Live from the fictional Conner family living room in Lanford, Ill., ABC’s “Roseanne” spinoff called real-life fans while also telling a new story about navigating major relationship and other life changes, including planning a wedding.
The fourth season premiere episode of “The Conners,” titled “Trucking Live in Front of a Fully Vaccinated Studio Audience,” took on a lot. The video calls to fans, which came Mark (Ames McNamara), who was working on a school project that required him to do some research with distant relatives, with the fans acting as those family members. He wanted to collect information from relatives to know how much genetics may influence a person’s decision-making.
While people from all across the country entered a sweepstakes to have the opportunity of appearing in the episode, no one knew who won until their phone rang. In turn, the cast and crew of “The Conners” didn’t know what they would say when they were live on the air. Luckily for the ABC censors, everyone was on their best behavior.
The first guy they called was in Tampa, Fla. Mark asked him if he had any bad habits for which his family picks on him. “I do have one bad habit of chewing my fingernails, and I get picked on for that,” he said, clearly able to think on his feet. “But I watch a lot of scary movies, so that’s my excuse.”
The second fan who was called was a woman named Lisa who was asked what was more important: money or love, and why?
“Money,” she said. “Because you can always buy love.”
Mark then handed the phone to his sister Harris (Emma Kenney) who asked her what tattoo she would get if she could get anything. “Probably a flower — just something generic and pretty that I could live with my whole life,” she said.
The final call came in the last few moments of the show, with Mark circling back to the same question from the first call. This woman simply said, “Lots” before they had to move onto the rest of the scene.
After each call, Mark signed off with, “Thanks for being a Conner, bye!”
The live element of the fourth season premiere centering around one of Mark’s assignments followed the first and only previous time “The Conners” went live. Then, it was the night of Feb. 11, 2020, which was when the results of the New Hampshire primary were coming in as the broadcast taped and aired. In that episode, the show featured a large television in the living room set so that Mark could watch the event unfold and write a report for school. As the episode went on and ABC News made different declarations on that screen (and live in millions of other homes across America), other characters reacted to what they were hearing as well.
This new live episode had a bit more fun with the format, from pulling a physical title card that said “The Conners” into a scene after the cold open, to watching Sara Gilbert run down camera alley to get from one set to another and panning across the masked audience at the end.
The final frames of the episode featured the cast, minus Lecy Goranson, who did not appear in the episode, gathered around the iconic Conner couch, with John Goodman holding a sign that said, “Dedicated to the memory of our friend and colleague Norm Macdonald.” In unison they said, “Here’s to you, Norm” before the show faded to black.
The episode also threw the characters deep into new relationship dynamics for the new season, first with Darlene (Gilbert) telling Ben (Jay R. Ferguson) that she invited Jeff (Brian Austin Green) to Hawaii and then when Louise (Katey Sagal) told Dan (Goodman) she wanted “a big, fancy wedding.”
Darlene ended up going to a psychic who told her she could not get a reading because Darlene had no spirituality, which led her down a road of trying to change her atheistic ways with research and prayer.
In the end, Darlene and Mark’s stories intersected. Mark’s research, which was implied to be more extensive than the few calls shown on-screen, led him to find it was a “mixed bag” with how well Conners around the country were doing, while Darlene’s attempt at religion showed her that “genes set you off in a direction, but you can change that direction.”
“The Conners” airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.