Some spoilers below for the most recent episodes of The Conners, so be warned!
As one of the most iconic families in TV history, the Conners have represented small-town American life like few others, allowing for the character drama to hit every bit as hard as the comedy, and usually with a studio audience reacting to all of it along with the viewers at home. Unfortunately, COVID-19 protocols had a major effect on all TV shows utilizing fan-filled audiences, with The Conners being one of many forced to revert to other means, such as having staffers filling the seats and using prerecorded laughter. While definitely a setback, star Lecy Goranson revealed that the show's more dramatic Season 3 moments are almost benefitting from it.
As fans can surely attest, The Conners Season 3 has leaned particularly hard into various types of dramatic arcs, and has recently dug further into Becky's alcohol dependency, and her successive attempts to rehab those issues. The multi-episode plotline has resulted in some of the biggest emotional jaw-droppers in the franchise's history. So when CinemaBlend had the pleasure of speaking with Lecy Goranson about Becky's ups and downs, I asked if it was easier to deliver the more dramatic moments without a full studio audience present, and she gave quite the astute response, saying:
That's such an interesting thing that we've been kind of talking about, talking about 'taking the time.' I think the audience is there to engage, and whether they're laughing or they're going 'Oooh,' or however way they're reacting, sometimes the audible elements of it kind of do come in the way of some of the dramatic moments. I think that there's been something new and interesting and powerful to be able to sit in those moments without interruption. There's something about the relationships - as much as I think you can't negate that the audience brings so much - in this weird, unusual time where they're absent, there's been a lot of dynamic, dramatic moments.
To her point, audience reactions during hyper-dramatic sitcom moments are a recognizable entity unto themselves. The extended "oohs," the piercing gasps, the uncomfortable chuckles. Those reactions have been ingrained in many viewers who remember full well when 99% of television comedy worked that way, and the same absolutely goes for all the actors throughout sitcom history. So I was genuinely fascinated to get Lecy Goranson's take on it, since I was very curious to hear how the lack of immediate audience feedback played into the timing of her and others' performances. Certainly, after one's father opines that one's dead husband should have died even earlier, as it went when Dan got a little too blunt about Mark and Becky's past, it's almost necessary to take a second for that hurt to truly sink in.
To that end, Lecy Goranson talked about how the all-around silence on the set in those moments throughout the season did indeed feed into the performances. In her words:
The silence is something that I think is really palpable, particularly in drama. And I think, for the timing, too, sometimes it's kind of just not relying on the jokes. I think we all have a tendency, even in theater: you know what the joke is, and you wonder, 'Okay, is this gonna be funny?' And without being in your head about that stuff, I think it allows us to be more in the moment.
Obviously, The Conners does use studio audience audio when Season 3 episodes air on ABC, so it's not the same for fans at home as it was for the actors in the studio, which almost creates another strange TV microcosm: actors performing scenes where no one is reacting, with editors adding reactions from people who haven't seen the thing their reactions are connected to. Sitcoms are sometimes more complicated than we think, no?