Roseanne is coming full circle. When the ABC comedy series makes its return next month for a 10th season, two decades after its original run, there will be several new characters—and one of them is a direct nod to an episode that aired 25 years ago.
In addition to a “gender binary” grandson (played by Ames McNamara), Roseanne and Dan Conner now have a black granddaughter. Mary, played by Jayden Rey, is the daughter of the Conners’ son, DJ (Michael Fishman). Fans of the original series may recall that young DJ struggled with kissing a black classmate on the original Roseanne series.
In a new interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Roseanne Barr explained that the addition of DJ’s daughter was something she wanted for the revival series.
“That was something that I always wanted to do because of DJ not kissing a black girl [in season seven]. So that’s important to me,” Barr told THR.
“I like diversity, and it’s so much a part of the working class where it is not so much part of middle-class stuff. And I know so many people who have mixed families.”
Roseanne went on to explain that she has an African-American godson and that she cherishes that part of her life.
“The conversations that my family was able to get into because of that with his parents and his siblings is just a wonderful part of my life,” Barr explained. “And if we get another season, I’d like to discuss that more.”
Still, Roseanne co-showrunner Whitney Cummings made the show’s intentions clear: “This season, we decided it’s not about her being black. It’s not like, ‘Here’s a black story about the black kid.'”
Roseanne fans may recall the 1994 episode “White Men Can’t Kiss,” which found young DJ Conner conflicted over kissing a black girl named Geena Williams (Rae’Ven Larrymore Kelly) in the school play. In the episode, it is revealed that the fictional town of Lanford, Illinois, has a very small black population and DJ admits he doesn’t want to kiss his classmate because “she just looks real different.”
While Roseanne Conner told her son he was doing the play anyway, his dad (John Goodman) said he didn’t have to do it. One of the most memorable lines from the episode came when Roseanne told DJ: “Black people are just like us. They’re every bit as good as us, and any people who don’t think so is just a bunch of banjo-picking, cousin-dating, barefoot embarrassments to respectable white-trash like us!”
Roseanne Barr admitted to THR that she was “angry about [the lack of diverse casting]” on the original Roseanne series. At the time, Barr even called out production company Carsey-Werner for their casting of the Wellman Plastics employees in the first season of Roseanne.
“I went to The New York Times, and in an interview, I said, ‘Carsey-Werner just hired a whole bunch of black people to stand in the background in the factory,'” Barr said. “We used to make fun of it ’cause the only thing they’d do is, like, check the fuses.”
The New York Times interview that Roseanne refers to took place in 1988. At the time Barr was critical of the show’s producers after they took a trip to Illinois to check out the population.
“I go, ‘O.K., now did you get the racial breakdown on the town?’ They said, ‘We will, we will,'” Barr told the Times. “It comes back 30 percent black and 15 percent Hispanic and 40 percent white and there were some Jews there and everything else. And I go, ‘O.K., let’s see you re-create it.’ So they just hired a whole bunch of black people to stand in the background in the factory. All those things will change.”
The nine-episode Roseanne revival premieres March 27 on ABC.