LAST NIGHT: Review of Roseanne

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The Independent Culture
Someone must have been watching Roseanne (C4) over the last year or so - but I doubt whether there were many fans among the dwindling audience. Some time ago this admirable and courageous series had fallen into its dotage, and, for anybody who had any affection for it in its prime, it was too sad to see it incontinent and drooling. As if in some malign Hollywood fairytale about getting what you wish for, Roseanne Barr had turned into a Malibu Marie Antoinette - petulant, whimsical and incorrigible. The passage was perfectly exemplified in the morphing portrait of the opening credits, in which you could watch as the star turned from sassy blue-collar heroine into a Stepford Wife. The effect on the series of this mutation was to take it further and further from its heartland - the experience of those who live on the underlip of the American dream. Nothing, though - not the winning of the lottery, nor the arrival of terrorists - could have prepared you for the programme's final episode, as bizarre a piece of television as I have wrestled with in many years.

I'm still trying to get my bearings, to tell you the truth, having abandoned any hope of a coherent summary around about the time of an early exchange about the Conners's house: "I can't imagine this family living anywhere else," said Jackie, with annunciatory stiffness. "Yeah, lottery or no, I could never get rid of this house," replied Roseanne. Who was she addressing, exactly? I couldn't work it out, but then I was still muzzy from the Nietzschean lyrics that had been added to the signature tune - "What doesn't kill us is making us stronger/ We're gonna last longer/ Than the greatest wall in China" (that song, incidentally, might be guilty of hyperbole, but it wasn't simply a refusal to face facts - Roseanne may be over, but it now moves to the television Valhalla of Perpetual Rerun, where it will probably outlive most of us).

Things didn't get any clearer - the episode began as a reunion, with Darlene and David returning home with their new baby, the occasion for a convenient gathering of the surviving characters and a few reflective flashbacks. Then Roseanne insisted on saying grace over the pizza, a mortifying scene that was not offered the saving grace of a sardonic pay-off. Then there were some solemn moments of familial bonding - the sort of things a condemned woman might wish to get off her chest before the button was pressed. Then there was a long sequence in which everyone cooed privately to the newborn, leaning into the lens to deliver brief and characteristic monologues, some of which had you searching for a drip-proof bag. And then everything turned really weird.

In voiceover, Roseanne (the star) took you through the creation of Roseanne (the television series), a rambling address that was a cross between group therapy and an Academy Award acceptance speech: "My sister in real life is gay," we were told over footage of Jackie. "But for some reason, I always pictured her with a man. She's been my rock, and I would not have made it this far without her." But was this a tribute to Roseanne's own sister, or to Laurie Metcalf, the actress who plays Jackie, or to some dazed hybrid of the two? When the voiceover announced that "I lost Dan last year when he had his heart attack", the straw you had been clutching at vanished. Everything since then, apparently, had been an injudicious rewrite by Roseanne (the fictional writer, that is, rather than the real star). In a novel adaptation of the infamous Dallas gambit for escaping from duff plot developments, "it had all been a bad book". But while the last year had been lousy for the viewer, you will be glad to know that it had left Roseanne more grounded: "I learned that no one could stop me but me... and, most important, I learned that God does exist... he and/or she is right inside you, underneath the pain, the sorrow and the shame." This was less a farewell than a Viking funeral, and it was worth trying to remember, even as you stared in slack-jawed astonishment at the burning boats, how much the series had deserved a good send-off.