It’s 5 a.m. My wife is sleeping in the next room, I’m drinking hot chocolate to stay awake, and the only noise, save for the occasional chair squeak when I remember I haven’t moved in an hour, is Stephanie Tanner exclaiming “how rude,” and Uncle Jesse singing an Elvis song, and Kimmy Gibbler speaking in the third person more often than George Remus. I’m on my fifth episode of Fuller House, Netflix’s sequel series to the equally beloved and panned TGIF “classic” Full House, and I can’t stop watching. What’s wrong with me?
I’ve been asking myself that exact question for years. I normally don’t “do” bad television — hate-watching seems like a pointless exercise in soul-crashing futility (except for The Newsroom; that was fun to hate). But the Tanners have a hold on me, and they haven’t let go since the mid-1990s, when I watched my first episode of Full House. I don’t remember which one it was, but I’m guessing the kids did something wacky, Danny acted like a clean freak, Jesse the wild-child, Joey the man-child, everyone learned a lesson, Michelle said “You got it, dude,” and the episode ended with a group hug. Maybe it’s not a winning formula, but it was certainly a successful one: Full House was a top-25 show for ABC in six of its eight seasons, peaking in 1991-92 when 17 million people groaned at Mr. Woodchuck’s puns every week.
I wasn’t one of those 17 million. I’m sure I caught some stray episodes when they first aired, but my relationship with Full House — which, even as a Simpsons– and Roseanne-loving child, I knew was sappy trash — didn’t start until the show was over and on syndication. Thanks to TBS, ABC Family, and Nick at Nite, I’ve probably seen every episode five times, which, considering there are 192 total episodes, means I’ve wasted 480 hours of my life on “Blowey” and the gang. That’s not to say I haven’t squandered my precious seconds on Earth on other bad TV shows, especially other bad TGIF shows, like Perfect Strangers, Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. (Have you watched one recently? It’s not as fun as you remember.)
But none of them grabbed me like Full House did, and still does.
Working from home, as many professional #content generators do, means that I’m in front of the television all day. I rarely turn it on, though, because a) I prefer listening to music while working (once I’m finished with my Fuller House binge-a-thon, I’m going to put on Carly Rae Jepsen, who sings the show’s poppier theme), and b) I can’t just put any show on in the background. Friends is too loud, 30 Rock is too distractingly great, The Price is Right is too engrossing. But during the evening, when I’m writing and my wife is milling around the apartment, we keep Full House on more often than any 28- and 30-year-old adults should. It’s not that either one of us really loves the show, either. It’s just always been there, like a friend of a friend who says she only needs a place to crash for a week, but ends up staying 15 years.
Full House is comfortingly bland. It’s a bowl of white rice, spaghetti with no butter or sauce, eggs served on Saltines. You could live off it (again, there are 192 episodes), but you wouldn’t want to. Even I, someone who knows the name of Joey’s show-within-a-show with Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, eventually reach my limit with its tasteless fluff. But I’ll inevitably come back to it, because, oh man, this is the episode where Urkel drops by.
I’m not proud of any of this. I retch at earnestness, cringe at catchphrases, and generally feel sick whenever sappy music begins playing in the background. But somehow, I’m immune to Full House‘s lack of charm. The same can’t be said of Fuller House, which, to paraphrase one of those cringe-worthy catchphrases, is not good, dude. The premise is offensively simple: DJ’s spouse dies (the Tanners are more cursed than the Kennedys), so she has to raise her three kids on her own, until Stephanie and Kimmy agree to move in and help her out. Sound familiar? It’s the same recipe as Full House, albeit with a gender twist. Danny, Jesse, and Joey appear in the pilot, and occasionally by themselves in subsequent episodes, but Fuller House is all about DJ, DJ Tanner (Stephanie’s D.J. name), and Gibbler, an abhorrent wacky neighbor relic from the 1990s. The entire show is trapped between decades, the multi-cam sincerity clashing with meta jokes and Instagram references and “seaman” puns. Fuller House has no idea who it’s for, the adults who grew up watching Full House, or those adults’ kids.
It’s certainly not for me.
It does one thing better than the original, though: The characters are more defined. How would you describe DJ, or Stephanie, or Michelle? Well, DJ’s the older sister… Stephanie likes Boyz II Men… and Michelle is kind of a jerk? The kids on Full House didn’t have personalities; they had catchphrases. On Fuller House, DJ is a bit of a killjoy, but she’s a hard working mom; Stephanie is the Jesse, someone who loves to party, but loves her family even more (if the show has an MVP, it’s probably Jodie Sweetin); and Michelle, well, Michelle is in New York building her fashion empire, an in-joke that’s acknowledged by the entire cast staring into the camera. But don’t worry, there are some new quirky kids in Fuller House! There’s Kimmy’s daughter, and DJ’s 13-year-old son, and DJ’s excruciatingly loud 7-year-old son, and an infant, because creator Jeff Franklin knows what the people want, and what the people want is to say “aww” whenever there’s a baby on-screen. He’s on-screen a lot.
(My notes from the pilot episode: “becky and jesse, hate their kids,” “kids are nothing-burgers,” and “singing forever.” Of course Jesse sings “Forever,” with The Rippers inexplicably in the background. Also, Macy Gray shows up in episode three, because only the biggest guest stars for Fuller House!)