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KICKING TELEVISION: ‘Fuller House’ and the Stasis of Nostalgia

KICKING TELEVISION: 'Fuller House' and the Stasis of Nostalgia

One of the most vivid memories I have of my adolescence is gorging on Doritos and Pepsi in my friend Tim’s basement and watching TV. There was no junk food in my home. I used to try and make my own Orange Crush from tonic water and orange juice. I was not a cool tween. I don’t know what the cool 12-year-olds were doing on their Friday nights in the late 80s, but they definitely weren’t in Tim’s basement laughing at the comedic stylings of the Olsen twins, cutting-it-out with Dave Coulier, digging on Jesse and the Rippers, crushing on Candace Cameron, and augmenting our sugar cravings with the sweet banality of Full House.

Full House has returned to the television landscape as Fuller House, part of a wave of reboots. The Netflix series essentially flips the premise of its forbearer; recently widowed DJ Tanner-Fuller (Cameron) welcomes her sister Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin) and best friend Kimmy Gibbler (Andrea Barber) into her home to help raise her three sons, as DJ’s recently widowed dad (Bob Saget) accepted help with his three girls in exchange for room and board for his brother-in-law Jesse (John Stamos) and best friend Joey (Dave Coulier). Sterile hilarity follows, as do occasional guest appearances from series originals Saget, Stamos, Coulier, and Lori Loughlin. Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen (Michelle Tanner)—Forbes Celebrity 100 listed, fashion icon paparazzi subjects—declined participation

Full House wasn’t a show that revolutionized the sitcom or embedded itself deeply in the cultural fabric of TV, but that didn’t matter then and it doesn’t matter now. It wasn’t offensive or malicious. It was benign—comfortable. It served its purpose as a family comedy, a staple of ABC’s TGIF lineup, and a sitcom that made 12 to 14 year-old me laugh bootlegged Crush out my nose. Tim did not live in a sugar-dry home. I remember very little about the show other than hanging out in that basement, ignorant of my absence of cool, and happier for it. Teendom came soon after, and being cool became infinitely more important, and so I didn’t watch much of the later seasons of Full House. The only time the show entered the zeitgeist was in conversation about the Olsen twins, the websites counting down to their 18th birthday, and the piracy of their youth by the infancy of the Internet’s intrusiveness.

I’m not sure how many Full House episodes we actually consumed in that basement. But that’s how my memory places the show, and that’s where Full House will remain, regardless of the truth, whatever that may be. Memory is static—it exists in our solipsism. Television is a mnemonic device as much as a form of entertainment. It gives personal associations cultural and temporal references points born of its archival inertness. It’s a literal record of a performance, but a figurative record of individual experiences. No one else, not even Tim, likely associates Full House with Pepsi and Cool Ranch, but for me the affiliation is so vivid, so real as to have the essence of fact.

Our televisions and streaming apparatuses have become inundated with reboots and revisions of beloved series, and Fuller House has chosen to rest in its past, much like The X-Files echoes its earlier seasons, as if Mulder and Scully had just been waiting in stasis for us to find them. Properties are given the choice to either contemporize their efforts or mine nostalgia for viewers. Fuller House attempts to revel in the nostalgia of Full House in order to build upon its audience, much as Star Wars did with The Force Awakens. Star Wars provides a new foundation for a narrative that will leave behind the past while Fuller House stays in the past. The mixed family of Fuller House lives in the same home as the extended Tanner family did on Full House; the set is nearly exactly the same, as is the comedy. Maybe they should’ve killed Danny, Jesse, and Joey off in the first episode, but that would’ve made for a different show—a darker, perhaps more interesting series—one that would ask that its original audience disregard nostalgia and indulge in a universe that has aged as its viewers and their universe has.

The show is keenly aware of itself as a cultural entity; often making reference to the absence of the Olsens and the fact it’s a reboot. In almost breaking the fourth wall, the show continues its participatory nostalgia in winking at the audience it indulges as we do. It dances the edge of satire, with grand canned oohs and aahs and reactions to the guest appearances of Saget, Coulier, Stamos, and Loughlin. In fact, a close watch of Fuller House finds a much more complex sitcom then what shows on the surface, discussing loss, the modern nuclear family, and puppy ownership. But the core of the show remains its fascination with an ever-static past, both theirs and ours.

Interestingly, the reboot’s three principles—Cameron-Bure, Sweetin, and Barber— have been mostly absent from show business since the original series. Removed from the cultural landscape, its almost as if they’re characters were off living the twenty-one years between episodes as we were. Perhaps this is why the original’s leads—Saget, Stamos, Coulier, Loughlin—who have remained part of the zeitgeist, have mere ancillary roles in Fuller House. (Okay, maybe not Coulier.) In this way, the show is honoring both universes, that of Full(er) House and our own, respectful of the associations of memory that exist in relation to the original. 

There is nothing revolutionary in Fuller House, other than that it is fearless in living in the past. Complete with groan-worthy catchphrases—old (Oh Mylanta!, How rude!, Have mercy!) and new (Holy chalupas!)—the show remains committed to the bygone era of TGIF and the big, fluorescent family sitcom. Watching the series will probably not attach a marker of memory to this moment, to my now. I’m able to procure my own sugar these days. But the show is successful in recapturing its own youth, and perhaps a bit of mine.

Mike Spry is a writer, editor, and columnist who has written for The Toronto Star, Maisonneuve, and The Smoking Jacket, among others, and contributes to MTV’s PLAY with AJHe is the author of the poetry collection JACK (Snare Books, 2008) and Bourbon & Eventide (Invisible Publishing, 2014), the short story collection Distillery Songs (Insomniac Press, 2011), and the co-author of Cheap Throat: The Diary of a Locked-Out Hockey Player (Found Press, 2013). Follow him on Twitter @mdspry.

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