It's complicated, that's what it is. It would be very inappropriate to say that Roseanne Barr is difficult. So let's say the situation is very, very complicated.
In one of the most strained star encounters with TV critics here in years, Roseanne Barr made the case for the revival of her hit sitcom, which comes to ABC (CTV in Canada) in March.
I've seen the first two episodes and while full reviews are embargoed, I can tell you this – it's a bracing, oddly brilliant revival made relevant by setting the show in the tumult of Donald Trump's America. In it, the Roseanne Conner character is a Trump supporter, as is her husband, played by John Goodman, who played Dan Conner in the show that spent much of the 1990s as the No. 1 show on American TV.
Here's the thing – Barr is an unapologetic, vocal Trump supporter, just like the character she plays. There is no one like Barr in Hollywood and she knows it.
The complete original cast turned up here. Barr and Goodman sat on a couch, just like the family couch on the show. Barr stared out at the critics, then glared, snapped, deflected questions, got sarcastic and defensive and made it clear she loathed the lot of us.
An early question asked Barr how she could possibly reconcile the anti-racism messages often heard in the original series with her personal and her character's support for Trump, someone seen as a known racist and a xenophobe.
"That's your opinion," Barr snapped.
The critic duly referenced Trump's campaign reference to some Mexican immigrants as "rapists" and other instances of xenophobia. Barr gave a long, hostile stare, then shrugged and said Trump has said "all kinds of crazy things."
Next, she denied being an apologist for the U.S. President. But then she immediately went into Trump-proxy mode citing an alleged low unemployment rate for blacks and Hispanics that Trump takes credit for.
Asked again why she is a Trump supporter, and her character is, Barr first tried to deflect the question over to Bruce Helford, the showrunner on Roseanne. Helford tried to explain. "Everybody in the [Conner] family has a different take on things. And we wanted to get that debate going in a very honest way, in a very real way. We wanted to get out there and do something that we felt would be valuable to maybe healing things and putting everybody's cards on the table."
Barr was asked if she had a problem talking about why she supported Trump. That's when things went awry for a while. The conversation went like this:
Barr: "I don't know what you're asking me. I can't follow." Critic: "Well, why did you write Roseanne for the sitcom as a Trump supporter?" Barr: "I think I just answered that." Critic: "No, you didn't." Barr: "Well, what is it that you want to ask me? I can't follow you."
With a sigh and after another glare, Barr said, "I've always attempted to portray a realistic portrait of the American people and working-class people. And in fact, it was working-class people who elected Trump, so I felt that, yeah, that was very real, and something that needed to be discussed and especially about polarization in the family, and people actually hating other people for the way they voted, which I feel is not American."
Co-star Sara Gilbert, who is back as daughter Darlene on the show, and executive producer and writer Whitney Cummings tried to reduce the tension. Cummings said the creative choice to make Roseanne Conner a Trump supporter came from talking to the Trump supporters in her life. These people, she said, can feel conflicted about Trump, but voted for him in the hope he'd "bring jobs back to America." Cummings said this would explain Roseanne Conner voting for Trump, even if she didn't agree with him on everything.
Barr harrumphed, clearly unhappy with how things were going. "It was time for us as a country to shake things up and, you know, try something different," she blustered. And she wouldn't let go of the 2016 election. She said she couldn't vote for Hillary Clinton "because of Haiti." This seemed to be a reference to a Trump campaign claim – since debunked – that Bill and Hillary Clinton had raised money for a hospital in Haiti that was never built.
Feeling beleaguered and still annoyed, Barr wanted to keep going. An ABC publicist said, "Are you sure?" Barr glared. "We're out of time," the publicist said twice. But Barr wasn't finished. She muttered something about the right to make choices in America. To the relief of the publicist, Barr began to move off the couch. In conclusion, she glared again and told the critics, "I think it's time to close ranks, and I would really like to see an end to 'hate-triotism' in this country."
Here's the thing – the rebooted, nine-episode Roseanne is must-see TV. It's not an advertisement for pro-Trump views. The multigenerational Conner family bicker and argue about health care and jobs in a way that does feel real.
And, irony of ironies, the right-wing American Family Association has launched a boycott against it after reports that one of Roseanne's grandchildren on the show is gender fluid. He is. The kid, Mark, is treated with enormous respect and love on the show. It's very, very complicated.