ABC's The Conners is deep into its fourth season, America's favorite sitcom family is still trying to get by and move forward. This premise has been especially true this season, with patriarch Dan Conner (John Goodman) marrying his new love Louise (Katey Sagal), and daughter Darlene (Sara Gilbert) resetting her love life after things implode with Ben Olinsky (Jay R. Ferguson). The adjustments are far from over, according to executive producers Bruce Helford and Dave Caplan, as the family continues to settle into a new normal after all this change.
The latest example of all this plays out in Wednesday night's episode, entitled "Yard Sale, Phone Fail, And a College Betrayal" (and airing at 9 p.m. ET). Dan prepares to part with his bedroom furniture to make room for a new set, as he promised Louise to symbolize this new chapter in their lives. However, the bed's "interesting history" holds things up.
"A lot of what's coming up in the season is really Dan and Louise adjusting to life together," Helford tells PopCulture.com. Caplan adds, "The furniture's kind of symbolic of the challenge of squeezing her way into the Conner clan, which is pretty tight-knit. They've been through a lot, and they're close. And there's a lot of them. And that's kind of intimidating for Louise on some level. So making room for her furniture is really like making room for her. And while Dan wants to enthusiastically do it, it's tricky to make room for new memories when you have so many old memories in a place."
All of those old memories have to do with Roseanne Conner, Roseanne Barr's now-deceased character from The Conners' predecessor Roseanne. This plotline is just one example of the minds behind the scenes trying to find a balance between having the Conner family progress while acknowledging that the loss of Roseanne is something the characters won't ever totally move on from. Behind the scenes, the team relies on a simple "gut instinct" to know when it's time to revisit the memory of Roseanne.
"As the matriarch of the family, her passing wouldn't go away in a year or two or three," Helford says. "It's always kind of there. And so, we just kind of gut it out. It's when we feel that it's appropriate, and we do from time to time, we all just kind of say, 'You know what? They would definitely mention Roseanne here.' And we try and do it in a way that's respectful for the memory of Roseanne. Or sometimes it's just a reference point. I mean, obviously, with him getting married, we spent many, many episodes getting Dan over the fact that he could move on.
"He felt guilty. He had all kinds of, of issues. Emotionally, he finally got past that, was able to marry the woman he loved and accept that he deserved a good life beyond what it had been. And likely, he felt very lucky to have had a good marriage to Roseanne and the long one. But things come up from time to time, getting rid of the furniture, getting certain kinds of changes. So things do come up. And we just kind of go with what we would feel if we personally had experienced this, and we try and keep it honest to the family."
Caplan concurs, adding, "We think the Conners are determined to move forward, but they're only human. And it's natural to want to sneak a glance in the rearview mirror once in a while and look at your past, but they do their best. And they feel like they strike a pretty good balance of making a new future, but being respectful of where they came from. And the Roseanne character is part of that."
As for Darlene, her search for love is currently causing her to rethink her spirituality and what is important in life. "Darlene's on a spiritual journey to find herself and make herself into the person she wants to be," Caplan says. "And that's all in the wake of her breakup with Ben, that she knows a good amount of that was her own self-sabotage. And she's trying to figure out how not to make the same mistakes again in her life and how to move forward. And she's looking for a way to kind of connect to something bigger in her life."
Despite her advancement, her journey is far from over. She's currently seeing Nick (Andrew Leeds), a former drug addict and stockbroker who's turned his life around by embracing spirituality. Caplan sees Nick as "a sweet guy and has a lot to offer" Darlene at this point in her life, but will it last? In tonight's episode, that connection is tested when she learns a new quirk about Nick's lifestyle.
"She's got some more steps to [her journey]," Helford says. "It's kind of like the three bears. Each chair is not just quite right yet. So she's got more journey to come. And then this episode ... is where she finds out that to shed some of his stress, Nick no longer has a cell phone. And what it's like to date someone who has no cell phone. And of course, the family makes her completely paranoid that this guy is just hiding everything from her. So it's interesting."
The Conners airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC. If you miss the show live or need to catch up on Season 4, you can stream episodes via ABC.com or Hulu. Stay tuned for more from our interview with The Conners executive producers Bruce Helford and Dave Caplan.