Say hello to the second-worst show on television.
The new worst show on television debuted Wednesday night on Lifetime— Dance Moms, an ugly docu-circus featuring a megaton bully of a Pittsburgh dance instructor, the little princesses she costumes as lunatic street whores, and a quorum of strenuously pathetic stage mothers, one of whom warbles that she would slit her wrists if her daughter even thought of trying out for softball. The only good that could come of the show would be for it to motivate a child protective services officer to orchestrate a SWAT raid, condemn the dance studio as a public nuisance, and deprogram the girls posthaste.
Only one person remotely connected with anything in or near the show comes out looking good, and her name is Roseanne Barr. You see, Roseanne's new reality show premiered, in back-to-back half-hour episodes, as Dance Moms' lead-in. Roseanne's Nuts, as the thing is called, is so loud, dull, and dumb that it seems to be jackhammering an abyss into existence, but its reign as the most depressing show on air lasted only 60 minutes.
There are three valences of meaning to the title of the program, the first of which involves actual snack food. Fourteen years after her eponymous sitcom ended its run, Roseanne, blissfully contemptuous, tells the camera that she is bleeping disgusted with Los Angeles in general and disenbleepingchanted with Hollywood in particular: "After a while, I started thinking it was all bullbleep." She now lives in self-exile on a macadamia farm in Hawaii—a post-sitcom-stardom path apparently blazed by the quondam Gomer Pyle.
As the show is filmed in a style that wavers between undistinguished and crummy, it doesn't really matter from a cinematographic perspective that we are on the Big Island. For the most part, we might as well be in the Delaware Water Gap, and the satellite dishes atop the star's lair have a way of cluttering the landscape shots. Nonetheless, Roseanne makes some noise about the spiritual virtues of "living off the land," and it is countered by a young relation who calls her "a poser." But mostly Roseanne makes noise with tractors, mowers, and—an implement beyond the powers of John Deere to manufacture—her endless vocabulary of invective. You can take the girl out of TV Land, but you can't take the lust for TV out of the girl, and she insistently denounces the machinery of fame to camera crews being filmed by other camera crews.
It should be obvious that Roseanne's Nuts is also about Roseanne's cojones—her bluntness in telling off other people. Pay no mind to the fact that all of the people being directly told off last night are dependent on Roseanne for material comfort, including her adult son and a husband who refers to himself as "the girl in the relationship." Roseanne tells us that her wealth has bought her the freedom to tell it like it is. Whether you believe that she in fact tells it like it is depends on your feelings about the medicinal value of crystals, the healing powers of which she purports to turn to in an effort to rid herself of "the curse"—the negative energy that produces the tantrums that give the show a reason to be.
At a glance, Roseanne's nuts are swollen by her having believed her own press. With the success of her sitcom, serious people began regarding Roseanne as a champion of the working class. And though that show did indeed articulate some truths—generally unspoken in prime time—about American life, granting her high distinction as a blue-collar spokeswoman is not unlike inviting Bill Cosby to lead the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. To assess the degree to which Roseanne fails to realize this, check out RoseanneWorld.com, where she presents politically minded blog posts characterized by what would look like sound liberal thinking were they not thoroughly incoherent.
The central question of Roseanne's Nuts regards whether Roseanne is crazy. Although she heartily indulges the freedom to cultivate her eccentricities—including a penchant for wearing loony aprons when dressing in layers—we are left to conclude that she is crazy like a narcissistic fox. Complaining about a reality show being loaded with trumped-up drama is a bit like complaining about air being 20 percent oxygen, but there are limits, and the producers of this show exceed them. I have the impression that one member of Roseanne's entourage—a dirty young hippie named Jake, who says that he and Roseanne have been soul mates for three whole weeks—first met her at an open audition.
If there was a genuine moment in the opening installment of Roseanne's Nuts—a morsel of something good amid the poorly staged conflicts and the practiced ravings and the premeditated banishing of a camera crew and the doopty-doopty-doo reality-show soundtrack—then it occurred at the moment that Roseanne plucks a plump beet from the loamy soil with an expression of simple pride. And then she goes about using it to prepare a salad, which she dresses with a melted orange Popsicle, but whatever, point taken: We must cultivate our garden.
Troy Patterson is Slate's television critic.
Still from Roseanne's Nuts by Jill Greenberg/Lifetime Entertainment Services.