When I was a kid, America’s Funniest Home Videos completed the zen of Saget. If Full House didn’t sate your appetite for Bob Saget’s antics (vacuuming leaves, swishing back and forth while declaring himself “one rad dad”), then Sunday’s America’s Funniest Home Videos had what you wanted. The lanky geekburger here wore a suit to tell stupid family-friendly jokes.
But I grew up (Saget definitely wasn’t getting any younger) and Full House ended. Sadly, AFHV wasn’t worth watching anymore. Hell, I didn’t even know the show kept airing through the ‘90s until I saw the Home for the Holidays DVD set, with 1996 and ‘97 episodes starring Saget and a 2003 episode with current host Tom Bergeron.
Once Full House was over, Saget put more energy into AFHV. In the 1996 episode, he engages real children for on-stage improvisations. He frequently sneaks dirty looks at the audience when a joke is met with silence. During the Full House years, his running to and from the set and one-take discomfort seemed like shtick; in these episodes, he seems more invested, as if he knew his career was on the line. The show’s a little darker for it, and funnier.
Saget is doing stand-up here. He crams in so many jokes and silly self-referential nods to his wife, producer, and crew that he appears only casually interested in the videos, acknowledging them only when he needs a way out of an awkward setup or ill-timed punch line. Skipping the 1997-2000 seasons hosted by John Fugelsang and Daisy Fuentes (whose big mouth smarminess and window dressing presence put the show on the cusp of being tragically hip), the DVD set shrewdly includes Bergeron, who reins the show back to the same merry territory Saget charted, though he’s on a set that looks like an MTV game show. With his coiffed hair and casual suit, Bergeron exudes hipster soccer dad vibe.
Moreover, there’s a certain injustice dealt to the Christmas spirit watching clips of kids tearing through their presents. As a lifetime of children’s books and TV movies has taught us, kids anticipate their presents, sometimes for months; the precise moment of tallying their plunder is hardly as sweet as that buildup. One present-opening clip, though, transcends the rest: a kid discovers he’s been blessed with a Game Boy, and proceeds to bounce off the walls with ecstasy. After a second or two, he collapses onto the ground, sobbing uncontrollably with joy into his hands.
This melding of pain and pleasure comes up more than once (for both viewer and the viewed), showing that the line between laughing with someone and laughing at someone is thinner than that ice your uncle falls through (captured it on video). This isn’t necessarily an example of that mean-spiritedness I mentioned earlier, but more like the producers miscalculating responses. Get rid of the host’s doofy vocal commentary and cartoon sound effects, and some of the clips are downright ruthless.
For example, in one unbearably long sequence, we’re presented with a wife standing over the sink, her arm stuck in the coffee maker. Looking more and more like a Simpsons gag, she twists and turns to get the arm out and when her unhelpful, videotaping husband asks her about the goo on her arm, she sheepishly admits it’s Crisco. It’s a riot, but the wife is pissed and embarrassed as hell. She begs her husband to shut off the camera, as her sister scoots away to call the fire department. You can practically feel that marriage unravel. It’s sort of like watching a Bergman flick, but with more toddlers and playground equipment. Is it right for us to keep watching this? God is silent.