Throughout the rebooted season of Roseanne, viewers have seen Roseanne Conner limp around the set, complaining about a bad knee. And it turns out that limp — and those winces of pain — weren’t just acting.
As the show was getting started, Roseanne Barr was dealing with a real-life knee injury , so the writers decided to incorporate her ailment into the script. “We knew she was going to be limping in the show,” Bruce Rasmussen, co-executive producer of Roseanne, told GoodHousekeeping.com. “[We thought], ‘So let’s just say she’s hurt her knee.’”
Several moments have dealt with that injury, from Roseanne and Dan dividing their medications to Dan installing a chairlift so Roseanne can easily get up the stairs of their house. But the storyline reached its most dramatic, and topical, moment yet on Tuesday night’s episode, “Netflix & Pill.”
In an emotional scene, Roseanne reluctantly admits she has been struggling with an addiction to painkillers because she can’t afford the operation she needs. She’s been hiding secret stashes of pills around the house under different prescriptions. After she reacts badly to drinking alcohol, Dan confronts her about her addiction, and they decide to do whatever they can to get her surgery done so she can kick her habit, once and for all.
The writers of Roseanne have never been shy about tackling newsworthy topics, and they saw an opportunity to do just that with Barr’s real-life injury. They decided to tie her knee pain to the opioid addiction crisis that’s currently ravaging parts of the United States, and to the sky-high prices of healthcare, too.
“From the pilot on, we wanted to deal with the healthcare system and how it doesn’t necessarily work for working class people and people on the margins of society,” Rasmussen said. “My mother had to get her knees replaced and luckily, because my father was a cop, my parents had insurance. But there are all these articles about how people don’t have $200 in an emergency. It starts to dictate choices you make that you might not want to make.”
As she filmed more episodes of the show, Barr went through physical therapy. By the end of the show’s production, the staff had to keep reminding Barr to keep limping on set, because her own injury had healed.
Rasmussen promises the season finale will offer “some closure” on Roseanne’s health. And though the show has gone to some pretty dark places, the season will end with some much-needed hope. “We wanted to make sure we didn’t go out on a dark note,” he says. “These people have struggled, but they will overcome things because they love each other and they’ve been through it before.”