Ever since news broke that the Roseanne reboot would be rebooted (again) without Roseanne Barr, speculation has run rampant about how The Conners might write off the original series matriarch. And now we all know. The Conners premiered on Tuesday night and didn’t waste any time addressing the fate of Barr’s character.
While the family initially thought she died at night due to a heart attack, they realized after discovering painkillers stashed throughout the house that Roseanne suffered from an unknown-to-everyone-else addiction. Ultimately, an opioid overdose killed her.
Of course, this wasn’t entirely shocking. An episode in the first incantation of the revival showed Roseanne come to the realization she had a painkiller problem stemming from an operation.
During a panel at Paley Center on Tuesday night, executive producer Tom Werner explained that the show felt they had an opportunity to raise awareness about a very real problem in an authentic way.
“I think it was important that we all be respectful of Roseanne Conner and Roseanne Barr, but as we talked about it… what made the show work for us is I think we were touching on themes that were very relevant to our audience,” he told the crowd.
Werner added, “This is a problem — and again, we’re doing a comedy — this is a problem that has affects [sic] tens of thousands of people, opioid addiction — 80,000 people died last year dealing with opioid addiction and overdose. We felt that this is something that could shine a light on [the issue].”
Fan reaction to the way ABC decided to write Roseanne Conner off proved to be a bit of a mixed bag.
Some fans, to put it bluntly, weren’t fans at all.
#TheConners ratings are not that grea. At all. Surprise surprise. It stunk! Roseanne, we miss you. It simply just isn’t the same without you. It feels very weird to watch and almost a betrayal. I didn’t watch the whole thing. 5 mins in, I left. @therealroseanne @ABCNetwork U 💩
— Penelope 💕 (@Penelope_Books) October 17, 2018
#TheConners That’s a big NOPE for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love the original cast. I’ve been a huge fan since it started in the 80’s, but @therealroseanne was the show and to make a joke out of her being killed off is disgusting. Doing her like that, she deserved more respect!
— Melissa Terravecchia (@BeachBabe1227) October 17, 2018
— john cønstantine (@A5PHYX1413_VOX) October 16, 2018
— Randi (@Randislife1) October 16, 2018
However, plenty of viewers fell in love with the family all over again.
#TheConners Late to the party but I thought @TheConnersABC did an excellent job with this premiere. Blending death, drug addiction and normal family problems post loss is hard to do. They did it brilliantly….
— Sylvia K. Alston (Cousin Syl) (@SylviaKAlston) October 17, 2018
Giving #TheConners a shot!!! So far so good!!! I’m still a fan of Roseanne!!!
— Caprice 🦋 (@MsHollywood081) October 17, 2018
— BlondeNBlue1 (@blondenblue1) October 17, 2018
Laurie Metcalf is a goddamn national treasure #TheConners
— Ammie (@ammiep) October 17, 2018
— RobOnLocation (@RobOnLocation) October 17, 2018
Torn between sobbing and laughter. This premier is better than I could have ever expected it to be. This is an absolutely accurate portrayal of the opiod epidemic. #TheConners
— Julia Mahoney (@ifyousaysodeary) October 17, 2018
— *Forever*//DRW+CMW* (@tazeena1313) October 17, 2018
— Joanne (@arjoon79) October 17, 2018
— MargAretha (@dj_diva) October 17, 2018
And some made a salient point: Addressing an issue not typically dealt with on primetime TV (in this case, the very real opioid crisis) is trademark Roseanne.
I’m loving the raw truth of the pill epidemic in this country , TRUE Roseanne style to tackle REAL issues , call the show whatever you want but as long as it’s honest real material i’ll always be a fan 👍🏻
— Veronica Sarles (@NYBRAT72) October 17, 2018
It comes as little surprise that Barr herself — who’d been fired in May from the Roseanne reboot due to a racist tweet — had something to say about the way her character’s death was handled in the spinoff.
“While we wish the very best for the cast and production crew of The Conners, all of whom are deeply dedicated to their craft and were Roseanne’s cherished colleagues, we regret that ABC chose to cancel Roseanne by killing off the Roseanne Conner character,” the actor said in a joint statement alongside her friend and frequent podcast collaborator, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.
They continued, “That [Roseanne’s death] was done through an opioid overdose lent an unnecessary grim and morbid dimension to an otherwise happy family show.”
Barr and Boteach noted that Barr went on to reiterate that ABC didn’t have to fire Barr or kill off her character — per their statement, the “cancellation of Roseanne is an opportunity squandered due in equal parts to fear, hubris, and a refusal to forgive.”
While detractors will likely point out that The Conners, with 10 million viewers, didn’t perform as well as the Roseanne reboot (which had over 17 million viewers), it should be noted that The Conners numbers still make it the No. 1 new comedy series of the TV season. And excluding Roseanne — which isn’t counted due to being a revival — The Conners is ABC’s most-watched comedy series debut in four years.
Tune in and make the call for yourself on Tuesday nights at 8/7c on ABC.