Dan has a very fraught relationship with his father, Ed Conner (played by Ned Beatty). Later on in the series we learn more about him and find that their issues run a lot deeper than this early episode lets on– in this episode, it appears to boil down to being afraid of turning into his father and being annoyed by his father nagging him, but it’s not until quite late in the series that we learn about Ed’s absentee fathering, Dan’s mother’s mental health issues, and Dan blaming his father for those problems. Frankly, knowing about all those things now makes this episode make more sense than the comparatively simple backstory we’re given at this stage.
Also, Ed mentions at one point that Dan’s mother was pregnant during a trip the three of them took, meaning that Dan likely has at least one sibling– who never appears and, to my recollection, isn’t mentioned again.
This episode feels a little threadbare, as the only plotline is Ed coming to visit– there’s no B plot, not even any kid escapades. The problem is this story doesn’t seem to have the heft necessary to carry an entire episode, or at least not as its current stage of development (see above). Sure, parents can be intense, and frustrating, and sometimes we fight with them. But this episode doesn’t have a clear arc to it, instead sort of building and backing off of crescendos as Dan gets furious with his father for rather innocuous things, then is talked back down by Roseanne. While it’s not a structurally sound narrative style, it’s definitely more reminiscent of how these things feel in real life. Sitcoms tend to allot 22 minutes to the setup, conflict, and denouement, and after that, everything is fine (or, the character has learned to cope with the conflict)– that’s how storytelling works. But here, there’s several small waves of mini-conflicts and Dan sort of sucking it up. No one learns a lesson, really– Roseanne just helps Dan find some perspective on the issue, and Ed continues on with his incessant stories and nagging. That’s real– that’s family.
The plot, such that it is, revolves around Ed coming to visit for the weekend, and Dan not being excited about it. Dan knows Ed will spend the weekend telling him he should have gone into sales, and to “Work smart, Danny, not hard.” Ed arrives, and it’s clear that the kids and Roseanne all adore him. He’s a warm and personable guy, and surprisingly strong, for that matter:
As often happens in episodes where Roseanne isn’t central to the plot, she delivers some real zingers:
Rosebud, the daughter I never had!” “Yeah, well Ed, you would have died in labor.”
As predicted, Ed quickly starts in on nagging Dan about being a salesman, working smart not hard, and how much money he saves on all his purchases by knowing the salespeople or negotiating a better deal. Around this time, Crystal shows up for no narrative reason at all– perhaps merely to set up some flirtation so that it’s less out of left field when the pair start dating later on.
But seriously, the reason she comes over is to borrow a hair dryer because hers, which should have hot, warm, and cool settings, is only providing hot, hot, and cool. And… that’s a real problem, I guess? Good lord, Crystal.
After a small argument where Ed refers to Dan as a handyman, Dan tells Roseanne he doesn’t care if he never sees Ed again– and of course, Ed hears. Roseanne points out to Ed that all he does is talk and never listen (“When you’re on the phone, do you ever use the top half?”), and when Ed points out that Roseanne talks plenty too, the show winks to the audience by having her reply, “Yeah, but when I speak I’m speaking for all of womankind!”
Literally nothing else happens between this conflict and the next– now they’re at dinner, and Dan’s getting mad at Ed again for retelling stories they’ve heard a million times. It turns out the reason he’s so furious over this innocent wrongdoing is that he’s realizing he’s turning into his father. They hold their forks the same way, they both tell the same stories endlessly: “It’s me and I hate it.” Again, at this stage it isn’t clear why he’d hate that so much– while plenty of people can understand the fear of turning into their parents, there’s no clear reason why that would be so horrible for Dan. Everyone likes Ed, and Roseanne points out that the similarities between the two are probably why she likes Ed so much. It’s not until years later that the audience learns why turning into Ed seems so terrible to Dan.
Roseanne fixes it as always, by pointing out to Dan the good traits the two share and that the reason his family loves Ed so much is because they love the things he has in common with Dan. She does it with her signature smirk, too, because even serious conversations in this house can have jokes and lighthearted fun.
Roseanne brings Dan back to dinner, and as Ed sets in on another one of his stories they’ve all heard before, there’s a great shot of her simply placing her hand on his– to comfort him, giver him strength, and remind him of his loving family.
With that, Dan resignedly grins, “Tell me.”
– The credits scene of this episode is some really great work by John Goodman, a stream-of-consciousness rant a la Ed that I really recommend rewatching if you have access to it.
– What are they eating for dinner?? They mention beets, potatoes, and carrots, and there’s a lump of meat in the middle of the table which is probably meatloaf because that seems to be all they ever have.