'Roseanne' Criticized for 'Black-ish' and 'Fresh Off the Boat' Joke

On this week's episode of the Roseanne revival, Roseanne Barr's TV persona made a controversial wisecrack. After falling asleep in front of the TV for hours, Roseanne and Dan Conner (John Goodman) awoke to realize that they fell asleep from "Wheel to Kimmel," referencing the night's lineup of shows on ABC.

"We missed all the shows about black and Asian families," Dan noted, seemingly referencing fellow ABC sitcoms Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat. That's when Roseanne offered this response: "They're just like us. There, now you're all caught up."

On Thursday, Taiwanese-American actor Kelvin Yu — who is also a writer on Fox's animated hit Bob's Burgers — took to Twitter to explain why the Conners' dialogue about black and Asian families is problematic.

"Here's why the Roseanne joke about 'missing all the shows about Black and Asian families' matters," Yu began in a series of tweets. "At the very least, it's reductive and belittling, as if to say those shows are nothing more than 'Black' and 'Asian' in their existence. But the real kicker is when Roseanne says: 'They're just like us. There, now you're all caught up.' Which implies that the point of any show about a minority family is simply to normalize them. That's it. The stories, the humor, the characters … not important."

He continued, "Then you take ALLLLLL of that and put it in the mouth of an avowed Trump supporter (not the actress — the CHARACTER of Roseanne) and you have one stinky little shit sandwich of a joke that ABC allowed to be served in their own restaurant. It's a big deal. Do I think the characters Roseanne and Dan watch Black-ish or Fresh Off The Boat? Of course not. Do I think they'd say something PC about them? Probably not. But the point is, they didn't HAVE to say ANYTHING. They didn't have to write that joke at all. It's not even a joke."

Yu then suggested that the punchline perpetuates racism, referencing a politically themed episode of Black-ish that was scrapped over creative differences between ABC and creator Kenya Barris last month. ABC called the decision mutual, though sources have said otherwise; THR also reported that Barris is actively trying to get out of his overall deal with ABC Studios.

"It's an endorsement of dismissiveness and disregard. It's a familiarity and comfort with the culture of objectifying and demeaning people of color," Yu wrote. "Keep in mind, ABC was all too willing to bar Kenya Barris from airing an episode about kneeling during the nat'l anthem because of a fear it would be divisive and alienating. Black-ish is one of only a handful of shows about Black families on the air."

The shelved Black-ish episode centered on NFL players' decision to silently protest police brutality against people of color by taking a knee during the national anthem at football games. But, as viewers saw on Roseanne's season 10 premiere, Roseanne Conner — whose political views and staunch support of President Donald Trump mirror Barr's own — made light of the athletes' peaceful demonstration by asking her liberal sister, Jackie Harris (Laurie Metcalf), if she'd like to kneel during grace.

Yu concluded: "Fresh Off The Boat is the ONLY show about an Asian American family. Meanwhile, Roseanne is currently being touted as the refreshing voice of an underrepresented group (conservative women). Here's my point: they rebooted a beloved 90s sitcom & updated the main character to be a Trump voter under the pretense that it was a realistic portrayal of the white working class. Then in ep 2, they depict her LITERALLY SLEEPING through stories about people of color … I'm not saying it's inaccurate to have her do this. I actually think it's TOO accurate (and also not that funny?). Maybe next week, Dan and Roseanne explain to their grandchildren that Santa and Sandy Hook are both fake and we can all just laugh and laugh."

ABC declined to comment on Yu's statements or the Roseanne episode.

In an interview posted after Tuesday's episode aired — and ahead of the reaction — co-showrunner Bruce Helford had explained the joke to THR: "We were commenting on the fact that all sitcoms really want everybody to feel included of all diversities and it's kind of a funny thing. That's all. When we did the George Lopez show, we didn't want anybody to feel excluded because it was about a Mexican-American family. And I don't think anybody wants to be excluded because it's [a show about] either a black family or an Asian-American family."

Read Yu's entire thread below.