Fuller House leans heavily on nostalgia, less so on jokes (TV review)

fuller house netflix

While rummaging through an old drawer the other day, I found my old Motorola RAZR flip phone. Back in the early 2000s, this was the hottest phone on the market. Sleek and black with hard edges and a luminescent keypad, owning a RAZR was the height of cool. But a little over a decade later, the RAZR is practically a relic. Did I really LIKE this phone? How do I surf the web? Where is Candy Crush Saga? Yet holding it in my hands, I couldn’t help but think back to the times when my RAZR was indispensable. This mix of nostalgia and antipathy is exactly the same feeling I got while watching the much anticipated TGIF sequel, Fuller House, which premiered on Netflix over the weekend.

For older millennials such as myself, Full House was a touchstone of my television viewing growing up. It was the foundation of the TGIF lineup popularized by ABC in the early 90s, and the template for so many family sitcoms that would follow in its footsteps. The standard plot always followed a familiar pattern: “Kids get into some sort of trouble. Some misunderstanding leads to inevitable hijinks. Parents step in to help out. Everything gets squared away and a lesson is learned. Cue music and roll credits.” And if putting it in such simplistic terms sounds cynical, believe me when I say that there were few shows I enjoyed more growing up than Full House. It was earnest, occasionally funny, and always placed an emphasis on family. A notion that seems almost archaic in today’s era of antiheros and bad parenting.

So I counted myself among the many people who were excited to see this reboot of the classic formula in the form of Fuller House. But much like New Coke before it, the packaging may looks the same (right down to the old Tanner family house), but something just doesn’t feel quite right. The pilot fast forwards 29 years into the future, with D.J. Tanner (Candace Cameron Bure), now a mother of 3 boys, moving back into her old family home after the death of her husband. Little sister Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin) is now a famous deejay (her nickname: DJ Tanner. Get it?), and annoying next door neighbor Kimmy Gibler (Andrea Barber) drops in as an event planner. The premiere goes into full nostalgia mode, bringing back Bob Sagat, John Stamos, and Dave Coulier in their roles as the 3-headed father figure that raised the Tanner children. And boy do they lay on the nostalgia thick. Not two minutes into the premiere do we get Uncle Joey’s first Bullwinkle impression. And by the end of the first episode, they’ve thrown in a “Have Mercy” and a “Cut it Out” for good measure.

That being said, the overzealous pandering to nostalgic fans such as myself isn’t what really hurts this reboot. But rather, it is the simple fact that the new show isn’t all that funny. One could, of course, chalk this up to the fact that this isn’t meant for 30-year-old me to enjoy. After all, Full House was always more of a kids show to begin with. But if that’s the case, then why spend so much time making inside references to the original series that no one under the age of 30 would recognize? And if this was really meant for a new audience, then why reboot the show in the first place? Are we really clamoring for a 90s throwback sitcom that rehashes tired jokes and one-liners that are more than a decade old?

Family sitcoms can be both warm and funny. For proof, look no further than the fantastic Modern Family. A show that routinely delivers on comedy, but still grounds itself in the idea that ultimately, family is what matters most. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Modern Family is the true spiritual successor to Full House. It is a show that takes the plot beats of the traditional family sitcom, but updates the comedy to fit modern times. And by comparison, Fuller House feels even more like an artifact of the past.

That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy Fuller House. If you can get past the treacly first episode with the overabundance of cameos and callbacks, the show most definitely improves. The three primary children (played by Michael Campion, Elias Harger, and Soni Bringas) are charming updates to the original Full House kids, agonizing over important matters such as popularity and first crushes, viewed through a decidedly modern social media lens. And the new sisterly dynamic between D.J. and Stephanie as adults is both mature and well constructed. Meanwhile Barber’s scenery chewing performance as Kimmi Gibler is in full force, which you will either love or hate.

I’m ultimately a sucker for nostalgia, and catching up with characters from my childhood as they tackle new challenges is quite entertaining. And there were still a few moments of genuine charm throughout the first season that did shine through. Most notably, the split screen that synced a scene from the original series of the family singing the Flintstones theme song to Michelle, with a scene of the same family singing the Flintstones song to D.J.’s baby boy in the new show. If that scene doesn’t at least put a smile on your face, then this is not the show for you.

Which ultimately leads me to one question. Who exactly is this show for? Is it for fans of traditional family sitcoms, looking for a break from the cynicism of modern television? Is it for nostalgia seekers who just want to spend more time with the Tanner family? If you fall into either of these categories, then Fuller House will be a reasonable diversion. But for anyone else, I would suggest you look elsewhere for laughs.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 atoms

NR 2_5 Atoms - C-

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