When I was pregnant I did what most women do: I made a baby registry listing the things we would need for our new arrival. My registry had the usual stuff on it: clothes, a baby swing, and pacifiers. What made mine unique, however, was that it also had DVD sets of some of the television shows I grew up watching, including Full House.
After the series reboot, Fuller House, dropped on Netflix last week, I did what any self-respecting millennial parent would do: I woke up at 6 a.m. to start watching with my kids (the early start time was their choice, not mine). It was a surreal experience, watching a show starring children I grew up with who are now playing adults. Or perhaps not; some days I feel like I’m just playing the part of an adult myself. There they were changing diapers on screen as I was changing them in real life.
Tanner girls: we really are all grown up!
Over the weekend the New York Times profiled the show and described the excitement surrounding its return to television. The trailer for the show garnered more views than any other in Netflix history. The Times explained Netflix’s strategy and gamble: they’re trying to fill a gap in family programming. There is so little television on air that the whole family can sit down and watch together nowadays. Before trying some of its own ideas (and they should, Netflix has some great original programming), they’re trying to revive some classic family shows like Full House and Gilmore Girls.
That’s what made Full House so special in the 1980s and ’90s: its wholesomeness. It wasn’t ever riveting television, nor was it a ratings powerhouse, but parents were never nervous about the messages the plot lines might be sending while they were out of the room either. That has enabled the series to thrive in syndication. Many Full House fans never saw the show when it first aired, but instead fell in love with it years later because they watched reruns on TBS after school.
If Fuller House is the opening salvo in Netflix’s family-friendly campaign, though, it’s going to fail. While the show might be enjoyable for adult fans in search of a good old-fashioned nostalgia trip, it’s not the kind of show that we want to watch with our kids. The only thing that made me feel more grown-up than seeing DJ Tanner as a mom was turning my computer off after the first two or three episodes to finish watching the show away from my own kids’ eyes and ears.
In the first three episodes of the first season we saw more of Stephanie Tanner’s enhanced cleavage than I ever could have imagined; learned how a dork like Kimmy Gibbler landed a sexy Argentinian race car driver (apparently she possesses some serious prowess in the art of kamasutra); and bore witness to the fact that DJ Tanner’s (er, Candace Cameron Bure’s) legs are as toned as ever from her Dancing With the Stars days. During one episode about a ladies’ night out, Cameron Bure wore a dress so low cut and short that she joked, “I don’t know if I should be tugging it up or pulling it down.” If the outspokenly Christian star of your television sitcom is joking about the indecent qualities of her outfit, it’s a pretty good indication that the show you’re watching might not qualify as wholesome.
The main reason the original Full House was so iconic (despite how reliably terrible its storylines were from week to week) was that it was one of the last shows on television that did wholesome well. It spawned a series of short movies, shows and songs by its female stars, who for the most part exuded a positive celebrity influence. While Miley Cyrus was gyrating on a wrecking ball after her Disney show ended, the Olsen twins – Mary-Kate and Ashley, who took turns playing the role of Michelle Tanner in Full House—could be found singing “Brother for Sale” and launching a critically-acclaimed fashion label after theirs. Savvy businesswomen, they capitalized on the most profitable part of their image, their girls-next-door quality.
As an adult, I’m enjoying the series redux, even given the lack of family-friendly content; it’s harmlessly vapid and an enjoyable way to spend 45 minutes. It will, like most other shows on Netflix, be good for a binge and a quick forgetting. And yet although it was recently renewed for a second season, Fuller House lacks the staying power of the original series because it never succeeds in making us invest in the goodness of its characters, and it never aims to do what it set out to: restore to the screen some engaging family-friendly television. Needless to say, I doubt my kids will one day ask for a box set of Fuller House to watch with their own children.