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HOWARD ROSENBERG

Caustic 'Roseanne': Rare, Rip-Roaring Everywoman

October 18, 1988|HOWARD ROSENBERG

Her grinning eyes narrow mischievously. Her mouth operates nonstop. Her nasal whine makes George Bush sound like Luciano Pavarotti. Her sloppy sweater surrounds a midsection that memorializes gluttony.

Who is this strange dumpling of a person?

Stand-up comic Roseanne Barr, that's who, now starring in an endearingly weird and bent new ABC comedy appropriately called "Roseanne." It premieres at 8:30 tonight (on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42) in the solid-gold time slot after the hit "Who's the Boss?"

More than merely one of TV's infrequent sitcoms about blue-collar families, "Roseanne" (along with Fox's returning "Married . . . With Children") is part of an even rarer phenomenon--the TV snidecom.

This is hardly "Father Knows Best." "Mother Insults Best" is more like it.

As a factory-worker mother of three and wife of unemployed independent contractor Dan Conner (John Goodman), Roseanne rolls out an assembly line of funny one-liners that echo her caustic stand-up act. When her kids leave the house for school, she tells Dan: "Quick--they're gone! Change the locks!" When the kids act up, she snaps: "This is why some animals eat their young!"

Roseanne gabs with her co-workers at the plastic factory, has a conference with her eldest daughter's teacher and nags Dan about fixing the kitchen sink. There's less plot here than extended monologue, and whether this approach and Barr's wisecracking will sustain a series remains to be seen.

But not to worry on the premiere, a rip-roaring romp in which boisterous Roseanne and Dan are often as hilarious and likable as they are loud.

If The Blob had a family, this would be it. The Conners hang around their messy kitchen, fighting and noshing, becoming TV's first couple to have waxy yellow buildup on their bodies.

Barr makes a very funny Everywoman and Goodman is a perfect foil. Although Roseanne and Dan appear to be two immovable forces, giving the most is Dan, a big, gentle lug of a straight man for his wife's digs. Roseanne is a truly liberated woman minus knee-jerk rhetoric.

"A good man don't just happen," she says. "They have to be created by us women."

Series creator Matt Williams gets credit for the script and director Ellen Falcon for uncovering a vein of warmth and affection in these characters, whose clashes are merely the superficial trimmings of a basically good and loving marriage. There is one particularly nice moment when Roseanne and Dan briefly brush hands as a sign that they've made up after an argument.

Real people in a rare comedy.

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