After tackling everything from COVID-19 to alcoholism, The Conners deftly handled the ups and downs of America’s favorite working-class family over the course of a standout third season and brought things to a close with an eventful finale. In a conversation with ET, executive producers Bruce Helford and Dave Caplan break down the episode, “Two Proposals, a Homecoming and a Bear,” and what it means for the likes of Dan (John Goodman), Darlene (Sara Gilbert) and D.J. (Michael Fishman) as fans eagerly await the series’ return with season 4.
The season 3 finale brought big changes for the Conners, with not one but two proposals. Sadly for Darlene, Ben (Jay R. Ferguson) said no to getting married, while Dan was delighted to find out Louise (Katey Sagal) wants to settle down after he worried she still was too much of an independent spirit. Elsewhere, Geena (Maya Lynne Robinson) made a surprise return home and revealed to D.J. that she was retiring from the military and Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) managed to turn her Jeopardy! fail into a boost for her and the Lunchbox.
Darlene and Ben
While it seemed like the two were finally on a path to moving forward in their relationship, with Darlene saving money to buy them their own house, Ben surprised her by declining her proposal and asking for time apart.
According to Bruce, there was a lot of debate in the writers’ room about which partner was doing the most to make the relationship work. “Certainly at the beginning of the season, Ben was trying very hard to [adjust to] a lot of things that were upsetting him. But he was kind of moving past them too because the bigger picture for him was that they would ultimately get together,” he says, adding that Ben also gave Darlene an ultimatum at one point.
And when it comes to Darlene, she went on a “roller coaster” this season, with the loss of the magazine, Molly’s (Danielle Harris) death and having a mid-life crisis. “Darlene is a story about what’s thicker than blood,” Dave explains, noting that after she got Ben to help her keep the house, “it created little resentments in the relationship. And it’s a story about how little resentments build up and stand in the way of people getting together.”
While Darlene was gobsmacked by Ben’s answer to her proposal, Dave says that in the end, “they both felt like they gave up a little bit too much along the way.”
When it comes to next season, and Jay’s status on the show, the EPs confirm that he’s still a series regular and will be back full time. “He fits into the Conners’ world so beautifully and brings something unique to it,” Dave says. “So we’re not parting ways with Ben or Jay.”
Dan and Louise
The night’s other proposal belonged to Dan, who asked Louise to marry him after learning that her battle with COVID-19 almost killed her. Not wanting to lose her again, he decides to put a ring on it. And much to his delight, she says yes, revealing that she’s less interested in being independent than she previously proclaimed.
When it comes to finally making that commitment, especially three seasons after Roseanne’s death, “it felt like that they had really done due respect to his relationship, due respect to Louise’s feelings of being an independent woman who had never been married and had not ever decided to have that kind of commitment,” Bruce says.
He adds, “It felt like it was just time to bring them together.”
And now that they're engaged, does this mean the series will have a wedding when it returns this fall? “If they get married next season, I think you're going to see it,” Bruce teases, with Dave adding, “It’s still in the finer points of discussion. So we’ll let you be surprised by that.”
D.J. and Geena
After Robinson landed one of the lead roles on the CBS series The Unicorn, she was forced to leave The Conners, resulting in Geena’s absence in seasons 2 and 3. But now that the series, as well as Sagal’s Rebel, have been canceled, the EPs are taking full advantage of that to bring Geena back in season 4.
“We missed Geena … and we really always wanted to bring her back into the world,” Bruce says, adding that after Greena returned to Afghanistan, D.J. leaned on his siblings to help him raise his daughter, Mary (Jayden Rey). “But now it’s time to bring his family and reconnect them. And there’s so many stories going forward to tell them about what their life is going to be.”
And for Robinson specifically, while the EPs acknowledge it's unfortunate that The Unicorn was canceled, Bruce says, “We’re happy to have her. And [with Geena] we get to explore more of what it is to be a Conners in-law and how hard that is.”
Jackie and Jeopardy!
After realizing that her Jeopardy! fail became a meme, Jackie takes advantage of her newfound internet fame to drive traffic to the Lunchbox, which she rebranded as a Chicago Bears sports bar.
A mainstay on the series, the Lunchbox has been part of Jackie’s life since she and her sister were first running the business together. “It’s always been kind of a touch point for her emotionally,” Dave says. “And now, trying to make it a Bears bar, it’s a very emotional thing for her. She’s had other things in her life that haven’t worked out so great. And making this a success, I think, has an awful lot to do with how she sees herself. And so there’s something about that Lunchbox, which has always been a touch point for her. So having success in that location, I think, is really, really important to her.”
While she’s been through many ups and downs, Jackie’s relationship with Neville (Nat Faxon) continues to be a high point for her. “That’s been a fun relationship for us to write, too,” Dave says, noting that when they wanted to give Jackie another romance, they decided to put her with a “good guy” and “then watch her try to sabotage it because of all her past demons.”
He adds, “That’s been really great. Nat Faxon is fantastic. And they’re just really good together.” So when it comes to next season, the EPs say audiences can “absolutely” expect to see more of them together.
And while looking ahead to season 4, the EPs promise brighter days ahead for the Conners. “Their lives will definitely be affected in a positive way by the lifting of the burden of COVID,” Bruce says. “We’re looking forward to a brighter day as we come into the next season.”
Dave adds that there are “glimmers of hope for all the Conners.” Darlene has worked her way to lower management at Wellman Plastics, Ben’s trying to make a go of the hardware store with Dan, Becky is out of rehab and managing her sobriety. “Everybody’s got a chance to kind of grasp the brass ring -- at least as much as the Conners can.”
The Conners returns with season 4 on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT this fall on ABC.