I asked if there was an added layer of creative interest in looking back at past moments through a current-day lens, Bruce Helford said:

Well, what other show has 30-year history they can refer to? I mean, it's amazing to have that wealth. We bring things up, like when they found Roseanne's Bible. Because Roseanne did say in an episode way back in the day - when I was running the show actually - about she believes there had to be a God, or else they were screwed. [Laughs.] Because that was the only hope they had. And so it's incredibly rich, it's like a treasure trove to go back and find [things]. We found the Molly character, we found so many things. I don't think there's any show on the air, except for The Simpsons, that has a history longer enough to go back and dig.

Joining lots of other shows hitting hiatuses going into the holiday season, The Conners airs its winter finale on ABC on Wednesday, December 1, at 8:00 p.m. ET. Be sure to check out all of the shows debuting in early 2022!

Nick Venable

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.