Well, a tad of a notch above the previous installment, The Conners Season 3 Episode 8 further builds on the series' mission to bore. It was never amazing, since Valerie Harper-ing its star, but it also was never this zzzzzzzz....
The Conners Season 3 Episode 7 was snoozy, even with Bergen's guest star stint. And we were hoping to see an improvement.
Instead, we find that Harris still irritates, Ben still bores, and the family just feels pathetic without Roseanne around to make the desperation feel fun and loving.
Don't get me wrong, Ben is performed well. He's just not written with much pizazz. And right now, the writers have him attempting to turn into a Dan replacement.
But before we get too into Ben v. Dan, we have to contend with Harris v. World.
Harris is angry and disgruntled. But she's not funny or lovable, like Darlene was at her age. It becomes a chore to watch.
But hey, her boyfriend, Josh, has the same hair of all the dudes who ever dated any of the Conner girls throughout the last 30 years: Fonzie Munster style. (Is that a hashtag yet?)
Josh is basically a professional protestor who has a different poster girl for each of the causes he protests. See, he's rich, which arouses suspicion in the Conner household.
I'm thinking the only reason this chapter scores higher than the last is Dan's questioning what might happen to Josh and Harris' heads at the hands of police officers who may arrest them.
Interesting. Because if you start breaking into banks, I think the police will enjoy the opportunity to debate your political beliefs with repeated nightsticks to the head.Dan
Dan's interrogation line reminds us of the old, missed days of Roseanne when the show would succeed at introducing edgy, topical arguments within a comedic structure that earned laughs along with respect.
But The Conners isn't suited to succeed at toying with edgy topicality in the same way.
Had they been able to enter into a debate about the state of protesting today, that would be an edgy Roseanne episode:
The great historical achievements that have resulted from protests, the line that is drawn when tendencies can turn violent, when protesting goes bad, the variant behavioral definitions dependant on the life perspectives of whom you ask.
The Conners feels like it wants to go there, but is too afraid.
And I guess you can't really blame them, cancel culture being what it is today. But there is definitely a glint in the series' eye indicating it misses the intelligent and inquisitive back and forth it birthed decades ago.
Of course, when Darlene confronts Harris about the family's concerns, Harris says some awful, unforgivable things to her mother. The things she says to her deserve a smack (no, I don't condone hitting children, people, jeez!).
But Darlene manages to pass off the vitriol with a half-assed joke, and in the next scene, everything goes back to normal.
I mean, Harris tells her own mother that she doesn't want to be anything like her and she cannot learn anything from her.
Maybe it's partially true and that truth hurts. But Darlene has seemed to do whatever it takes to ensure her children are properly taken care of, given their dire circumstances.
But no respectable family would let that conversation gloss by without a drag-out fight.
Darlene: Do you know anything about this Josh guy that Harris brought home?
Mark: I've seen him on her Instagram. She was spray-painting something on a buiconnerslding and he was holding her cans.
Darlene: I love you 'cuz you don't know what that means.
The way it's presented, the show would be better off with Harris ex-communicating or being disowned.
Maybe they are setting Josh up to be a regular guest star. Maybe the showrunners think he's eye candy enough to keep people interested.
But the episode concludes with a threat by Dan to not hurt Darlene. So, I'm guessing the breakup will happen soon and Dan will get mad again and that will be that, and -- blah blah blah -- non-fascinating things ensue.
And then -- oh goody -- we might get more of Harris' angst plummeted back into the household to piss the whole family off, or to just be ignored by them. Woohoo.
If that setup is as worrisome as Ben's potential disburdening of Dan, I don't think the series has very far left to go.
Ben isn't angry enough to become a "Dan." Yes, yes, I know I just got through dissing Harris' character for being too angry, but mostly out of her non-groundedness.
Dan Conner is a believably worn father and grandfather who lost his best friend in life, his wife. We have lived with him in our living rooms for decades.
He has earned a place at our dinner table. And it helps that he's played by the brilliant John Goodman whose character is written well.
Harris ... not so much.
Ben ... again, he's fine. But just fine.
Mark is the more interesting of these new characters. He is unique and has something to say. His sweet nerdiness is in contrast with the others in the family -- that's refreshing.
We need more of the classic characters we love, with some Mark thrown in.
Young Love, Old Lions and Middle-Aged Hyenas is another The Conners episode void of laughs. I'm trying to recall if I laughed once.
Oh wait, yes I did. It was Becky's exchange with Ben, complimenting him while telling him that flattering men is the only way to get them to agree to do things. Good stuff!
And when Mark intervenes, educating his aunts on how to properly cyber-stalk a person -- that was cute, though not ha-ha-funny.
Becky: You're great at pretty much everything, You're amazing. But, you know the male ego; you gotta tell them what they wanna hear, and they'll do whatever you want!
Ben: [Smiling] I know. Some guys, right?
Not sure if we've arrived at a "hate-watching" plateau with this show. It's hard to hate the characters we love. But man, are they making it harder and harder to love them.
Watch The Conners online and tell us how wrong you think we are in the comments section below. Ah hell, you can agree with us, too, that's always a nice treat.
Kerr Lordygan is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.