10 Most Memorable Groundbreaking Roseanne Episodes
Roseanne set itself apart from other sitcoms quite early on in its 1988 debut. Despite its far-out and often disowned last season in 1997, the series bluntly portrayed issues that many people identified with. Set against the fictional yet realistic blue-collar town of Lanford, Illinois, the Connor clan struggled with job security, sustainable income, and the work that must be put into relationships. It also explored the dynamics between adults and their friends, lovers, siblings, and parents in a no-nonsense way that audiences really responded to. Perfect moments were few and far between, but that was the point of this show. It's been too long since we've shared in the family's ups and downs, which makes the March 27th revival debut all the more exciting. Let's take a look back at 10 of the most memorable and groundbreaking episodes that Roseanne gave us:
1. “One for the Road” (Season 2, Episode 14)
Becky and her friend Dana give into 14-year-old bravado and curiosity while home alone and raid the liquor cabinet. Naturally, they don't know how to properly portion alcohol, and give no thought to tolerance, so they get really drunk and sick. Although there were comical highlights, this episode didn't glamorize teenage drinking. When Dana's mother confronts Roseanne about the incident, they discuss parental responsibility to the best of abilities and show that no one can perfectly parent.
2. “A Bitter Pill to Swallow” (Season 4, Episode 1)
Many shows with teenage characters, comedic or not, usually feature an episode about safe sex. Roseanne's example centered on her granting Becky's request for birth control pills, but also revealed that Becky had already at that point slept with her boyfriend, Mark. This episode stood out because it included Dan's discomfort with the very stark realization that his little girl wasn't so innocent or naïve anymore. Adding to this episode’s comedic side, Dan decides to hire Mark, which makes for some tense and darkly funny moments between the two.
3. “Wait Till Your Father Gets Home” (Season 5, Episode 16)
There were a few serious subjects in this episode, such as the grieving process when one loses a parent and the difficulty and how Roseanne and Jackie were affected by their father’s affair and abuse and their mother’s mental instability. Both Beverly's tirade against her husband's mistress and Roseanne's speech at her father's casket are powerful to watch. Of course, as with every Roseanne episode, there are a few laughs thrown in—especially in the form of Dan’s quips regarding funeral ‘extras’.
4. “Crime and Punishment/War and Peace” (Season 5, Episodes 13 and 14)
This was another segment that began with a topic open for witty commentary – the question of censorship and school authority. The family discovers that Jackie's boyfriend, Fisher, is much worse than the young, immature fling they all thought he was. He’s been hitting her, and the family vows to do something about it. After Dan is arrested for exacting revenge, the end of the episode touches upon the vicious cycle of domestic abuse including the shame, manipulation, and the empty promises to change. It does end on a happier note, though, with Jackie taking control and ending the relationship.
5.“Homeward Bound” (Season 6, Episode 7)
“DJ, did you wash your hands?” is one of several laughs that this episode elicits regarding masturbation. Priceless moments include Michael Fishman asking John Goodman open, explicit questions about him doing it, and Laurie Metcalf's character bringing over DJ's request for back issues of her fashion magazines.
6. “The Driver's Seat” (Season 6, Episode 11)
Beneath her salty demeanor, Roseanne always showed a loving, tender personality, particularly towards children. She stepped in to take care of David after witnessing first-hand how he and Mark's mother was unfit (“It's a Boy,” Season 5, Episode 19), and continued to be a source of comfort for others throughout the series. In “The Driver's Seat,” she worries about turning into her abusive father after roughly spanking DJ. Even though the reaction seemed justified because he stole and damaged her car, episode looked at stress, forgiveness, and having the strength to not repeat destructive patterns.
7. “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” (Season 6, Episode 18)
Martin Mull's Leon was the first gay character in the series, dating back to season 3, and was later followed by Sandra Bernhard's Nancy disclosing her orientation to Roseanne and friends in “Ladies Choice” (Season 5, Episode 8). “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was the episode, though, that garnered over 30 million views, causing raised eyebrows, controversy, and LGBT media accolades. Guest star Mariel Hemingway kisses Roseanne and causing her to analyze just how comfortable she truly is around gay people. The groundbreaking moment was briefly referenced in “December Bride,” (Season 8, Episode 11), when Leon marries his boyfriend Scott.
8. “Lies My Father Told Me” (Season 6, Episode 21)
How we view our parents without knowing the demons they really battled is the subject of this sometimes tough-to-watch episode. News arrives that Dan's mother has been committed to a mental health hospital, though it’s apparently not her first stay. The dialogue between John Goodman and Ned Beatty is sad, honest, and genuine. As Dan learns that his father did a lot of things so that Dan would never see his mother's turmoil, the audience can’t help but relate and feel empathy for such a difficult situation.
9. “White Men Can't Kiss” (Season 7, Episode 9)
This was another episode that examined the subtle degrees of bias, even for people who think they're entirely open and comfortable with those who are different from them. DJ refuses to kiss a classmate in a scene for the school play because she is black, leading to discussions that reveal his opinions on “other cultures” and who is and is not “one of his own.” Roseanne must question her own views as well as she tries to help her son navigate this important territory.
10. “Another Mouth to Shut Up” (Season 8, Episode 20)
Within the first couple of minutes of this episode, you learn that Darlene suggesting marriage to Davis is motivated by the unexpected fact that they're going to be young parents. The remaining 20+ minutes then shows the varied reactions from everyone, ranging from disappointment to the determination to beat the odds and make this situation work. And work it does, eventually serving as a steady storyline that the 2018 reboot updates with the now-grown child.
If you have a chance, go back and watch some of these groundbreaking Roseanne episodes ahead of the new eight-episode reboot that will premiere March 27th.