A Qualified Defense of Fuller House

Originally posted at Smash Cut Culture.

I intended to watch only the first episode of Fuller House, treat it as a reunion special, and stop there. But the unexpected happened—whenever one episode finished, I found myself clicking on the next one.

Why? It’s not good. Critically speaking, this Full House sequel/spinoff is a bad show. It’s cheesy and predictable, loaded with unsubtle “wink wink, nudge nudge” references to its late ‘80s/early ‘90s heyday, not loaded with any kind of original comedic style, and occasionally downright dumb. (There’s a wrestling episode whose climax is the height of ridiculous stupidity, or perhaps “nadir” is the more appropriate term.) The show’s 31 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes comes as no surprise…and yet, neither does its 81 percent audience approval rating on the same website.

fuller-house-01Despite Fuller House’s legion of faults, it’s actually kind of nice. It’s the television equivalent of catching up with old friends you haven’t seen since grade school. Sure, on the surface level, you’ve grown apart during the intervening decades, but you’re still peers with a shared history that leads to a sort of unconditional acceptance. A new show with new characters could never get away with all these flaws.

If the show chose to focus on the original adults, then this probably would have felt like nothing more than a cheap rehash, and it would have gotten old very quickly. From what we see, none of them have changed since the ‘90s. Danny’s still got a clean streak. Jesse’s still vain. And Joey’s still clinging to his man-childness.

But the focus wisely shifts to the girls who have grown up since the original series. Yes, it’s absolutely contrived that the premise is a gender-reversed version of the original show, with recent widow D.J. raising three boys with the help of sister Stephanie and best friend Kimmy, and yet it feels appropriate, even without youngest sister Michelle. (I certainly can’t blame the Olsen twins for not wanting to re-utter their old catchphrases that pre-date their memories. The show has a little too much fun picking on them about it, though.)

In my case, I haven’t seen a complete episode of the original series since it went off the air. I was a frequent viewer for most of its run, though I did not last until the bitter end. I checked back in for the series finale and never once felt the need to revisit it in reruns. Aside from the rare snippet caught while flipping channels, I’ve been Full House–free for over twenty years. I’d have been fine keeping it that way, and I still have no interest in revisiting the old episodes, but the fact that I had left the show in the past helped me appreciate these new episodes properly. The Tanner girls were children when my sisters and I were children, and we were all close in age. By never watching the reruns, I haven’t trapped these characters in their childhood while I grew up any more than I’ve done so for my old grade school classmates. It makes perfect sense that they would have grown up, too.

This trend of resurrecting old TV shows and movies has been a mixed blessing. Some properties, such as the Muppets, are designed to keep going in various incarnations. Others, such as Arrested Development, were taken from us before their time and earned another shot. And still others, such as The X-Files, should have reached a definitive conclusion and left it at that. An old-fashioned network sitcom is built to last as many seasons as possible, but generally it should eventually have a nice finale and stop as we move on to new shows.

However, thanks to streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, entertainment is no longer zero sum. Season orders don’t have to be built around the available number of time slots. If a show can make money, it can find a home. So while another round of Full House is something we should have been able to live without, its existence doesn’t necessarily come at the expense of something new and innovative. (John Stamos’s roles as a producer and recurring guest star don’t seem to have conflicted with his starring in Grandfathered, a series that does a far better job of feeling like a classic sitcom with a modern sensibility.)

I couldn’t care less whether Fuller House gets another season. But despite the steady stream of groaners and the obnoxious, outdated laugh track, this set of thirteen episodes was a nice time, one free of any cynicism. It’s just shamelessly Full House. In proper grown-up fashion, it accepts itself without regard for what others might say.