Let’s clear a couple things up right off the bat: With very little (almost no) coercion, I agreed to review this with an open mind, because I used to be a die-hard Full House fan.
To my first point, if I’m totally honest, I wasn’t fighting my fellow AE writers off of this assignment, and I wasn’t particularly eager to devote six and a half hours of my life to Fuller House, if you can imagine. I did sign up hoping to find some bright spots in the obviously questionable reboot and to throw out a not-completely scathing article into the sea of brutal Fuller House reviews.
And about that “die-hard” fan part. Clearly I didn’t have the most refined taste in television shows as a child—my favorite after school shows being Full House and Saved by the Bell—but even then I knew Full House wasn’t a good show. (If you just switched the channel when they started in on the sappy music and end-of-show life lesson, it was much less lame.) But no one watched Full House because it was a good show. And no one will watch Fuller House because it’s a good show. But here we are.
So if it wasn’t a good show, why did anyone watch it in the first place? That, I can’t answer. I can’t remember when I first started watching the show either; it debuted in 1987 before I was born and ran until 1995. But I do know that the show always felt familiar to me. The youngest of the three kids in the Tanner household, Michelle, played by both Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, was my spirit animal of sorts. I called Full House “Michelle” for years–maybe mistakenly, maybe because she was the only reason I watched the show. Like most young girls growing up in the ’90s, I followed the Olsen twins’ career post-Tanner days, too, but we’ll get back to them in a bit. My life did feel a bit like the feel-good, ’90s Tanner family life, just exchanging California for West Virginia and swapping a no-boundaries set of relatives for a fairly normal, non-sitcom family. My mom was a TV reporter and anchor, similar to Lori Laughlin’s TV host Becky Katsopolis (with an equally hard to pronounce name), and my dad was a musician, bearing a striking resemblance to Uncle Jesse (John Stamos). Full House seemed like how a family should be, Michelle was just a few years older than I, and at the time, from a very young perspective, the Tanner family seemed like what a family was supposed to be like. No problem was too complicated it couldn’t be solved in 30 minutes and there was something intrinsically appealing about that.
It should come as no surprise that Fuller House relies entirely on nostalgia. The premise of the show is exactly the same as the original: When eldest daughter DJ Tanner Fuller’s (Candace Cameron Bure) husband dies, she’s left to raise three young boys on her own, until her sister (Jodie Sweetin) and best friend (Andrea Barber) agree to change their entire lives after half of a second of consideration to move into her childhood home to help her raise the kids. When I say half a second of consideration, I mean a mere one or two lines are uttered before one woman is tossing her successful (albeit entirely unbelievable) music career out the window and the other is uprooting her kid from her home and school to join the Tanner household. DJ’s dad, Danny, is in the process of selling the home for a career move to LA. And instead of selling that house in that city for that kind of money, he just hands over the keys. Maybe that level of parental love isn’t so unbelievable, but perhaps if all of these split second decisions—where everyone in DJ’s life magically rises to the occasion—would all seem much more understandable with a devastated, overwhelmed, widowed mother, but that’s not exactly what the fluffy sitcom is going to even close to give us. We aren’t given a timeline of Tommy Fuller’s death, but the pilot does give us characters bending over backward for the slightly sad woman (seriously, I’ve been more upset over my husband eating the last of the Girl Scout cookies than she is over her husband’s actual death), and we also catch the reappearance of her divorced high school sweetheart who makes a play for her twice in the first episode. Steve (Scott Weinger, Full House, Aladdin) is a beloved character in this world, but come on. I guess there’s a fine line between being a wreck over your dead husband, needing everyone to turn their worlds upside down for yours, and just beaming flirtatiously as your first love explains you two should’ve been married from the start.
There isn’t a shred of subtlety to be found anywhere here.But don’t get me wrong: the show doesn’t crumble for a flawed, reused premise. That’s only part of it. The Fuller House pilot covers every single inside joke or tag line ever uttered in its predecessor’s 192 episodes, each one squeezing its way into the 30-minute episode. Every single one. And when it isn’t dragging back old favorites like “have mercy” and “how rude,” it’s replicating exact scenes from the original show…and using a split screen to show the 1987 scene next to the 2016 version just in case you didn’t remember. You can’t say the creators aren’t completely aware this project rests entirely on its audiences’ fond memories. It’s clear they’re using that to their advantage every step of the way, and while it’s taxing, it speaks to the notion that the writers aren’t armed with much new material.
As far as the Olsen twins are concerned, Michelle is noticeably absent from Fuller House as every major character makes his return in the reunion-like first episode. John Stamos has been vocal about his frustration over the actresses’ decision not to reprise their childhood roles, and fans have taken similar stances, some even insisting Elizabeth Olsen derail her career to take the role. In what I’m assuming is meant to be a humorous moment, the cast breaks the fourth wall, staring knowingly at the audience, as someone explains Michelle is too busy running her successful fashion empire in New York to make it back to see her family. While it got a big, obnoxious studio audience laugh (like every intended humorous moment), it was nothing short of slimy. If Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen were still actively acting and if they had both made the wise career choice to stay as far away from this debacle as possible, the incessant backlash could maybe kinda be understandable. But with both women retired from the job they were forced into at 18-months-old, with no intention of returning, perhaps anyone involved in the production could’ve cut the crass remarks.
In all fairness, Fuller House does have a few things going for it. The writers were smart enough to plug Uncle Jesse, Aunt Becky, Joey (Dave Coulier), and Danny (Bob Saget) back into the show just often enough to fulfill its fans’ hopes but not enough to derail the intended trajectory of the show. Barber and Cameron Bure are surprisingly capable of carrying the show, and though the children of Fuller House are your quintessential annoying child actors with underdeveloped characters, both women show an ease with acting with children, much like Coulier and Stamos in the original. Although the series is intended to be family friendly, with references to drugs and sex, it is far raunchier than anything you saw in Full House.
When Full House ended in its eighth season in 1995, it wasn’t given the proper closure any beloved, long-running show deserves. And like other reboots headed to Netflix this year, abrupt original endings plus a vocal audience can be enough to resurrect long-gone characters and their shows. But with the regurgitation of the premise, setting, and even exact scenes, Fuller House relies too heavily on its predecessor to be able to stand on its own.
Full House fans: If you can calm your curiosity, better to leave the Tanner house and its characters in 1995.
Everyone else: Just don’t.
Featured Image: Netflix