[4 September 2007]
Ours was never a “Full House”. There were friends and family everywhere we looked, but there was nothing firm, no foundation. Even the one constant, our mother, was forever in flux, a shifting and shiftless woman prone to crying jags and fits of rage.
And there were men. Funny men, guitar players and truck drivers and men that cooked, but there were no Uncle Jesses or Joey Gladstones. These men drank and drugged and yelled and lied and chewed up bits of our childhood like cheap steak.
So it’s no surprise my brother and I loved Full House.
We watched it on the little black and white TV we had in our room, bunny ears antenna sharpening the image of perfect family life in faraway San Francisco. My brother, four years younger, couldn’t read the rounded letters of the show’s logo, so he just called it “everywhere you look” after the theme song’s refrain. But I knew what it was called and what it was about: it was Full House, it was about fun and family, and it was ours.
But seriously—Full House? Really? After all, it’s a truly terrible show, so wracked with bad jokes and clichés that I now get a headache from rolling my eyes during an entire episode. But there is something there, something to be found even now in my jaded late-20s. The show is now celebrating it’s 20th anniversary, yet watching it somehow feels like stepping even farther back in time, back to the aw shucks-‘50s of Leave it to Beaver. All of this, despite the decidedly nontraditional family at the series’ core.
And let’s not forget it was this dark cauldron from which the Olsen twins ascended to their tabloid thrones. That alone seems cause enough to banish the show from the airwaves forever.
Still, there’s no denying there’s something there. And I know I’m not the only one. Part of the appeal stems from watching endless repeats all through high school and college, watching until it became an acquired taste, like beer or coffee. I also spent many afternoons mind-blank on the couch watching reruns, but I watched these episodes new, following the show from its Tuesday night beginnings to its reign on TGIF and beyond.
For many of us, our appreciation for Full House is deeper than irony. Though it sounds trite, even sad or silly, Full Houseshowed us a family life that was fun and functional, a life I wanted but did not have. Like the best of fantasies, the show lifted us out of our everyday drudgery to a world, San Francisco, where feelings were hurt and healed and lessons were learned at the end of the show rather than from the palm of a hand. The show glossed over the everyday tragedies and real life dramas every family experiences (it’s easy to forget the Tanner girls’ mother is dead because they never talk about her), but who needs that from TV when you have your own?
So yes, it’s terrible and goofy and completely devoid of any sort of familial realism, but it’s re-runs are broadcast on TV somewhere right now for a reason, and it’s not just the stunning good looks of John Stamos.
Seasons 6 & 7—both DVD sets devoid of any bonus features—find Full Housetreading water, waiting to drown like every other profitable show kept on past its prime. DJ (Candace Cameron) is well into high school and spends much of both seasons lip-locked with her new beau, Steve (Scott Weinger); Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin), the middle Tanner girl, is what’s now called a “tween”, awkwardly adolescent and still living in the looming cuteness shadow cast by Michelle (Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen). It’s in these two seasons where the Olsens are given the bulk of the show’s focus and officially begin building their brand.
As for the adults, they almost always played second fiddle to the kids. Jesse (Stamos) and Becky (Lori Loughlin) find new struggles—not to mention new sources of cuteness for the show—with twin boys Nicky and Alex (Blake and Dylan Tuomy-Wilhoit); Danny (Bob Saget) tones down his obsession with cleanliness and Joey (Dave Coulier) completes his de-evolution into a human cartoon by sticking around solely to do tired impressions.
Besides the onset of puberty and the addition of a couple new characters, the show was little changed by the time season six aired. The show remained doggedly wholesome, with adult themes like sex barely hinted at, as when Danny gets a wink from his long-distance news reporter love, Vicky (Gail Edwards), and coos, “That’s as good as I’m going to get.” Even DJ’s make out sessions are PG, taking place in the kitchen or, as in the two-part season six finale, in the mecca of wholesomeness: Disney World.
But we don’t watch Full Housefor its verisimilitude—we want life lessons. In an early season six episode, Jesse travels to Tokyo with Becky and the boys to promote his number one single, a cover of the Beach Boys “Forever”. There, the life of a rock star, the life he’s always wanted, tempts him, quickly turning him into a bossy, cashew-demanding tyrant that thinks only of himself. It all works out, of course, after a hotel room heart-to-heart with Becky where he’s reminded of what’s really important: family. The ending finds the international star back on American soil apologizing to Michelle (he neglected to call or write like he said he would) and inviting her to go get some ice cream.
This sort of story is the template for many, many shows, but it’s especially important to Full House. Each episode features a standout character from the family presented with a new life/ career/ personal challenge (Jesse has a number one single); their initial reaction is to embrace/ reject this challenge (Jesse finally has the musician’s life he’s wanted); feelings are hurt, family members are alienated (Becky and the boys are left sitting alone in a hotel room, Michelle wonders why Jesse hasn’t called); people are confronted and problems are solved, often sitting on the edge of a family members’ bed (Becky confronts Jesse, Jesse apologizes to Michelle); hug, repeat next week.
This formula, perfected after five seasons, rarely changes, and because of this, neither do the characters. There are no shock waves felt by Jesse’s rejection of his superstar status in Japan; Michelle never misses her best friend Teddy (Tahj Mowry) after he moves to Amarillo; and the boat Danny buys to cheer the family up after the death of Jesse’s grandfather, Papouli (John Kruschen), disappears, never having been christened.
The characters are quick to learn, but the lessons never stick, and in each episode they face some new wrinkle in their perfect world and they work together to iron it all out again. It’s this static storytelling that keeps the characters from growing, but it’s their simplicity that keeps the show fresh for new generations of viewers. Full Houseis a security blanket; an annoying sibling; a goofy uncle; a dorky cousin—it’s persistent, like a myth. We can look back and say how corny and hokey the series is, but we are looking back, for our own reasons.