I’m still working my way through Roseanne in between everything else (your suggestions are proving insanely addictive), and so I’ve been thinking about what lessons from that show Barr should apply to the new sitcom she’s sold to Fox.
I just loved “Radio Days,” the first season episode where Dan enters a songwriting contest. As the station counts down the winners, Dan and Roseanne hope they won’t get second or third, because they need the $100 first prize much more than a night out, however enjoyable that night out might be. I think part of what worked for me about it was the specificity of that desire: without telling you what Dan or Roseanne makes, that figure gives you a sense of exactly where they stand financially. The intensity of their desire, and their (ultimately self-deluding) certainty that they’ll win is just beautifully acted.
Given that the show is about downward mobility, rather than the upward scramble that was the subject of Roseanne, I think the sitcom will have to strike a particular balance between showing us the pain of giving things and experiences up without being relentlessly depressing, or without making the characters look self-indulgent. It’s one thing for a Manhattan heiress to have to give up her horse, and entirely another one for a family business to have to let a long-term employee go. I also think it’ll be a measure of how fast the transition happens. Will the transition be a death by a thousand little financial cuts? A Beverly Hillbillies in reverse? All of the details are going to have to be just right to bring the emotional impact of the show home. Barr came up working class — her first sitcom came out of her own experience. But I don’t know that she’s moved down a class status, and her latest project based on her life sounds distinctly terrible. Being a genius about television more than a decade ago doesn’t guarantee you’ll strike gold again. But I hope this is good. We need something like it.