Turns out, neither sitcom characters nor sitcom stars can escape COVID-19.
The Conners spent the bulk of its third season dealing with the fallout of the real world COVID-19 pandemic. Aunt Jackie’s newly opened diner had to shut down and slowly began to reopen. Characters dealt with COVID scares and actual diagnoses. An already financially challenged family faced an even more uncertain future with salaries in jeopardy.
And in the real world, Lecy Goranson, who incidentally has been quietly doing some of the very best work of her career on The Conners, wasn’t able to celebrate her unexpected Critics Choice nomination in person.
“As much as I’m more introverted, I was like, ‘Why is it the one year that I’m nominated that I can’t go to the party!’ ” laughed Goranson. “It was a complete surprise. I’d never ever would have in a million years expected that to happen.”
Joking aside, Goranson remains incredibly thoughtful about COVID-19 and its impact on the world and on The Conners. She considers the sitcom’s real world-based storyline extraordinarily cathartic. The way the series dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic while balancing drama and comedy expertly become something an emotional release for the cast, Goranson included.
It’s that connection that helped ground her extraordinary third season work in reality.
“It really is fair to say that it’s a shared experience, no matter who you are. I feel like our culture is so wrought with gaps of human rights or gender equality, racial equality, socio economic equality. Unfortunately, COVID is a great leveler for all of us. There are some shows that have tried to go the other way and kind of make things happy and bright. I think our show is really reflective, and I think it’s really powerful in that way. I also think the humor then comes from a real place because, as this year has been, I think that that’s kind of where humor comes from, too. A lot of humor comes from strife.”
Goranson’s work over the 20-episode third season runs the gamut of the human experience. Over the course of the season, Becky Conner juggled being a single mother with working a new job. The stress of separation from her daughter caused her to relapse into alcoholism, something she struggled with in the past. The Conner family staged a loving intervention, and Becky went to rehab.
The eighteenth episode of the series, “Cheating, Revelations and A Box of Doll Heads,” featured a tour-de-force performance from Goranson as she raged in a family therapy session.
The scene became possible thanks to her bond with co-star John Goodman.
“Whenever I work with John Goodman, we have such a strong connection. He just really has an ability to ground other actors and make us feel very much in the moment,” Goranson shared. “For both me and John, that scene was really important. You do your homework, and then you just let it go and try to be in the moment.”
Being in the moment for Goranson meant not only understanding the multi-faceted side of alcoholism — denial, anger, guilt, shame — but also realizing that Becky could fail and fall into a safe space, thanks to the warm family net contained around her. Getting to that moment of vulnerability and raw emotion is a challenge for any actor, but to experience that level of the human experience on a sitcom is a rarity.
Goranson looked within to channel past emotions and experiences to so perfectly play that sequence with Goodman.
“It’s part of being an actor. It’s almost therapeutic for your own self, and I think I’ve experienced a lot of things in my life. I think what Becky felt was really complete hopelessness and a feeling of being overwhelmed. I feel like I have been in those moments,” Goranson explained. “I think we all have things that are core that we have to suppress in order to function. It’s scary to crack that open and get in touch with what’s under there, but that’s what I felt. I feel like having worked with great actors definitely helps to access that.”