The Conners premiered Tuesday night without Roseanne Barr — and how production wrote her off might surprise you.
During the premiere episode, the Conner family addressed Barr’s absence in the opening scene. As the family gathers in the kitchen mourning the loss of “Granny Rose” three weeks after her death, a concerned Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) asks to speak to Dan (John Goodman) alone outside.
While the family initially thought she suffered a heart attack in her sleep, they find out Roseanne died of an opiate overdose.
“I just got a call from a friend at the coroner’s office,” Jackie tells Dan. “The autopsy found that it wasn’t a heart attack. Roseanne OD’ed on opiates.”
“That’s not possible,” Dan says. “We knew she had a problem. She was only on pain pills for two days after surgery, then it was just ibuprofen. It’s got to be wrong.”
“They think that she must’ve taken the pills right before bed, and with her health issues, it was enough to stop her breathing,” Jackie says.
Throughout the episode, the family discovers a mixture of pills hidden in different places around the house, including the closet and their freezer.
During an appearance on Brandon Straka’s YouTube show Walk Away last month, Barr expressed her disappointment in how the writers decided to end her character’s life.
“It wasn’t enough to [fire me], they had to so cruelly insult the people who loved that family and that show,” she said.
But Barr said she’s coming to terms with how things have unfolded.
“There’s nothing I can do about it. It’s done. It’s over,” she said. “There’s no fight left.”
The hit Roseanne reboot was canceled by ABC in May following a racist comment Barr made about a former White House advisor. The Conners, which focuses on the same family (minus Roseanne), officially started production in August.
During an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Goodman, 66, admitted that moving on without Barr was a struggle.
“She is missed. After that many years, it’s like a family,” he said. “It was very weird doing the first show without her, because she’s my buddy.”
Barr gave up all financial and creative involvement with the new series after working out a settlement with ABC.
“She gave up a lot so that people could work,” Goodman said.
And while he has since made peace with continuing the show without Barr, Goodman told PEOPLE in his recent cover interview with Sara Gilbert and Laurie Metcalf that he had a “bad time” in the weeks following the show’s cancellation.
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“I was consciously trying to accept it,” he said of first hearing the news. “Just like, ‘Okay, this is happening, just breathe and go with it.’ Underneath I’m trying to get out of a plastic bag that is closing in on me, but I’m trying to be calm on the surface. I remember that contradiction.”
Goodman recalled struggling “for about a month.”
“And then other things started going wrong,” he said. “I fell down the steps and broke a rib. My wife got sick — just all kinds of weird stuff happened at one time. But I just had a feeling that it would work out.”
And Metcalf and Gilbert had similar feelings filming the spinoff without Barr.
“Sara and I had this scene in the first show where we addressed the grief,” Metcalf, 63, told PEOPLE. “Sometimes when you’re an actor and you have to go to that place, you substitute something, but in this case there was no need to do that, because it was there. And it was real. And still makes me choke up, because that part of it’s been really hard.”
None of them have spoken to Barr since her tweet in May; both Gilbert and Metcalf have reached out to the comedian but haven’t heard back “yet,” Metcalf said.
Gilbert, 43, hopes any sadness the cast feels will be channeled “in an honest way into the show,” she added. “And our show has always been able to deal with heavy topics, particularly for a sitcom. It’s been kind of built into the mix.”
The Conners airs on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.