Roseanne’s Nuts was one of the delights of summer 2011, especially for those of us who have missed the comedic talents of Roseanne Barr. If you don’t watch television (or are outside the US), Roseanne’s Nuts is Roseanne Barr’s return to episodic television, this time in the form of a reality show set on the star’s 40-acre macadamia nut farm in Hawaii. When her eponymous sitcom ended in 1997, she made a couple of attempts at talk show hosting, then left L.A. and the limelight to raise her youngest son and macadamias in Hawaii. He’s now a teenager, and the nuts are ready to harvest.
An ongoing thread of the show is Roseanne’s plan to harvest and distribute her nuts as a low-cost protein source for impoverished people. Each episode also has its own self-contained, seemingly unscripted plotline. Unlike many of today’s popular reality shows, however, there are no manipulated showdowns or drunken feuds. Much of the time, Roseanne and her family seem like everyone else’s family — if only the rest of us could live off sitcom residuals and were followed around by a camera crew. There is laughter and teasing, and some conflict underpinned with genuine affection, but everything isn’t always tidily resolved in 22 minutes.
In the Episode #15 (original air date September 10), 58-year-old Roseanne copes with continuing symptoms of menopause. It’s handled so honestly (for the most part) that I’m going to overlook the fact that the episode was titled “Menopause for Dummies”.* The episode opens with Johnny Argent, Roseanne’s manpanion**, sharing a list of menopause symptoms he has found on the internet. Roseanne acknowledges having them all, except for tingling in her extremities, and decides to visit her friend, Dr. Allen, and to investigate whether she should receive hormone treatments. (The full episode can be watched online at Lifetime.com until Oct. 11; preview a short clip at right.)
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Roseanne visits Dr. Allen — on camera, of course — this is a reality show — and explains her concerns. He asks about her libido and her sex life, and she replies, “It’s like an old person’s”. She responds forthrightly to his suggestion that dryness may be the cause of her ‘feminine itching’: “that’s all dried up like a sonofabitch”. Dr. Allen wants to measure Roseanne’s hormone levels with a 24-hour urine test, as he believes that will provide more precise information than any blood test. Roseanne is horrified by his description of her contribution to the procedure (“You pee in a bucket for 24 hours”), but even more horrified by his other recommendation: she needs to exercise.
Roseanne tells the camera — the proxy for us, the audience at home — that she doesn’t know if she’ll go on hormones or not. Her women friends recommend red wine, saying it’s bad for menopause (“because it makes you sweat”) but good for the libido. Her eldest son Jake is delighted to hear that his mom is considering hormones, telling the camera, “After eight years of being batshit crazy, I think she’s finally ready. I’m so happy — once she gets hormones, my life’s gonna be a lot easier.”
Some of my SMCR colleagues who study menopause may cringe at these scenes, but I think they’re representative of the kind of communication many women experience around menopause; that is, well-meaning, if ill-informed, advice from friends and family. It feels like the kinds of conversations lots of us have in our own living rooms and front porches. It is this feeling of unscripted authenticity that draws viewers to Roseanne’s Nuts. I also note the special irony of menopause; after 20 or 30 years of our hormones being blamed for erratic and irritable behavior, we’re now advised to consume hormones to rein in our erratic and irritable “batshit crazy” behavior.
This sense of authenticity and realism continues in the scenes where Roseanne works out with the trainer recommended by Dr. Allen. The trainer eases Roseanne into aerobic activity, but Roseanne is reluctant and uncomfortable, especially when the trainer starts to show enthusiasm and high-fives Roseanne. She tells the trainer, “I hate the fact that I’m supposed to act like I like it. That’s not gonna work for me. I don’t like it. I can’t lie through it.”
I couldn’t help but think what a great, if implicit, endorsement this is for Health At Every Size. Roseanne gives up on the trainer and exercise after one workout, because exercise for its own sake is seldom enjoyable to those who haven’t been active. HAES encourages people to find pleasure in moving one’s body — whether walking the dog, doing yoga, swimming, bicycling, or whatever — and doing the activity for the joy it provides rather than for an external goal. HAES also affirms Roseanne’s belief that “if you’re fat, it’s probably because you had fat parents and no amount of dieting will change that”.
In the final scenes, Roseanne and Johnny try to follow Dr. Allen’s last bit of advice, apparently delivered off-camera, to be “more romantic” to jump-start her stalled libido. The camera follows them to dinner, where they alternate between trying to enact cultural expectations of a romantic dinner and discussing their own relationship, concluding that “sex isn’t what it’s all about”.
As the final credits begin, Roseanne faces the camera and announces her final decision about hormone treatments:
I just decided, F it, I’m not gonna get anything going on some libido level. I’m not gonna pee in a bucket, I’m not gonna exercise, everything’s fine. I don’t care. I’ve got a really thick beard, and I don’t give a fuck.
Some re:Cycling readers may be uncomfortable with Roseanne’s diction, but it was this monologue that won me over. Once again, Roseanne comes across as sincere, relatable, honest, and comfortable with herself — and comfortable with getting older and with menopause. Roseanne’s Nuts just may be to the 2010s what Roseanne was to the 1980s.
*The whole “For Dummies” book series is a personal pet peeve. I’ve never bought any of those books, as I refuse to contribute to the profits of a publisher and author whose first assumption is that I am stupid.
**I just can’t call a 62-year-old man her boyfriend, although that is the title that runs beneath his name during the interview segments.