LOS ANGELES — Wednesday night viewers can tune into a reality show about an outspoken, controversial, influential mother who lives in one of the country’s noncontiguous states, has a complicated relationship with the media and regularly brandishes firearms.
Only this time it’s not a former vice presidential nominee, it’s Roseanne Barr, who returns to television on Lifetime’s “Roseanne’s Nuts.” But from the opening scene, in which Barr and her partner, Johnny Argent, hunt the wild pigs that plague the comedian’s macadamia farm on the Big Island of Hawaii, the show more than occasionally plays like a satire of “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.”
“Oh, that’s not a pig after all,” says Argent lightly after Barr has fired off a few impressive rounds at one of the destructive but fast-moving critters. “It’s a small child gathering wild flowers.”
Barr has said that even though the show is “based in reality,” it is supposed to be funny, which it most certainly is. In welcome contrast to Palin and other reality stars, Barr remains realistically unkempt throughout much of the action (while hunting pigs, she wears a polka dot apron over a T-shirt and jeans to alarming, and baffling, effect). She swears and sweats, her hair is gray, her upper arms flabby, and although she owns a farm in Hawaii, her house is no McMansion.
There are no overproduced glamorous outings, no sound-track manipulated showdowns, no manufactured feuds — everyone in the pilot has the easy genial mien of friends helping out an odd but beloved neighbor. There’s even a trio of local musicians providing a transitional tune.
The result is an occasionally weird, occasionally hilarious show that is simultaneously a window into the life of an eccentric performer and a wickedly fun send-up of the genre, dating all the way to Paris Hilton and “The Simple Life.”
After a career that defined the hyperbolic perimeters of Hollywood, Barr moved to Hawaii ostensibly to escape the pressures of fame and, in her view, the horrors of Los Angeles. Although she is not above going overtly “Green Acres” — once the crew captures one of the pigs, she cannot bring herself to have the little macadamia thief killed — she is more than aware of her life as irony, and happy to revel in that too.
When her son Jake arrives, he quickly, albeit lovingly, gives voice to audience incredulity. He urges his mother “the farmer” to spend a few moments actually harvesting a few of the nuts of which she is so protective and informs her that he will be happy to join her in her island paradise the very moment the world comes to an end. Then he interrupts her diatribe against L.A. to dryly remind her that they are surrounded by a camera crew, which the camera then pulls back and reveals.
He has inherited his mother’s sense of timing, and they are clearly fond of each other, so the tone is pointed rather than mean. She has a similar relationship with Argent. “Are you getting angry, doll?” he asks when she launches into one of her trademark tirades.
Barr has always celebrated and/or wallowed in the messiness of ordinary life, combining the crass, the outrageous and the revelatory in a way that no one has quite been able to duplicate. Larry David comes close, but he is upscale-and-well-groomed irritated, whereas Barr, for all her fame and fortune, remains marginal and deeply furious.
She is also much more willing to laugh at her actual self — it’s difficult to imagine another star of her age and measurements who would allow herself to be filmed, from behind, while running. “Look, she’s running,” says Jake in a tone of utter, cameras-forgotten surprise.
But then Barr has always been more than happy to do and say what others would not, with wildly different degrees of success. She also knows that calling herself on her own stuff gives her even greater license to call others on theirs. Which is, of course, even more fun. In “Roseanne’s Nuts,” she manages to do both.
Perhaps she is considering a run for president.