Then and Now: Roseanne vs. The Middle

Photo courtesy of ABC.

Photo courtesy of ABC.

Now that I’m on that feminist kick, I thought I would carry it over this week for a comparison between The Middle and Roseanne. Similar to the shows last week, these two sitcoms address almost the same theme but through vastly different lenses. Both feature matriarchs coming to terms with the expectations they had going into their marriages and adulthoods with dopey husbands and weird, yet endearing, kids they ended up with in their 40’s.

Roseanne premiered in 1988 and ran until 1997, being the most watched show in the US for its first two seasons. It began as a popular show and continued, despite switching out a key character between two different actresses, until they ended with a finale controversial for its breaking of the fourth wall and unexpected melancholy.

The Middle, to grab the low hanging pun fruit, has been middling in rankings and viewership during its four year run. Critics enjoy the relatively honest portrayal of contemporary middle class life and it even won an Emmy, although it was for makeup. It sounds kind of bland but to give some context I’d characterize it as ¼ Cougartown and ¾ Malcolm in the Middle if the mom were the main focus instead of Malcolm.

Okay some history’s nice, but what you want to know is which one to watch? I found them both to be pretty intriguing despite accidentally watching the Roseanne episode where the Connors lose their beloved bike store leading to no less than three suicide jokes. The presentation really differs based on the multicamera vs. single camera styles between Roseanne and The Middle, respectively. Further the 80’s and 90’s didn’t offer nearly as much money for television shows, especially not sitcoms, so Roseanne had about four different scenes per episode and three different locations in comparison to triple that for The Middle.

Ultimately, I think Roseanne takes the cake though.  While both shows tackle blue-collar family issues, despite being about 20 years before – Roseanne really pioneered the non-matronly, yet still strong, female character. In fact, the pilot episode includes a pretty long fight where Roseanne calls out her husband for not pitching in with household chores. None of that June Cleaver business for this lady.

I have to admit I found the pacing to be painfully slow at times and the set-up, punchline joke delivery a little boring, but overall the Connor family is just fun to watch. Roseanne and John Goodman have a grounded, but still humorous, dynamic that seems like they could be an actual couple. Further, the kids grow up with every imaginable problem done with the ideal amount of candor for a sitcom. Roseanne still manages to eke some laughs out despite pretty heavy subject matter like abortion, domestic violence and drug abuse.

The Middle is also rather interesting, but it’s the kind of program that I’ve seen before and perhaps better. It’s like any other show focusing on a middle class, white family from the aforementioned Malcolm in the Middle to Patricia Heaton’s former show, Everybody Loves Raymond. Such shows have about three kids with various milquetoast problems, borderline negligent parents and small-town hijinks. The only way this show is different is that the mom is the main character instead of the dad or a kid, so we can have some gender role episodes.

These shows are both worth checking out because while the Middle might be a little unoriginal, its fast-paced, kooky fare is still quite entertaining. You will probably like it if you watch it, but you can probably find the same kind of material in many places. On the other hand, you’re not gonna find a favorable look at

on a multicamera sitcom now, much less in the 90’s, except Roseanne.

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