An unlikely hit when it debuted in 1988, Roseanne was, as Roseanne Barr herself calls it, "television's first feminist and working-class-family sitcom." There's been nothing like it since. For nine seasons, the series based on Roseanne's stand up act showed a slice of working-class Midwestern life overlooked on sitcoms, which so often appeal directly to the middle class. In front of the camera and behind it, Roseanne refused to back down to men or do what she was told, and that often translated to trailblazing episodes dealing with issues that were taboo in America — and sometimes not discussed on TV as a matter of policy. But even the most controversial, hot-button Roseanne episodes were full of heart and joy, and they're just as vital (and funny) now as they were then. Ahead of its comeback ABC March 27, TV Guide compiled Roseanne's 15 most important episodes. (Roseanne can be found on Amazon, YouTube, and Apple TV .)
1. "Life and Stuff"
Season 1 Episode 1
The episode that started it all kicks off with the iconic bluesy, sax-and-harmonica intro, that slow pan around the kitchen table and then, an argument between Roseanne Conner and her husband Dan (John Goodman). Roseanne insists that Dan take more responsibility in household chores, from laundry to dinner — duties long deemed women's work. By sitcom standards, it's an intense, unseemly argument and when Dan slams pots on the stove, sarcastically agreeing to make dinner for the kids, Roseanne yells, "Aw you just made dinner three years ago!" "Life and Stuff" sets the tone, and Roseanne's standard of not taking anyone's crap.
2. "Sweet Dreams"
Season 2 Episode 8
Excited about a few precious moments away from her kids, Roseanne dozes off while waiting to get into the bathroom for a soak. So begins a wild dream-state sequence, in which Roseanne is surrounded by buff lion-clothed men, and then later kills her family just get some some R&R. In addition to showcasing Roseanne's demented, risqué humor, the episode rejects the mythology of the loving housewife happy fulfilling her family's needs and desires at the expense of her own.
3. "Let's Call it Quits"
Season 1 Episode 23
Novel for showing salt-of-the-Earth working women doing menial jobs, Roseanne depicted a powerful show of solidarity in this episode when Roseanne, her sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) and Crystal (Natalie West) quit their jobs at Wellman Plastics. Long before #MeToo, this episode showed what it was like to work under a sexist, dehumanizing boss — and the power women have when they band together and resist.
4. "One for the Road"
Season 2 Episode 14
At the time, sitcoms (and dramas) often addressed serious topics like teen pregnancy, drug use and other tough topics in a "very special episode". But in "One for the Road," eldest daughter Becky (Lecy Goranson) gets busted after breaking into her parents' liquor cabinet and getting drunk. The "lesson" is the garnish on a hilarious half hour.
5. "A Bitter Pill to Swallow"
Season 4 Episode 1
When Roseanne's daughter Becky asks about birth control, she also reveals that she's been sleeping with her boyfriend — a daringly progressive conversation about sex at the time the country was grappling with AIDS, and how to talk with young people about sex.
Season 4 Episode 25
College has been a rite of passage for American teens on countless shows, but when Roseanne and Dan fall on hard times in "Aliens" they're forced to cut back — which means telling Becky they can't afford to send her to college. Roseanne excelled at showing how the American Dream remained, for many, just that: a dream out of reach.
7. "Looking For Loans In All The Wrong Places"
Season 5 Episode 6
When Roseanne sought to lift its heroine out of the 9-to-5 rat race with a shot at entrepreneurship, writers had Roseanne attempt to open a loose meat restaurant, The Lunchbox. But as it brilliantly did over and over again, Roseanne the show always kept Roseanne the character's aspirations checked by harsh realities. So when she's denied for a loan, Roseanne has to pander to her mom Beverly (Estelle Parsons) and make her a partner — which gave viewers more insight into Roseanne and Jackie's twisted relationship with their mom.
8. "Crime and Punishment/War and Peace"
Season 5, Episodes 13& 14
One of the series' most powerful storylines ever, Roseanne depicted domestic violence in two wrenching episodes. Jackie's boyfriend Fisher (Matt Roth) assaults her and she tries to downplay it, but when Dan finds out, he enacts justice the old-fashioned way and gets arrested. It's unforgettable and important television.
9. "It's a Boy"
Season 5, Episode 19
Johnny Galecki becomes a fixture in the Conner household when his character David, Darlene's (Sara Gilbert) boyfriend, comes to live in with family. It's an unorthodox, almost-unbelievable premise but rooted in uncomfortable truths about unfit parents and the many ways "family" can take shape.
10. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
Season 6, Episode 18
By 1994, when "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" aired, the conservatism of the Bush era that coincided with Roseanne's first few seasons gave way to a more liberal mood. As such, the Clinton administration enacted a policy meant to protect gays and lesbians in the military, which went into effect in February. A month later, Roseanne aired an episode that had Roseanne and Jackie go to a gay club, where Nancy's new girlfriend makes a move on Roseanne.
11. "A Stash From the Past"
Season 6, Episode 4
When Roseanne finds weed in the house, she and Dan smoke it in an attempt to relive their youth. The grunge era is in full swing by now, so while the pot premise isn't exactly shocking, watching the middle-aged, tragically uncool parents attempt to rebel from their kids and responsibilities is pretty funny.
12. "Lies My Father Told Me"
Season 6, Episode 21
Only Roseanne could make someone being shipped off to a mental institution hilarious and feminist commentary: Roseanne explains to her son D.J. that grandma isn't crazy but just "tired." As funny as it is, "Lies My Father Told Me" shows Dan dealing with his mom's mental health, allowing viewers to see the tough guy as scared and vulnerable.
13. "White Men Can't Kiss"
Season 7, Episode 9
When Roseanne scolds D.J. (Michael Fishman) for trying to back out of school play because he doesn't want to kiss a black girl, she asserts the series' official policy on racism: "Black people are just like us," she says. "They're every bit as good as us — and any people who don't think so is just some banjo-picking, cousin-dating, barefoot embarrassments to respectable white trash like us!"
14. "Maybe Baby"
Season 7, Episode 11
In deciding whether or not to have an abortion due to medical complications, Roseanne solicits the input of her husband and informs her pre-teen son, allowing viewers to see how complicated and intense the decision can be for a woman and her family. "No man has a right to tell any woman what to do in a situation like this," she tells D.J., schooling kids and adults alike.
15. "December Bride"
Season 8, Episode 11
In real life, Roseanne had a gay brother and sister — part of the reason she fought to have gay and lesbian people represented on her show. The most epic example was "December Bride" in which Roseanne planned the wedding of her boss turned friend Leon (Martin Mull) and partner Scott (Fred Willard). It's the first same-sex wedding on TV — even if the camera pans away at the exact moment the men are about to kiss, since that still wasn't allowed on TV at the time.
Roseanne returns for an eight episode season Tuesday March 27th at 8/7c.