Fuller House’s theme song (repurposed from Full House) begins with the eye-rolling lyrics, “Whatever happened to predictability? The milkman, the paperboy, the evening T.V?” Such a tune is comical in its rosy, retrograde nostalgia, not to mention tone-deaf considering our contemporary political and social climate. Yet everywhere you look, everywhere you look there’s an old show getting the reboot treatment; so, oh mylanta, why not Full House?
This seems to be the level of critical thinking behind the Netflix reboot/sequel, Fuller House, whose inaugural season is now available on DVD. The two disc set is a bare-bones release, containing little more than 13 episodes that continue the very white, very family-friendly and semi-dated antics of the San Francisco-based Tanner clan. Eldest daughter DJ (Candace Cameron Bure) is now a veterinarian with three young children. When her firefighter husband passes away, she panics over how she will balance work and family. Help arrives in the form of younger sister Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin), a DJ and world traveler, and childhood friend Kimmy (Andrea Barber), who now has a daughter of her own, a party planning company and a husband who she is separated from but still secretly smooches.
The original adult cast is also still around, but in a limited capacity. In the pilot, Full House patriarch Danny Tanner (Bob Saget) is in the process of moving from San Francisco to Los Angeles. But when he notices DJ’s dire straits, he forgoes selling the iconic Victorian home, allowing the three young women to stay in the residence and raise their kids. Former rocker Jesse Katsopolis (John Stamos) – who seemingly hasn’t aged a day – has also left to take a new job as the composer of the soap opera General Hospital, a show that only hires “the best actors.” This is one of many, many meta TV jokes in Fuller House, as John Stamos got his start on the program back in the 1980s. The final member of the triumvirate, the infamous comedian Joey Gladstone (Dave Coulier), also pops up, and he is as creepy as ever. Joey has now become a Las Vegas-based comedian. He only occasionally comes to San Francisco but still frequently practices his array of weird, disconcerting voices.
With their departures, the reigns of the show are handed over to the three actresses, which is probably the correct approach. It largely mirrors Full House’s premise. And, while it’s not the most imaginative of continuations, it’s not clear what else it could have been. A chronicle of Joey’s life on the Vegas comedy circuit? Cut. It. Out! Quit it! Have Mercy!
In all seriousness, it works fairly well. Over the course of the season, DJ struggles to deal with the rambunctiousness of her boys Jackson (Michael Campion) and Max (Elias Harger), and the adorable chubby cheeks of her infant son Tommy (Dashiell & Fox Messitt). Complicating matters is the romantic attention of two semi-qualified bachelors: Matt Harmon (John Brotherton), a co-worker at the veterinarian clinic; and Steve Hale (Scott Weinger), DJ’s high school boyfriend who is pathetically desperate to rekindle their relationship.
Additionally, despite her genuine desire to help, Stephanie brings along their own particular dynamics. Since the end of Full House, Stephanie has become a wayward individual, prone to jet-setting and wild partying. She is, more or less, Uncle Jesse Part Deux. Episodes such as “Mad Max” deal with this directly, rifting on the idea of how child-rearing is a boon but also requires great sacrifice.
The character of Kimmy has her own journey to navigate. A business owner contending with a spirited young daughter named Ramona (Soni Nicole Bringas) and an estranged husband named Fernando (Juan Pablo Di Pace), the character has exponentially more on her plate than she used to. And, although she is positioned as a clear supporting character, she is probably the most successfully executed of the main trio.
Full House’s actors have never been uniformly strong. To quote Joey’s repulsive puppet, Mr. Woodchuck, several actors on the original show seemed as if they were “made out of … wood.” The same is true for Fuller House, with performances falling on a continuum. Of the three female leads, Andrea Barber is the most natural performer, easily falling back into the colorful role of Kimmy Gibbler, the bane of “Tannerinos” everywhere. She displays a strong grasp of comedic timing, and also proves that she can handle the show’s dramatic beats, particularly in the episode “The Not-So-Great Escape,” which delves into the specifics of Kimmy’s relationship with her daughter.
Conversely, some of the child actors and series star Candace Cameron Bure are not up to snuff. Casting children is always be a difficult and dicey process; for every Jodie Foster and Jacob Tremblay there’s a Jake Lloyd and a Max Reede. Elias Harger as Max falls into the second camp. Throughout the season there is little to indicate that Max is a thinking, feeling human character. Elias is certainly a cute enough cherub, a trait personified in the wrestling-themed episode “The Legend of El Explosivo,” but he never develops past shouting his lines, striking a pose and waiting for the perfunctory laugh track.
Harger’s subpar work is forgivable due to his age and function on the show, but Candace Cameron Bure’s inconsistent performance is more problematic. To be clear, the actress is not terrible. In fact, she is probably better than Bob Saget (the character-type DJ is clearly modeled after) ever was on the first series. Yet some facets of DJ never seem to work. For as stale as Saget could be on Full House, you could at least buy him as a parent, an idea that strangely never feels credible when applied to Bure’s DJ. Perhaps it’s because Bure looks too young to already have a 12 year old son, but more than likely it has to do with her line delivery. Bure articulates many of her lines in such an odd, stilted way, particularly when they are directed towards the actors playing her children.
But there is only so much under her control. Harrison Ford once observed about Star Wars that, “You can type this shit, but you can’t say it.” The same holds true for Fuller House’s scripting. Now, obviously Fuller House is not aspiring to be Shakespeare (nor should it), and to be fair, it actually improves upon some aspects of the formula. There is mercifully little of that sappy, mawkish music that was used on Full House to herald that a life lesson was right around the corner. Select relationships are also handled in a refreshing way, most significantly with the on-again, off-again dynamic between Kimmy and Fernando. Their pairing effectively oscillates between hijinks, such as in the dance-heavy episode “Funner Home,” and complicated tension, seen in the episode “Ramona’s Not-So-Epic Party.”
The show’s aesthetics are uninspired, the standard type of camerawork and blocking that you’ve seen in innumerable sitcoms. Still, there are a few scattered moments of innovation, or at the very least, moments that feel innovative for this type of cookie-cutter production. One of these takes place in the first episode (“Our Very First Show, Again”), which makes use of split screens for humorous purposes and to convey the nostalgically thematic notion of life coming full circle and the children becoming the adults. Additionally, in the episode “Moving Day” there is a shot from within the refrigerator, which looks out on two characters talking. In the current “golden age” of television this may not seem like a lot, but for a show like Fuller House it feels almost seismic, as does the episode “A Giant Leap,” which offers a Wild Strawberries-style flashback sequence.
There are also some nice touches when it comes to set-design. The show has recreated the interior of the original full house, modernizing it while maintaining specific fixtures and props from the initial series. The attention to detail is suggestive of the larger nature of Fuller House. Although there is no real reason for the show to exist – aside from blunt, insane nostalgia – it never seems as if anyone involved with it is phoning it in. All major participants feel like they are committed to the project, from original creator Jeff Franklin to the older Full House cast members who periodically cameo throughout the series. There is a feeling of genuine affection that comes through, particularly from someone like John Stamos, who was apparently one of the driving forces behind the Full House concept returning to television.
In fact, Stamos’ work functions as a summation of what works and doesn’t work in Fuller House. His character often acts like he is endowed with a strange, almost superhuman level of awareness that separates him from the action, like a godlike figure who can predict the arc of each episode in which he appears. “I think I feel a hug coming on,” he says at one point with a huge grin. Such a statement perfectly vocalizes the nuances of this particular viewing experience, one that is predictable and borderline bland but not necessarily unpleasant. Fuller House may not justify itself completely, but no way Jose is it a travesty.
Fuller House: The Complete First Season is now available on DVD from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.