On Tuesday night, The Conners went live on ABC with two real-time performances — one for the East Coast airing and one for the West Coast — tied to the New Hampshire 2020 Democratic Primary. In both versions of the episode, titled "Live from Lanford," the characters weighed in on the results of the race as they came through on ABC News. However, most members of the family seemed fully unimpressed with the candidates, their ambitions, and the state of politics at large.
The episode was anchored by Mark (Ames McNamara) being assigned to watch the results for a school project. While he and Aunt Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) were heavily invested in the political ramifications of the evening, the rest of the family took a more apathetic and even cynical view of the event.
"The early primaries are exciting. That's where you get to see the candidates with integrity and vision right before the rich ones swoop in and crush them with their corporate campaign dollars," said Darlene (Sara Gilbert). Becky (Lecy Goranson) then added, "Yes, some of [the candidates] are terrible. But if you do some research, you'll find that some of them are really, really terrible. If you vote, you'll be proud that you helped elect somebody who is just terrible." Even Jackie, who was much more animated about the importance of elections than her nieces were, conceded that voting is only important because "that way when your politician screws you, you can say 'that's my guy or gal.'"
During the first run, for East Coast audiences, some voting numbers from the primary had already come through, but a winner in New Hampshire had not yet been declared. Mark gave audiences an update by noting, "Bernie's leading with 28 percent, Klobuchar is catching up with 22 percent, and Yang just dropped out of the race." By the time the West Coast airing was underway, Senator Bernie Sanders had already claimed the lead, and that's when Mark joked, "They're saying Bernie won it, but there could be some Russian hacking — Putin's in second." Becky responded by quipping, "Ha, the Russians are so bad at hacking, he's only in second."
Although there was a running subplot about the family throwing a goodbye party for Louise (Katey Sagal), not knowing that it would be awkward for her and Dan (John Goodman) since they'd broken up, the episode continued to sprinkle in its running commentaries about the candidates as the news cycle continued on their TV screen.
On second-place finisher Pete Buttigieg, Mark said, "He's an excellent politician and qualified to be president. But he's not necessarily my candidate just because he's gay." He later added, "Pete has a lot of interesting ideas about health care and a puggle rescue that is incredibly cute." Mark went on to weigh in on Amy Klobuchar, who came in third place on Tuesday night, joking, "Klobuchar held at 20 percent. Her hair is taking credit for the strong showing." And after Mark winced at Senator Elizabeth Warren's disappointing tallies, Becky deadpanned, "Oh, that's too bad. You know she's in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame along with Tom Joad, Doonesbury, and Foghorn Leghorn."
Overall, the mood of the episode seemed to be one of resignation about the election and contempt for the political process. There was no mention of the family's feelings on Donald Trump's reelection prospects, nor did the characters "Feel the Bern" or have any obvious preference for a candidate, other than to be mostly convinced that this whole process would make no difference for them. Ben (Jay R. Ferguson), for example, echoed Darlene's scathing statement about the corrosive effect of money in politics when he quipped, "It doesn't matter, Bloomberg just bought the entire state and renamed it New Bloomshire." Harris (Emma Kenney) was also unimpressed with the state of the race, saying, "Did you notice all the candidates are like a gentrified neighborhood? All rich, white, or gay."
Mark and Jackie were the only two Conners characters who valued voting, as the boy said, "When you don't take this seriously, you get the government you deserve." Jackie even revealed a tiny bit of optimism when she said, "Some of these people are trying to help you. Sanders and Warren want to pay for your college tuition. Biden wants to decriminalize marijuana. And Klobuchar wants to offer you affordable housing." However, once Harris proved that she was still not excited about exercising her right/duty to vote, Jackie sighed, "This country is doomed."
The dampened energy of the segment was obviously meant to parody the checked-out and defeated mentality of some Americans. In a commercial break promo, the cast pushed back against that mentality, saying, "You can't make people feel stupid about who they voted for unless you voted." However, the collective grimness and shrugging throughout the episode might make one wonder if they aren't giving folks like those in the fictional town of Lanford, Illinois, too little credit about what the 2020 race means to and for them. Was The Conners even the right show to choose for this type of live episode? The utter disinterest of most of these characters was so severe that it arguably defeated the entire purpose of the episode. Maybe black-ish would have been a better fit.
The Conners airs on Tuesdays at 8/7c on ABC.