'Roseanne' put blue-collar family back on the TV map

Critics' Picks : New Dvds

June 25, 2006

ROSEANNE -- THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON / / Anchor Bay / / $39.98

"I wanted to be on TV mainly to break all the rules of television," Roseanne says in an interview included in this DVD collection.

She didn't break all the rules, but she broke enough of them to make Roseanne one of network television's most memorable series. And Season 4, scheduled for release Tuesday, was one of the sitcom's best years.

In the long view of television history, Roseanne will be remembered for treating blue-collar characters with dignity and respect -- one of the only prime-time series to do so in more than half a century.

Network TV started out featuring working-class families with such series as The Life of Riley (NBC 1949-'58) and Mama (CBS 1949-'56). But once Madison Avenue recognized the vast potential of the new medium to sell consumer goods and a credit-based economy to millions of viewers in the mid-1950s, blue-collar characters were replaced by upwardly mobile men in white shirts and women in pearls. (They dressed that way in family sitcoms -- like Leave it to Beaver -- even when cutting the lawn or standing over the kitchen sink.)

When working-class characters did resurface during the early 1970s and the late 1980s, they tended to be loud-mouthed buffoons like Archie Bunker, of All in the Family, or Homer Simpson, of The Simpsons. Roseanne (Roseanne) and Dan Conner (John Goodman) were loud, but they were nobody's fools. In this series, the wisdom was with the folks who worked hard for a living -- and softened the constant worry of making ends meet with biting humor.

"I got a gold card in the mail today," Roseanne tells Dan in one episode.

"What fish-brain company would give us a gold card?" Dan replies.

Economic and social issues were always front and center in Roseanne (until the last season when the series seemed to implode). Episodes on this DVD deal with Roseanne's gambling addiction, Dan's attempt to start a business and a teenage daughter who wants to use birth control.

* Special features: Say what one might about Roseanne, she is one of television's most candid stars. The audio commentary and interviews on this DVD are a delight: "That's me in my Roseanne Arnold incarnation -- pre-nose-job, pre-face-lift," she says commenting on an episode titled "Trick Me Up, Trick Me Down."

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COMMANDER IN CHIEF: INAUGURAL EDITION, PART 1 / / Touchstone / / $29.99

The DVD only contains episodes 1 through 10 (out of 18), and there are no special features. Still, it is worth watching -- if only to help young girls imagine a woman as president of the United States.

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[DAVID ZURAWIK]

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

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