Many people did not like the ninth season of Roseanne, but in its totality, I found it fascinating. The main problem was that it was clumsily written and directed, and that is mainly why I am giving it three stars. Let me warn you there are SPOILERS AHEAD.
The season opens with Roseanne having retreated to Jackie's house after a tremendous fight with Dan over lifestyle changes he will have to make for the sake of his health. He is in complete denial, and she lashes out in fear of losing him to a second heart attack. She spends the day parked on Jackie's couch, watching TV and fantasizing about the various sitcom couples that she watched as a child. At the conclusion of the episode, Roseanne and Dan reconcile, Roseanne returns home, and Jackie watches the announcement of the winning state lottery numbers. Much to her surprise, she and Roseanne have won the 108 million dollar Illinois state lottery. This is where the series begins to make a slow turn from the show you have become accustomed to into something that resembles "Absolutely Fabulous, Midwest Style".
The next major plot development is the cutting of the final rope that has been tethering this show to its former incarnation - the presence of John Goodman as Dan. Thus, in "Honor Thy Mother", Dan decides that with his newly found wealth he should try to see if something more than just "warehousing" can be done for his institutionalized mentally ill mother, and he takes off to a clinic in California to see to this task.
With Dan away from home and all the money in the world at her disposal, Roseanne takes the show on a series of fantasy episodes. First, the late Jim ("Ernest") Varney stars as a prince who becomes enamored of Jackie after seeing her on TV and comes to town to woo her, then Jackie and Roseanne enter an expensive, exotic, and very oddball spa where they are subject to all kinds of torments that are supposed to invigorate body and soul, but just seem plain silly in many ways. The Halloween special makes clear what the audience has suspected all along - that Jackie and Roseanne have morphed into "Absolutely Fabulous"' Patsy and Edina, with the real stars of that show guest starring. Next, the Conners are invited to spend a weekend with the wealthy Wentworths on their Cape Cod estate. Apparently the Wentworths use pill-popping and overindulging in alcohol as a means of dealing with their personal problems rather than just "letting it out", and Roseanne is more than happy to teach the family how to release their anger. Quite frankly, the fine art of temper tantrums is one thing I've always felt the uber-rich had down pat.
Next is an episode so bad that it is seldom shown in syndication, and has me asking "What WAS Roseanne thinking?" Of course I am talking about "Roseambo". Seriously, this episode is "Ed Wood" bad. The villains in this episode are an ethnically diverse bunch, and yet they all have the same fake accent. There are two good jokes in this episode. The first is when the subservient middle-eastern women mumble through a choker and scarf and the subtitles don't match the mumblings. The second good joke was when Roseanne was using such weapons as a set of hot rollers, dispensing with the terrorists one by one, and spouting parodies of action-movie tag lines such as "Avon calling!" after kicking down a door.
This ends the fantasy sequence part of the season, and the rest of the season is back in Lanford. The Thanksgiving episode is more oriented around family relationships, and thus there is an up-tick in quality. At Thanksgiving, Bev, Roseanne's mother, makes a startling revelation about her sexual orientation. It doesn't make much sense that Bev, divorced for several years, financially secure, and whose romantic trysts with men have been the subject of several shows in the interim, would come to such a self discovery in her 60's or have been afraid to admit this fact about herself until this point. I think it would have been better to concentrate on the other announcement of this episode - that Leon and Scott are planning to adopt - and focus on the hardships and road-blocks that abound when they set off on that road.
Next, in "Home for the Holidays", Dan returns to be home with the family at Christmas. There are happy moments - the Conners finally burn their mortgage - but at the same time, Dan seems uneasy and somewhat distant around Roseanne. At the conclusion of the episode we find out why, when Jackie overhears Dan on the phone talking tenderly to "another woman" - the nurse who is taking care of his mother in California. The next three episodes deal with the fallout of Roseanne finding out about the affair, confronting Dan about it, and mourning what seems to be the end of her marriage when she locks herself in her room and goes on a junk food binge. Although I really enjoyed these episodes as something that any woman who has been dumped for another could relate to, I found Dan's actions to be completely out of character. Perhaps that is the point - maybe Dan stayed by Roseanne's side through very bad times because he didn't really have any broader horizons in life, and now that he knows that he has alternatives he is taking them, or at least flirting with them.
After a very mundane two-parter in which Roseanne uses her wealth to help rescue the Wellman Plastics factory that she and her sister worked in during the first season, come two of the season's best episodes. First, in "A Second Chance", Dan returns to Roseanne in an attempt to start over. The couple's reunion is cut short when Jackie calls with news that Darlene has gone into early labor. "The Miracle" is one of my all-time favorite episodes of Roseanne. All medical intervention possible is used to stop Darlene from going into labor, but she does so anyway, and delivers a baby girl that even the medical experts Roseanne has retained say is too premature to survive. The episode shows us two things to which we are unaccustomed - David being strong and Darlene being overtly loving, vulnerable, and selfless. It's truly great and yet heartbreaking seeing the two being a normal loving couple comforting each other and grieving over the probable loss of their child.
The next three episodes - "Roseanne-Feld", "The Truth Be Told", and "Arsenic and Old Mom" are light-hearted comic romps that are OK but ultimately forgettable. However, the two-part series finale is excellent. It starts out somewhat slow, the premise being that the Connors and their friends are gathering for a celebration as Darlene and David bring their baby home from the hospital. But in the final ten minutes, through Roseanne's monologue, we learn that what we think we are seeing and have been seeing for the last seven years is actually a novel written by Roseanne based loosely on the truth. All of the characters do exist, but not as they have been portrayed in the show/novel. We also find out that Roseanne has recently experienced a horrendous personal loss rather than a tremendous financial windfall. This loss has caused Roseanne to throw herself into finishing her novel in the basement office that her family first set up for her at the conclusion of season two, where she hatches the state lottery storyline as a conclusion to the book she has been working on for seven years. We then see her finish her novel, put it aside, go into the living room that has the same drab furnishings from the previous seasons, and sit down to watch TV - alone. It was all very touching.
I guess since I have been hypercritical of more than a few of the individual episodes, some might wonder why I am giving this season a three star rating. I actually did not like this season during its initial run, but on repeated viewings it has grown on me. Standing all by itself it would truly be dreadful. However, you have to remember that by the conclusion of the eighth season, just about every issue between the various Conner family members had already been tackled and the show had become stale, so that there were really only two options - end the show at that point, or take it in an entirely different direction, which is the choice that was made. Thus, taken in contrast with the previous eight seasons, and especially the very mundane eigth season, I really liked the ninth season for the chances it took.
You also have to look at this season in the context of Roseanne's actual life. By the ninth season, the show had gradually been losing that genuine quality of a real working-class family for a couple of seasons at least in part because, by 1996, Roseanne herself had not been living a blue-collar lifestyle for over a decade. Thus it probably became increasingly difficult for her to inject something into her work that was becoming a distant memory for her. It was probably much easier for her to do something she knew - play a woman with a blue-collar background who comes into sudden wealth. I'm subtracting two stars mainly because the production quality could have been much better even given the exact same storyline. There should have been more effort put into the delivery of lines, and some episodes came off as unrehearsed and hurriedly thrown together. Plus, it really saddened me to see Laurie Metcalf's character of Jackie change from a delightful bundle of unpredictable neuroses into a sidekick with a Barney Fife-like quality. You have to ask yourself, though, do you actually believe that people would still be talking about this show if it had gone out with a whimper after its eighth season instead of taking the bizarre turn that it did in its ninth and final season? I seriously doubt it. Thus, I do recommend this DVD set to any Roseanne fan, especially if you are familiar with the previous eight seasons. Just prepare yourself for more than a few cringe-worthy moments of TV viewing.