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The Conners

The cast of The Conners opens up about why the sitcom that began as Roseanne continues to endure

When The Conners premiered in the fall of 2018, questions swirled about what the sitcom rooted in Roseanne would be without its former titular character. As the show about the Illinois working-class family begins its sixth season, this year reaching its 100th episode, any concerns about these family members standing on their own feet have long since been quelled. “In some ways it feels like a continuation [of Roseanne] because we’re playing the same characters and we’re in sets that are familiar to us for 35 years,” says Sara Gilbert, who has played Darlene Conner since the original show premiered in 1988 and is now one of the series’ producers. “But so much time has passed. We’re older. The stories are different in nature because of the difference in our ages. People have changed.”

The Conners on CTV & ABC. Pictured: Lecy Goranson as oldest daughter Becky Conner.

What hasn’t changed is the core of the show, which was always about family coming together around a kitchen table to address the issues facing them. “So much of this show is the dynamics and the relationships,” says Lecy Goranson, who started playing Becky Conner in 1988 when the original sitcom premiered, then took a four-season break to attend college, eventually returning to the role in 2018. “Family, despite having a room down the hall from another person, sometimes have a very difficult time talking about things frankly. But I think that the fact that you can laugh at us has really eased some of the communication within families in America, because there’s something about seeing people laughing about [vulnerable situations] that really eases the tension and invites conversation. In our own small way, that’s actually some kind of social service. It’s nice to see, at the end of the day, the family always come back together after their differences.”

The Conners on CTV & ABC. Pictured: Katey Sagal returns as Louise, Dan’s wife.

For John Goodman, who still rules the roost as family patriarch Dan Conner, the spinoff has now become an extension of something already familiar. “My role has changed a little bit, but it still feels like family,” he says. In 2024, Dan is a remarried grandfather helping his grown children raise their offspring without meddling too much. A poignant dynamic continues to be the relationship between Dan and Darlene’s son Mark (Ames McNamara), who is gay. “We normalized it as much as possible and I think that’s because the characters, they were open for everything,” says Goodman. “Just because they’re poor doesn’t mean that they’re closed-minded or stupid. The family has always tackled everything with blistering humour and love.”

The Conners on CTV & ABC. Pictured: Laurie Metcalf as Jackie Harris and Sara Gilbert as Darlene Conner.

Although still a comedy, it is the exploration of darker subject matters that the cast has been most excited to delve into. “When we started the reboot, Darlene had lost her job in Chicago and was kind of hiding it from her parents under the guise of, ‘I’m coming to check in on you guys,’” explains Gilbert. “Over the years, she started to get her dreams back, and then she had to make a sacrifice for her son to go to college and is a lunch lady now. I think it’s tragic when you think about who she was as a kid. She was this bright star that you felt was going to be a success. But the reason I like it is because it speaks to the plight of the middle class in America and the fact that there are all these brilliant, shiny people that can’t always break the cycle of poverty or get out of their circumstances, because they get one step forward and then two steps back.”

The Conners on CTV & ABC. Pictured: Oscar-winner Estelle Parsons returns as Beverly Harris.

For Goranson, it was Becky’s struggle with alcoholism that has stood out as one of the most touching storylines for both the audience and her. “It’s really interesting how Becky’s kind of done a 360,” says Goranson. “She started rebellious, but also a little bit of a goodie two shoes. Then she struggled with her alcoholism and that led her to a lot of dark places. Now that she’s come out of that, she’s back to her old self. And it’s funny because, when we’re out in the world, people feel like they know us. I mean, they grew up with us, right? So, people say to me, ‘Becky’s back,’ which I think is really interesting. I think that does happen to people in real life, that we have continuity of self and we also have evolution.”

The Conners on CTV & ABC. Pictured: L-R: Sara Gilbert, Laurie Metcalf, John Goodman, Emma Kenney, Lecy Goranson

The sixth season continues on similar tracks with Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) struggling to run her restaurant, Becky worrying about introducing a new romantic partner to her over-the-top family, and Darlene trying to reconcile her dreams having gone by the wayside. “The goal is to tell important stories,” says Gilbert. “I personally don’t like approaching comedies as a comedy. I just like to think, ‘What’s the story that’s most relevant to this family?’ and the comedy comes out of that.” Her onscreen father concurs. “Financially their backs are always up against the wall and it’s trying to dig our way out of it,” says Goodman. “What I like about ’em is that they’re so adaptable and just damned cute.”

The Conners airs Wednesday, February 7, on CTV & ABC

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