Whatever Happened to Predictability?
By Jon Gallagher
Fuller House (Netflix, 2016) – Creator: Jeff Franklin. Stars: Candace Cameron Bure, Jodie Sweetin, Andrea Barber, Michael Campion, Elias Harger, Soni Bringas, Dashiell Messitt, Fox Messitt, John Brotherton, Juan Pablo Di Pace, Scott Weinger, & Ashley Liao. TV-G.
I should confess that during the eight-year run of Full House on ABC, I never saw a single show. While it was on from 1987 till 1995, I was working a second-shift job at a local factory and didn’t see much prime time TV (even though we had a VCR, no one at home could figure out how to make it record one show while they watched another). To be honest, I wasn’t real interested in seeing a saccharinely-sweet show about a widower and his three daughters.
After I got laid off from the factory, I went back to school full time at a private, liberal arts college and homework combined with obligations to the family combined to keep me away from the TV.
It wasn’t until the show went off the air and Nickelodeon picked it up that I began watching it with my youngest daughter who was born in 2004.
I actually enjoyed the show. It was a nice, family-friendly program that had very distinct characters with easily recognizable personalities. Sure, the plots ran thin, and everything always worked out by the end of the show (unless it was continued to the next week). Yes, I got sick of cute little Michelle saying “How rude!” (and for that matter, all the catch phrases on the show). Yes, I couldn’t understand how Uncle Jesse and Joey could go from jobless to overnight success almost every week. But it was still fun to watch.
Eight seasons was enough for network executives. The expenses of producing a weekly show with so many stars is staggering, and as the kids grew up, the innocence of their teenage years were about to transform into more than the family-friendly series was going to be able to handle.
The stars went on about their ways. Bob Saget and Dave Coulier both continued with their stand-up comedy routines, something they’d brought with them to the series when it began. Jodie Sweetin (Stephanie) developed an addiction to meth, got married three times, but finally straightened her life out in 2008. Both Candace Cameron Bure and Lori Laughlin continued to find work in Hollywood, both doing guest shots on various TV series and starring in made-for-TV movies.
Andrea Barber (next door neighbor Kimmy Gibler) quit acting and went to school, staying in close contact with her former castmates.
The three biggest stars continue to have success. John Stamos has gone on to find fame in other TV series, guesting on some and playing a lead role in others. He’s been known to produce some projects as well, including Fuller House.
The Olsen Twins, Mary Kate and Ashley, who played a single role on Full House, became a mega-million-dollar marketing enterprise. Their faces were plastered on everything from lunch boxes to backpacks to notebooks as the cash rolled in. They made a few movies that were written especially for them, starred in their own TV series, and then dropped out of Hollywood once their cuteness wore off. Mary Kate continued to act on occasion, most notably on the the HBO series Weeds, while Ashley did mostly cameos and uncredited appearances. In the past 10 years, they’ve done little in the way of film or TV, concentrating on a fashion empire they’ve been building instead.
The cast still managed to stay in touch. Saget told Stephen Colbert on the latter’s talk show that the cast had become a real family and they often saw each other socially. In fact, Bure was the matron of honor at one of Sweetin’s three weddings.
A reunion had been talked about for years. Since the show has been off the air for 20 years (but still around because of reruns on Nickelodeon), an entire generation had been introduced to the Tanner household, my own 11-year-old daughter included. Stamos acted as producer, got together with Jeff Franklin, who created the original series, sold the idea to Netflix, an internet-only based broadcast entity, and filming began several months ago.
Fuller House takes a look at the same Tanner house that we last saw two decades ago. The kids are grown and have kids of their own. In the pilot for the new series, DJ (Bure) has just lost her fire-fighting husband and is set to raise three sons on her own. Danny (Saget) and his wife are getting ready to move to Los Angeles where he and Rebecca (Laughlin) will begin hosting a nationally syndicated morning show just like the one they’ve been doing in San Francisco for the past 25 years. Uncle Jesse (Stamos) is also beginning a new job as the musical director for his favorite soap General Hospital (where Stamos got his acting start as Blackie Parrish). Joey is doing standup comedy at the Venetian in Vegas several times a week.
The whole family is gathering for a going away party for Danny. Stephanie (Sweetin) shows up fresh from her gig in England as a DJ. Even Kimmy Gibler (Barber) crashes the breakfast and reveals that she’s in charge of planning the party.
The only cast member missing is Michelle (the Olsen twins) who Danny explains is “busy running her fashion empire in New York.” As soon as he says that, the entire cast breaks the fourth wall, and stares into the camera with a “seriously?” look on their faces. It got the biggest laugh from the live studio audience.
Even Jesse and Rebecca’s twins return, and are all grown up, trying to graduate from college, sometime in the next decade. It appears that they’ve spent the last several years double majoring in partying and surfing, not necessarily in that order.
Steve, DJ’s high school boyfriend, makes an appearance, raiding the refrigerator (nothing has changed) and lamenting the fact that he and DJ never got married.
Among the newcomers are DJ’s three sons, Kimmy’s teenage daughter, and Kimmy’s smooth-talking, lady-killing, Latino ex-husband. The oldest boy, Jackson, is somewhat of con artist with his younger brother Max being the victim (Max has to do what Jackson has told him because Jackson put a small device in Max’s head that could make it explode at any second). The youngest son is still an infant.
Kimmy’s daughter is about the same age as Jackson and is the perfect foil for him. Either some serious fireworks, or some adolescent romance, could be afoot here, possibly both.
In the pilot, DJ is struggling on the day of the going away party and she confesses to Tommy (the baby) that she’s not sure how she will handle it as a single mom once everyone leaves. As luck would have it, the baby monitor is on as she laments her troubles as the entire family listens in on the remote device in the kitchen.
Stephanie decides she’ll cancel her upcoming gigs and move in with DJ to help with the kids. Kimmy, who has always wanted to live in the Tanner house anyway, also decides to move in and help.
The pilot was exceptionally well done and I found myself smiling broadly throughout most of it, and even getting a little moist around the eyes from time to time. The jokes were good, the one liners were spot on, the fourth wall was broken just enough to keep things interesting, and the cast looked like they were having the time of their lives.
Within a week of debuting the new series, Netflix announced that it had ordered a second season. It was unprecedented to happen so quickly and Netflix may live to regret the decision.
I gave the pilot a solid A, probably out of pure nostalgia. If you enjoyed the original series, then you’ll enjoy this. If you didn’t enjoy the original series, then you have no hope of remotely liking this.
And therein lies one of the problems in making this a regular series, rather than just doing a one-time reunion show.
In order to enjoy the new series, you almost had to be a fan of the old series. Sure, there are new characters and new situations, but more than half of the gags, jokes, and personality disorders are based on the old show and if you aren’t familiar with the original, then you’re going to have a lot of catching up to do to understand the new series, a task you might not find worth the effort.
The new show seems to lack the magic that the original had. Maybe the kids aren't as cute. Maybe the adults aren’t interesting enough. Maybe I’m just sick of seeing cute kids trying to steal the show.
The point is, the new show seems to have a bunch of characters who are all determined to outdo one another with one liners. One character will recite their one liner, then wait for the appropriate audience response. Then the next character will take their turn delivering a one liner, and then wait. The live audience reaction is what gives the actors their timing, and it seems a little awkward at times. Maybe the director is filling in some of the less-well-received jokes with canned laughter; I’m not sure.
At any rate, the subsequent shows aren’t nearly as fun and crisp as the pilot which is too bad. Since they aren’t under the same restrictions as a network shows, they can run longer – much longer as a matter of fact – than the 22 minutes allotted to a half-hour sitcom on network TV (the pilot ran 35 minutes without commercials). They should find a way to use this to their advantage and do some storytelling rather than just delivering punchline after punchline.
The same critique can be applied to each and every episode I’ve seen. After binge-watching a few episodes, they all seemed to blend together, but that can happen with any show.
I’ve given the pilot a solid A, but the regular series is disappointing and ends up with a C-. Those who never watched the original show may not be so kind.