Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! We’re still gearing up for Roseanne coverage (which will start next week!), so I’m excited to set the figurative table by resurrecting one more old entry from this blog’s nearly nine-year run. Here’s how it works: I’ll provide a link to a piece that I first published many seasons back, and then I’ll offer a bit of updated commentary. But, as I always caution, please be gentle; this early article is from a long time ago, and my standards have changed as I’ve changed — I’ve improved as a thinker, a communicator, and a television-watcher.
So, let’s revisit… The Ten Best MAMA’S FAMILY Episodes of Season Four: https://jacksonupperco.com/2016/04/26/the-ten-best-mamas-family-episodes-of-season-four/
As we’ll discuss, one of the unique elements that made Roseanne resonant was its white working-class identity, which wasn’t spearheaded by the usual patriarch, as in The Life Of Riley, All In The Family, or Married… With Children, but rather by the matriarch — a figure more singularly associated with domesticity. You see, by anchoring a new sitcom with a blue-collar rebellion around the mother, its entire nuclear family unit and their world accordingly seemed more fully entrenched in this ethos, rendering both the show’s tonal immersion stronger, and its presence within the subgenre bolder (compared to those previous series, some of which weren’t even about family)… So, in that vein — and ahead of official coverage — I want to briefly analogize Roseanne and Mama’s Family, another white working-class domestic sitcom of the 1980s led by a matriarch. While we might try to connect them via their shared rejection of the decade’s upper-middle-class idealism, the similarities pretty much end there, for Mama’s Family is not only a “modified” example of this subgenre – meaning, never is it a purely “traditional” nuclear family — but it’s also got a sense of regional rurality that pivots the way we conceive its identity: it’s less about working people than small-town people. What’s more, it has different concerns; that is, Mama’s Family began as a sketch, and this sensibility bred characterizations that were, true to form, thin but exaggerated, with an outrageous energy less interested in realism than comedy. (More akin to Married… With Children’s.) Oh, sure, coming from The Carol Burnett Show, where its star sought to inject emotional stakes into burlesque, the early NBC years did retain a touch of that initial seriousness, as lingering resentments could spark an anti-family melodrama. But this often got overshadowed by the constant comic exaggeration, and was later mitigated almost entirely upon the series’ return for first-run syndication in 1986-’87, when Alf premiered, FOX debuted, and the genre started to mock the typical family fare of that era. This show never truly jumped back on that bandwagon — instead, it became less cynical and more goofy, as its congregation of characters (i.e., no more Eunice, but plenty of Iola) took on a lot of the wacky, folksy humor that would further distinguish Mama’s Family as a silly, small-town affair (at its best in Season Four), and leave an unfilled niche for the relatable, working-class Roseanne…
Come back next week for Roseanne! And stay tuned tomorrow for a new Wildcard!