Critic's Notebook: Why I Don't Watch 'Roseanne,' and Other Trump-Related TV Confessions

Things are so bleak right now that watching any politically charged series — particularly one asking us to empathize with Trump's America — is a challenge, THR's chief TV critic writes.
Courtesy of Adam Rose/ABC
Hard pass on this. Vote with your remote.

It's been almost seven months since I wrote a critic's notebook wondering when television would catch up to the anti-Trump outrage and tap into the rich vein of what that actually is. Would we get deeper looks at authoritarian aggression, or the ways in which issues of race, gender and sexuality have divided America? A clever post-Americans espionage story, updated perhaps? Or maybe just some good satirical comedies?

There is, I think, real opportunity there. But then again, I'm no longer interested in it.

Like, not at all. Please give me anything but a show even vaguely referencing or alluding to Trump.

Like so many people, I have Trump fatigue. Constantly reading about his scandals and incompetence and daily blunders that make the country either a laughing stock or just a sad shell of itself — or a large swath of land on the verge of nuclear devastation, take your pick — tends to get exhausting. And no matter how many shows send him up or winningly pull off that you-gotta-laugh-to-keep-from-crying trick, from Saturday Night Live to Jimmy Kimmel to Samantha Bee and John Oliver, there's nothing that can give me the energy to come back from the soul-sucking drain of his presidency. Television is not going to make that go away. Only Trump literally going away can fix that.

And a show about Trump would ultimately be pointless to the people its message would be aimed at anyway. Here are two examples: The Handmaid's Tale and Roseanne.

I teach a visual studies class at an arts college, and we just finished the first bleak season marathon of The Handmaid's Tale — and, spoiler alert, they liked Netflix's The End of the F***ing World exponentially more. Most of them said that they ultimately liked The Handmaid's Tale but would never have watched it on their own, much less finished it. Now as many as 11 of the 18 say they would watch season two. You're welcome, Hulu. (None of the 18 have Hulu, so they will probably do what seemingly every broke college person does these days and, um, "find it" somewhere else.)

There was a large percentage of international students in the class, so a morality tale that reflects Trump's America and all of the easy-to-imagine real-world crossover potential didn't really light them up like the others, but those who have a rooting interest in the United States not becoming a version of Gilead or, say, Russia, were enamored with it and concerned about the disturbing parallels they saw. But a point several made to me was clear: As entertainment, this might pass muster for Trump fans, maybe not. But as a coded warning — they were dubious. Not only would actual Trump supporters not want "Hollywood" preaching to them, but they would just call it "fake" and "liberal scare tactics" meant to elect a Democrat next time.

And, yeah, they are probably right about that. Another said that Trump supporters wouldn't get it anyway. I like that kid, even if that's the kind of wide brush Republicans hate to be painted with.

And yet: Roseanne.

I'm not watching Roseanne for a number of reasons, so let me enumerate them in order of weighted reasoning: 1. I didn't like the original. 2. I don't like Roseanne, the person. 3. I don't care to understand my divided country from that perspective — I know that perspective because I'm living in it, reading about it and watching its supporters behave badly while also in it. I'm not just happy to be in a bubble from people like the fictional Roseanne (or the real one) — I delight in the distance. I'm a proud coastal elite. I don't want any part of those Roseanne-esque people and their ignorance or viewpoints. That's not soap-boxing — that's fact. Live your tragically insular, religiously hypocritical white lives somewhere I'm not. I'm fine with the divide — you do you. Let's never meet and I'll ignore you and suffer your breathing if we do.

Oh, wait: 4. I don't like a lot of network shows. 5. I particularly don't like reboots.

So, that's an emphatic no on me watching Roseanne.

I'm assuming viewers on the other side think the same. I don't believe Trump supporters in particular or Republicans in general really want to watch a drama or comedy that conveys any message that goes against their core beliefs or takes them to task for having those beliefs. As a rule, I don't think people want to be lectured or hectored.

Of course, that won't stop people from making those series if they feel creatively motivated to do so. I don't see many series other than The Handmaid's Tale or Roseanne that are realistically linked to the Trump Era, although there's a bad on-the-nose cable comedy I won't even mention. More may come. I'm not sure that's necessary, much less a good idea. While I absolutely believe that the United States in 2018 under Trump has enough racists, homophobes, gun nuts, under-educated and easily manipulated people to make the core ideas of The Handmaid's Tale spring to life tomorrow if given the chance, is sending that message to people who already know this in their bones an artistically relevant achievement?

We are a divided nation. From our news to our views — so often annoyingly expressed out loud in cafes and via social media — there is no longer a pretense of bipartisanship. From the 2016 election to now, we have seen ourselves more clearly than anytime in the last 40 years. It's not a pretty picture, but it's the real us. I'm not remotely optimistic that the divide will be narrowed anytime soon and I don't need a TV series to illustrate that to me, at least right now.

Seven months ago, this was my thinking: "It would be stunning to imagine that writers in the television community are not looking at the events of 2017 as a prime and necessary chance to use their voices, creatively, to hold a mirror up to society. This is what art does. The 1960s and 1970s produced social and political hot-button issues galore that leaked into art for years. Of course, that was a time in the evolution of television when the opportunity to say something viscerally powerful and dramatically impressive barely existed. But in 2017, with its explosion of Platinum Age television across numerous content-hungry platforms, we have an entirely different and more opportunistic time. Waiting to see what will emerge is exciting."

Yeah, so much for that.