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Roseanne burst onto the screen in 1988, when top-rated sitcom The Cosby Show exuded a smug Father Knows Best glossiness. In contrast, the blue-collar Conner family bickered with the offhand nastiness of real families, which didn't mean they loved each other any less. Front and center was Roseanne Barr (now known by the single name Roseanne), a former stand-up comedian who wasn't afraid to rock the boat (her fights with producers were legendary). When even the fat guys on sitcoms have svelte, hottie wives, it's hard to believe that this woman--overweight, abrasive, with a voice like a wood chipper--became top of the television heap. Roseanne spoke up for a kind of lower-class feminism; she didn't concern herself much with politics, but within the family she just as much in charge as her husband Dan (the ever-dependable John Goodman, Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski)--though in the final episode of the first season, she took a stand at her factory job that was half Norma Rae, half Cool Hand Luke. But most often the show turned the ordinary rituals of domestic life (putting the kids to bed, coping with visiting parents) into sharp comic scenarios. The stories were smartly hidden in a series of scenes that felt organic and unforced. The entire cast--one of the best ensembles ever, including theater veteran Laurie Metcalf (Scream 2) as Roseanne's sister Jackie; Lecy Goranson as eldest daughter Becky; Michael Fishman as youngest child D.J.; and especially Sara Gilbert (Poison Ivy, ER) as middle daughter Darlene--swiftly cultivated the mixture of comfort and tension that marks most family relationships. The result was a portrait of American family life that rang achingly, hilariously true. Roseanne's first season was solid from the start; few shows have had such an immediate grasp of their ideal tone and rhythm. Roseanne may have been a little stiff in the first few episodes, but she developed her chops quickly. By only the third episode, in which Roseanne and Dan run into a divorced friend at a restaurant and do some impromptu evaluating of their own married life, Roseanne was already exploring the psychology behind the wisecracks. By episode 6, set in a bowling alley, Roseanne begins to truly inhabit her character, growing more physically and emotionally expansive (she herself singles out this episode as the one where she started to have fun). Roseanne was never afraid to share the spotlight; Goodman, Metcalf, and the kids all had central roles in one episode or another, and one of the most striking episodes focused on Roseanne's coworker Crystal (the underrated Natalie West), whose husband had been embedded in concrete while working on a bridge. This black comic premise gave way to surprisingly touching grief when old secrets emerged. Guest performers like George Clooney (a semi-regular in the first season), Ned Beatty (as Dan's father), Estelle Parsons (an insidious turn as Roseanne's mother), and Fred Thompson (as a domineering supervisor) always had meaty material to work with. Simply one of the best sitcoms of all time. Caveat: the set uses the episodes as they were shortened for syndication, not the originally broadcast versions that were 2-3 minutes longer.

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ANB52441 Roseanne Season 1 DVD (1988) $14.98 $13.49