19 March 2003 | petershelleyau
We're America's worst nightmare - white trash with money
This made-for-TV movie only presents behind the scenes of the private lives of Roseanne and Tom Arnold, which is disappointing since Tom Arnold made a great contribution to Roseanne's sitcom, whether as executive producer, writer, or simply being Roseanne's husband, something much in evidence the years after the series continued without him. However it never locates "Roseanne" in the history of television, when it arrived as the antidote to The Cosby Show's presentation of a family unit, Roseanne's rare opportunity as a female stand-up comedienne given her own TV series, or explore Roseanne's physical transformation from "domestic goddess" to "star". However the treatment is aided by the informed casting of Patricia Darbo, who actually appeared in the Roseanne show for one episode.
The teleplay presents the arc of the relationship, beginning with their divorce, then using flashback to Roseanne meeting Tom (Stephen Lee, in a brilliant impersonation) in 1982 as he opens for her, when they were both doing stand-up and before she hit it big on The Johnny Carson Show and HBO which led to her TV series. Tom is shown to be second-rate, though the treatment cheats in not letting us see Roseanne's routine, and this carries over into their relationship after she divorces Bill Pentland (Stephen Mendel), where Tom is portrayed as an opportunist to Roseanne's star. Tom is insecure, cocaine-addicted, and sells information to the tabloids, and his implied affair with his assistant Kim Silva (Heather Page Kent) is the reason for Roseanne's divorce from him, though Tom does provide some security for her children when they marry. Apart from assuming executive producer role on her show and becoming her manager, he also exhausts her with other work commitments, said to be evidence of his inexhaustible ambition. However, the case for his physical abuse of her is lessened here, though Tom's assertion of his own child abuse is questionable, since it is presented in an unconvincing monologue when he is in detox, where even Roseanne questions it's truth.
The teleplay also trades on Roseanne's later revealed claim of multiple personalities by giving her a subconscious double as a confidant and for exposition. This treatment reduces Roseanne's sister Geraldine who is known to be a strong force in Roseanne's success, to a virtual cameo, and also diminishes Roseanne by separating her from her work. Tom is the one positive thing for her in light of her unhappy marriage and the obstacles she faces in the first season of her show, but when Tom is revealed to be a fool, this also comments on Roseanne's faith in him. An example is when he convinces her to wear an ugly dress which she considers a `clown' outfit, when earlier we see her reject something similar for her show. Therefore there are strains of love disempowers women.
Much is made of Roseanne's clash with the show's first executive producer Bobby Matthews, a composite character, who accuses her of not being an actor, and gets a line `Will someone who speaks fluid lunatic please explain to her that the line is pivotal to the character's point of view?'. Roseanne gets a revenge line in `He sure don't let his disability get in the way of his work', his disability being `lack of talent'. When he is fired in the second season, she faces his replacement with `You got one leg up from your predecessor - you aint him'. Tom actually gets one funny line referring to one of Roseanne's children as `the missing Menendez sister'.
Roseanne and Tom's marriage is also given a comic spin by their last minute dash to buy donuts, their security from tabloid invasion, and Roseanne's panic over a shop alarm still attached to her wedding dress. However an Al Hirschfeld caricature of Roseanne on a billboard before her show even premieres seems premature, and though the characters of John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf display arrogant contempt for Roseanne, they remain silent ciphers.
Director Richard A Colla uses newsreel footage of the media frenzy around the two at the height of their fame, a home video camera for a pool scene, but also sped-up footage for a shopping spree, slow motion, a black and white freeze-frame, split screen, and an obtrusive music score by Craig Safan. Whilst Darbo is initially dazzling, her performance soon becomes monotonous because of the limited way the role is written - playing victim is always tedious - and because the split screen Roseanne's possibly give us too much of her. Our attention is thrown to Lee, and perhaps our knowledge that Arnold would survive his attachment to Roseanne deprives Tom of a tragic stance.