Creator: Jeff Franklin
Starring: Candace Cameron Bure, Jodie Sweetin, Andrea Barber, Michael Campion, Elias Harger, Soni Nicole Bringas, Dashiell and Fox Messitt, Juan Pablo Di Pace, John Brotherton, Scott Weinger, John Stamos, Lori Loughlin, Dave Coulier, Bob Saget
Original Airdate: 2016
★★★ (out of ★★★★)
Recently, I read an article about a scientific study conducted on nostalgia. The findings were somewhat surprising in how it revealed that being enraptured by these warm, fuzzy recollections of the past can be positive, helping us move forward. The reasoning was that we tend to look back on anything from our past as being much better than it actually was. I tried to keep this in mind while watching the somewhat excruciating pilot episode of Netflix's Full House reboot/spin-off, Fuller House. In it, the very definition of the phrase, "Be careful what you wish for" is pushed to its breaking point, as every beloved character from the classic TGIF sitcom barges into the original house within minutes, spewing their catchphrases as if no time passed at all. In fairness, the actors all look great, but it's a lot to take in at once, testing even the most dedicated diehards patiently waiting thirty years for a moment that not only drags on too long, but feels more like a Fallon skit without the laughs.
|Fuller House on Netflix|
Nothing really clicks in the first episode, whether it's a gag about Stephanie's newly acquired British accent, a meta, fourth wall-breaking joke at the expense of the Olsen twins, Bob Saget looking like he just woke up or Dave Coulier's comic antics aging poorly. And while the older cast members have never seemed more off their game than in these initial minutes, it's still important to remember they're only as good as the material they're given and adults watching now were children when the series initially aired. Then comes the big moment toward the end of the episode. Just when I was just about to give up all hope, it's Candace Cameron Bure to the rescue. She has this one pivotal scene that convinces us maybe creator Jeff Franklin does have a plan. That he knows where to take this.
Now comes the good news. That first episode is not only by far the series' worst, it's really the only stinker of the thirteen. And as much as it pained me to type all that about something I'd long consider a slam dunk on paper, it only applies to the pilot. There was a better way to do that and I certainly shouldn't want to be warning any original cast members to not let the door hit them on the way out. So to be nice, I'll instead warn bingers to skip to episode 2, which is where Fuller House actually begins, or should have began. And you know what? It's really good. In fact, you could go as far as to say that of Netflix's rescusitations of dormant, nostalgic properties, this is easily the strongest as far as both constructing a logical continuation of the original series and capturing the spirit and feeling with which it was created.
|"Olsens, where are you?"|
Recently widowed veterinarian D.J. Tanner-Fuller (Cameron Bure) is now in a similar position to that of her father over thirty years ago, as her firefighter husband Tommy's sudden death leaves her to take care of three sons, teenager Jackson (Michael Campion), 7 year-old Max ( Elias Harger) and baby Tommy, Jr. (Dashiell and Fox Messitt). Obviously overwhelmed and desperate for help, she accepts an offer from her younger sister Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin) and childhood best friend, Kimmy Gibbler (Andrea Barber) to move into the original Tanner house with them, the latter bringing along her half-Latin teenage daughter, Ramona (Soni Nicole Bringas). While keeping busy with their own endeavors, Tanner patriach Danny (Saget), Jesse (John Stamos) and Becky (Lori Loughlin), and Uncle Joey (Coulier), still pop up in San Francisco to lend a hand to D.J., who's trying to adjust to her new, extremely hectic life as a single mother.
The casting and story focus are the easiest elements to identify as succeeding from the get-go. Once all the supporting players from the original take leave after the pilot and are reduced to recurring roles, we're left with the core three: D.J., Stephanie and Kimmy. The rest of the cast is rounded out by the four new kids (or five, taking the Messitt twins into account) and one really annoying appendage of an ex-husband for Kimmy. It was the right decision to have the series revolve around D.J. while Stephanie's involved in a major way and Kimmy Gibbler is, well, Kimmy Gibbler. If you were a fan of that character you still will be and if you weren't, then nothing's changed and you'll still find her irritating. Isn't that the point?
|The Tanner/Gibbler clan|
If Franklin made a mistake hammering us over the head with too many characters in the opening episode, he finds the right balance for the remaining twelve, and further atones for it with the casting of these new kids. Elias Harger as Max is a little ham and mini-Danny Tanner who steals every scene he's in while Michael Campion as sarcastic, but good-hearted older brother Jackson will be relatable to younger male viewers everywhere. The Messitt twins are actually cuter babies than the Olsens, both filling that perceived void as Tommy, Jr. And if Kimmy Gibbler had a daughter, chances are she would look and act exactly like Soni Bringas' Ramona, who's a bit less goofy than her mom since it would be tough not to be. She also gets to gamely deliver the one inside joke at the expense of the Olsen twins that does hit the mark, earning some well deserved laughs.
Most of the episodes follow a structure that would be familiar to anyone raised on 80's family sitcoms, and probably even to many who weren't. There's some kind of crisis or complication of some sort that usually wraps up with a big lesson being learned. In this first season, it includes story arcs involving compromise, divorce, change, sibling rivalries, dating, crushes, blackmail, lying and discipline. And of course, a few guest stars show up to test the definition of the term "guest star," unless singer Macy Gray, Maksim and Val Chmerkovskiy from Dancing with the Stars, the San Francisco Giants' Hunter Pence were exactly who you had in mind.
|D.J. and Dr. Matt at a giants game|
The show does contain two sub-plots that seem to permeate through all thirteen episodes. The first is a love triangle in which D.J. is torn between her new veterinary co-worker, the almost offensively normal Dr. Matt Harmon (John Brotherton) and returning high school boyfriend, Steve (Scott Weinger), now a divorced podiatrist with ownership of Comet Jr., Jr. (don't ask). One of the bigger developments this season is the reimagining of this character as a creepy, obsessive ex who still hasn't gotten over D.J. twenty years later. Get in line, Steve. I'm still not sure whether this insane depiction was intentional or not, but you haven't seen anything until witnessing the perpetually hungry podiatrist arrive in the Tanner kitchen for a date with D.J. like he's reeanacting a scene from Psycho, only wearing a high school letter jacket instead of a dress.
You have to love the writers for including moments like this, while also recognizing that families tuning into this G-rated show will also be getting their fair share of sex, butt and boob jokes. It's surprising that THIS, of all things, has been a source of criticism and controversy while no one seems takes issue with Kimmy's on again off again ex-husband and Ramona's father, Fernando Hernandez-Guerrero-Fernandez-Guerrero (Juan Pablo Di Pace). Yes, that's the character's full name. It's funny to imagine that this is Jeff Franklin's response to how "white" Full House has always been, an issue even directly addressed at one point during this season.
|Kimmy and Fernando at "Ramona's Not-So-Epic Party”|
If Cameron Bure stands as the show's rock and centerpiece, it makes sense not only for the narrative, but because she's been the most steadily working actor aside from Stamos since the original wrapped. And while it may take a period of adjustment for fans to s like myself to start seeing her as an overprotective, somewhat uncool mom, adult Kimmy Gibbler is literally the living, breathing incarnation of what we always figured she'd grow up to be: Herself. From the way she acts, dresses, talks, and even in her party planner career, Andrea Barber doesn't miss a beat, as if she arrived in our present in a time capsule marked "1989." What does take some getting used to is having a character we've previously experienced in limited doses as the goofy neighbor promoted to a full-fledged co-lead. It's almost as if Family Matters returned and now starred Urkel as the lead, which you know it surely would.
I wasn't sure what to expect from Jodie Sweetin, and while it's common knowledge that she basically came back from the depths of personal hell to get this opportunity again, she's just such a natural at this. Similar to Kimmy, her adult Stephanie is a funhouse reflection of her younger self, but with a twist. Hard partying and somewhat irresponsible, she's the new Uncle Jesse and her questionable job choice as traveling DJ, "DJ Tanner" provides the series with one of its best running gags. And while Steph's often the butt of racier jokes involving the character's propensity for partying and sleeping around, Sweetin has a way of making that material seem family friendly and likable, frequently selling some of the most cringe-worthy dialogue with impeccable comic timing. If hardcore Full House apologists want to get nostalgic or emotional about anything, it should be the fact that she's the series' MVP
|Danny Tanner sure loves his couch|
Of all the originals, the ageless Stamos' vain, Elvis-obsessed Jesse has changed the least, which is fine, since there's little need to fix what wasn't broken to begin with. While time has also been very kind to Lori Loughlin, the writers were not, giving Aunt Becky this strangely psychotic empty nest disorder that has you fearing for Baby Tommy whenever she's near. Dave Coulier doing his Joey Gladstone, complete with puppet and pajamas seems a little weird considering he's pushing sixty, but his best moment actually comes in an episode he isn't in, when DJ slides in the one Coulier joke we've all been waiting for but didn't think they'd have the guts to write in. As for the elephant in the room that isn't in the room that are Mary-Kate and Ashley, they're mentioned or alluded to enough that their presence can't really be missed. Supposedly, producer Stamos actually attempted to get Elizabeth Olsen for the role, which was a brilliant, if unrealistic, idea. Needless to say, she was busy. Given this show's popularity, I still predict there's a better than good chance we'll see Michelle Tanner before the end of it.
All the critics hate Fuller House. This isn't really news, or unexpected considering they never cared for Full House all that much either when it originally aired. And some of what they're saying is true. You may have also heard its defenders claim that the series "isn't made for critics." While that's a statement I'd usually scoff at, it does carry a certain amount of weight in this instance. Anyone who hated the original will no doubt feel the same about its spin-off and those who believed the sun rose and set on TGIF in the 80's and early 90's will be immensely satisfied. That tells me Jeff Franklin and Netflix accomplished their goal, simultaneously angering and exciting exactly who it was supposed to by delivering a series that's faithful to the spirit of the original, yet updated for current times.
|Fuller House cast|