In its telefilm version of the life of tabloid fave Roseanne Barr Pentland Arnold, Fox has chosen a bold, daring and unthinkable approach: It’s taken the story seriously. Fans of such films as “Valley of the Dolls” and “Mommie Dearest” should set their VCRs: This one’s a keeper.
According to “Unauthorized Biography,” Roseanne’s life story is yet another example of A Talented Gal Whose Life Wasn’t Easy But She Had a Dream, with the tale flashing back and forth among various periods in her life.
Was Tom Arnold a stabilizing force or a leech? Did her father abuse her? Is she irrational or just under a lot of pressure? Vidpic raises all of these issues in a sentence or two, but never explores them: The fingerprints of the legal department are everywhere on this project, including the title.
Pic was rushed on the air to beat NBC’s version, which is skedded to air Halloween night — supply your own punchline here — and “An Unauthorized Biography” sometimes looks so hurried, it seems like the producers simply filmed the rehearsals.
The vidpic covers all the big events. Teen Roseanne gets hit by a car, with the hood ornament embedded in her skull. She joins a commune, but she and hubby Bill leave when they are reprimanded, “You guys are bogarting the bathtub.” After being told, “You know, you’ve got a good sense of humor, Roseanne,” she begins standup comedy.
The last third of the pic entails tabloid stuff: backstage battles on the sitcom, the reunion with a daughter she gave up for adoption, allegations of incest and the separation from Tom Arnold.
There are several comic highlights here, including a pour-her-heart-out session with her shrink, and a climactic wrestling match between Tom and Roseanne.
At one point, Denny Dillon, as Roseanne, chews gum; at another moment, David Graf, as Tom Arnold, shakes his leg. Other than that, there are no real attempts at imitating the well-known celebs.
In a role that requires her to go from rage to fun loving to anguish, Dillon displays an amazing range of brown wigs.
Show was written by Karen Harris, directed by Paul Schneider, produced by Carol Trussell and exec produced by Patrick Faulstich. Heck, they’re trying to make a living, so there’s no point in dwelling on the artistic merits of their work.
There is one hilariously brazen moment: As Roseanne and Tom watch TV, she laments, “Did you ever figure out how they get this crap on the air?” You can supply your own punchline here too.