2 High-Profile TV Shows Are Back: 'Roseanne' And 'The Americans'
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
This is a morning when we simply must hear from NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans because there are two high-profile shows coming to TV this week. On Wednesday, FX's spy drama, "The Americans," returns for a sixth season. And tonight...
(SOUNDBITE OF ROSEANNE THEME SONG)
GREENE: Maybe, just maybe, you recognize that song. ABC is reviving its classic sitcom, "Roseanne," for the age of Trump. And let's bring in Eric Deggans. Hi, Eric.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hey.
GREENE: So I want to start with "Roseanne." It's coming back with nine new episodes after two decades off the air. So I think the first question that a lot of people are going to wonder is, why?
DEGGANS: Well, I think maybe it's because they could. We've got "Will And Grace," we've got "S.W.A.T." We've got all these old shows that are being redone. All the stars agreed to do it, and they feel like they have something new to say about today's circumstances so why not try it?
GREENE: So is it any good?
DEGGANS: Well, I think in many ways it is good. I mean, it evokes the old spirit of the show. The whole cast is back, including big stars like John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf.
DEGGANS: It's tackling modern issues. We see Roseanne's grandson likes to wear nail polish and skirts, and they're dealing with that. She has a black granddaughter. Both of her daughters are underemployed, and there's even a family member who's struggling with a prescription pain pill addiction. So they've got a great writing team. And they even have fun playing with John Goodman's character, Dan Conner. Dan Conner, the character, died of a heart attack in the earlier version of this show. Here's how they explained it on the new reboot.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ROSEANNE")
ROSEANNE BARR: (As Roseanne Conner) Dan.
JOHN GOODMAN: (As Dan Conner) What?
GOODMAN: (As Dan Conner) What?
BARR: (As Roseanne Conner) I thought you were dead.
GOODMAN: (As Dan Conner) Was sleeping.
GOODMAN: (As Dan Conner) Why does everybody always think I'm dead?
BARR: (As Roseanne Conner) You looked happy. I thought maybe you moved on.
GREENE: Oh, my God. Are people going to buy this? They're literally bringing him back to life.
DEGGANS: (Laughter) They're basically just ignoring that (laughter)...
DEGGANS: ...That all of that happened. And I think people are going to go for it because they did the same thing with "Will And Grace." They just pretended some things that happened in the finale of the show didn't happen.
GREENE: OK. So in the first episode, we learn that Roseanne voted for Donald Trump while her sister is walking around in a Nasty Woman T-shirt. So coming from a different part of politics. But Roseanne Barr, the actress, I mean, she's said that she voted for Trump and supports him. Is that why they wanted to do this?
DEGGANS: I tried to ask Roseanne about this at a press conference in Los Angeles in January, and she kind of refused to answer and avoided the question. And then finally we had this exchange, which we have on tape. Let's check it out.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
DEGGANS: Roseanne, you're known for defending Trump on social media. Is there a problem in talking about why they may have found inspiration in your views to add it to the show?
BARR: I don't know what you're asking me.
DEGGANS: I'm asking you...
BARR: Why I voted for Trump?
DEGGANS: ...How this storyline came to be, and if it was inspired by your own personal, real-life support for the president.
BARR: You know, the "Roseanne" show, I've always tried to have it be a true reflection of the society we live in. So I feel like half the people voted for Trump and half didn't. So it's just realistic.
DEGGANS: I've seen three episodes of the new shows, and so far it seems like it only comes up in the first episode, where Roseanne and her sister, Jackie, who's played by Laurie Metcalf, wind up arguing about which person they voted for in the 2016 election, and here's a clip.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ROSEANNE")
BARR: (As Roseanne Conner) Aunt Jackie thinks every girl should grow up and be president, even if they're a liar, liar, pantsuit on fire.
LAURIE METCALF: (As Jackie Conner) I think we know who's a liar and who's on fire, Roseanne.
GREENE: Well, Eric, why were you so interested in asking Roseanne these questions about Donald Trump?
DEGGANS: Well, you know, the episode doesn't offer a lot of explanation for why she voted for Trump, beyond saying she wanted to shake things up, which a lot of people who voted for Trump have said. But as a TV critic, I'm always interested in continuity of character and making sure that plotlines make sense. And, you know, it felt a little inconsistent to me to take someone who was very self-aware - the original "Roseanne" character - a bit of a feminist, a great nose for hypocrisy, and have her vote for Trump without giving you a little bit more explanation for why she made that decision.
GREENE: Let me shift gears and talk about "The Americans," from FX. This is a show that's resonating so much this week because we just had the expulsion of so many Russian intelligence agents in the United States. It's a show about two Russian spies pretending to be an American couple in the 1980s. It's going to start its final season on Wednesday. Why is it going away?
DEGGANS: Well, I spoke to the stars, Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, and they both just said they felt like they wanted to go out on top creatively. As the season starts, we see this couple is living separate lives. You know, Rhys's character, Philip, is taking care of their two kids and focusing on the business that they operate as a cover, which is a travel agency. He's not really doing the spy stuff. And Russell's character, Elizabeth, is hip-deep in the spy stuff. She's doing these continuing missions, and it's taking a huge toll on her. And the question always is can their marriage and their mission survive? And we've got a clip that speaks to that.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE AMERICANS")
MATTHEW RHYS: (As Philip Jennings) What's going on with you?
KERI RUSSELL: (As Elizabeth Jennings) What do you mean?
RHYS: (As Philip Jennings) You smell like cigarettes all the time. Your whole way of being seems off. Past few months, it feels like it's just getting worse and worse.
RUSSELL: (As Elizabeth Jennings) Well, I'm busy, obviously.
RHYS: (As Philip Jennings) I know how tired you are, but I need to talk to you.
RUSSELL: (As Elizabeth Jennings) If you knew how tired I am, you wouldn't still be talking.
RHYS: (As Philip Jennings) Elizabeth, this job you're doing, it's exhausting, and it's complicated and hard.
RUSSELL: (As Elizabeth Jennings) I don't need another one of your speeches, Philip. I need sleep. Let me sleep.
DEGGANS: So if you've been married, you maybe can relate to a conversation like that.
GREENE: No comment, Eric.
DEGGANS: (Laughter). Exactly. Russell's actually married to Rhys in real life, and she says that the show has always been about a marriage.
RUSSELL: What it takes to exist and survive and fight through it, and in the context of this spy world. So everything can be heightened. And you get to sleep with other people, and you're pulling each other's teeth in the basement. You know? That's what marriage feels like feels, you know?
RHYS: Wait. What?
DEGGANS: Now, that's Rhys sort of popping up at the end there, sort of going, I'm not sure our marriage was exactly like that. (Laughter).
GREENE: Well, I mean, this show, does it resonate with news events today? I mean, with these expulsions of Russian agents but also, you know, all the Russian attempts to affect an American election?
DEGGANS: You know, I asked Matthew Rhys about how it resonates with current events, and he insists that their show basically reveals that neither side has learned anything since the Cold War days.
DEGGANS: And, you know, he's Welsh so you'll notice that his accent is a little different when we talk to him versus how he sounds on the show.
RHYS: You look at the time period we're in and then you see what's going on, and you go, oh, my God, no one learns anything. We're just these buffoons on a cycle. Actually, I don't think they learned. I don't think they learned. They just kept doing it. Like, they've kept true to their original mandate from the '50s, and they haven't stopped.
DEGGANS: So this season really does resonate a lot with today. I mean, the couple's daughter, Paige, is learning spycraft, and she's entering the family business. It's forced the parents to face this question that the series always asks, which is, what are the limits of patriotism, especially when it starts to affect your family and your marriage? And it's wonderful ground, and the episodes are really interesting.
GREENE: NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Always great to have you, Eric.
DEGGANS: Always a pleasure.
(SOUNDBITE OF NATHAN BARR'S "THE AMERICANS THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.