Much of Fuller House, Netflix’s Full House spinoff series, can be summed up in one quote from the new series’ second episode. Angry that she is being forced to leave her old town, switch schools, and move in with the Fullers, Ramona (Soni Bringas) — the biracial child of Kimmy Gibbler (Andrea Barber) — stands right outside of the Fullers’ doorway and complains to her mom, “I’ll have to move in with the whitest family in America! The Fullers are like albino polar bears… drinking milk… in a snowstorm… watching Frozen!”
The line is somewhat jarring in its delivery. After sitting through an episode and a half of predictably safe humor, it was shocking to see a young brown girl being given the platform to call out the overall whiteness of the show’s core cast. And although it may not have been the writers’ intent to have that quote represent the show as a whole, it effectively does.
Despite being largely marketed as a reunion of the entire Full House cast (save the Olsen twins), Fuller House only really focuses on D.J. Tanner-Fuller (Candace Cameron Bure) — a recent widow with three sons, including a newborn — her younger sister Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin), and her best friend/next-door neighbor Kimmy. Series favorites Joey Gladstone (Dave Coulier) and Jesse Katsopolis (John Stamos) only appear in a few episodes, while Danny Tanner (Bob Saget) is only in the pilot. Instead, as everyone gears up to leave the Tanner residence on their separate career paths, D.J. starts to come to terms with the fact that balancing her career while also raising three kids on her own might not be as easy as it looks. In an effort to help, both Stephanie and Kimmy (along with her daughter Ramona) decide to move in with D.J. and her kids. From there, the show builds on the familiar trope of what happens when too many people with too many different opinions and experiences all find themselves living under one roof.
Throughout the series’ first season, viewers are constantly subjected to a slew of bland one-liners and painfully out-of-touch references that illuminate the hopeless whiteness of the show: D.J. asks, “What if the Uber sees my boobers?” as she complains about being forced to change in a stranger’s car; Kimmy hopes that “it’s still fleek to say ‘on fleek’” as she compliments herself on her sexy going-out outfit; Stephanie gleefully exclaims that she “ran into Iggy Azalea and she gave me a hair extension” as she exits the VIP bathrooms at Coachella.
But even when the show is not leaning on misunderstood cultural markers, it still fails to capture attention. The whole thing just seems too forced, and entirely too self-referential. The most effective spinoffs (think A Different World, or even The CW’s 90210) build upon their predecessors without literally “looking back.” Especially when a show’s cast has shifted and its premise has been reexamined, it makes little to no sense to so heavily position it as an extension of what it once was — particularly if the show is supposed to exist as its own entity.
Unfortunately for Fuller House, the writers don’t appear to have been confident enough to even try to let the show stand on its own. From the outset, it’s clear that the aim was to capture the magic of the original show by creating a spinoff that is The Same Show, 29 Years Later. This, adversely, forces it to function more as a Where Are They Now? segment than an actual spinoff — viewers actually see the words “29 Years Later…” on the screen in the pilot before any of the real characters appear. And when characters finally do appear, it’s apparent that they all are digging for those few laughs that may have been left over from Full House’s 1995 end date.
Within the first few minutes of the pilot, viewers have already heard a joke about Joey’s willingness to eat food off the ground, have already been reminded of Kimmy Gibbler’s outsider status (“Kimmy, why are you here and why did I never put a lock on that door?”), and have even been subjected to a sly jab at Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s unfortunate absence from the show — Michelle “is busy in New York running her fashion empire.” (To make matters worse, after this “joke,” the entire cast stares intently at the camera as if to say, “How dare you two not come back for our reunion!”) The effect is one that forces the viewer to think via recollection more than they might actually want to; most of these jokes are only funny if you can remember how they may have been delivered in the original show.
Yet still, even despite its whiteness and its insistence on “capturing the glory days,” Fuller House might still have been salvageable if it were, you know, funny. But with the slew of other, far funnier family sitcoms airing right now (Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat, Modern Family, Life in Pieces), Fuller House can’t even claim that. Perhaps because of their dedication to making Fuller House an extension of the original story, the writers have boxed themselves into maintaining the original show’s specific brand of “family-friendly” humor (despite airing on a streaming service free of ’90s network Standards and Practices). Three decades removed, the entire understanding of what effectively qualifies as “family-friendly” has significantly changed. Too much of the show’s humor is “in-your-face,” imploring you to laugh so much that it’s impossible to actually find the jokes funny. The laugh track doesn’t help either; it’s employed so frequently that the humor becomes not only unfunny, but also annoying. Comedically, Fuller House acts like a show about adults and their problems that’s actually designed for children.
Even when it approaches a more adult brand of humor, it fails to do so subtly. When Kimmy tries to help D.J. get a date, she invites a man that she met online over to the house. It just so happens that D.J. was also waiting for a plumber and, upon seeing the guy who she is supposedly going on a date with, immediately assumes that he is actually the plumber. With D.J. and her “date” clearly speaking under two totally different assumptions, a long segment of cringe-worthy “accidental” innuendo follows. “I need you to get to work on my pipes.” You get it.
The only redeeming quality of Fuller House is, surprisingly, a new addition to its cast. Max (played by Elias Harger), a precocious second grader, is a neat-freak who occasionally gets excited about things as varied as “being a doggy daddy” (“I’m having heart palpitations!”) and cooking shows (“She used duck eggs for more nutrition and a deeper flavor profile!”). He is so incredibly adorable that it’s impossible not to find everything he says hilarious — he’s even coined his own catchphrase already: “Holy chalupas!” He’s also responsible for the season’s best line: “Relax, mom! I already know all the bad words: darn, booger, and Donald Trump.” But at the end of the day, the way he is incorporated into the cast is still extremely formulaic. His whole role is so obviously defined by his cuteness that it’s hard to even appreciate him as anything more than a deliberate decoy.
Given that Fuller House is so decidedly indebted to its predecessor while not offering much that is even remotely new or current, it would be a chore to get through this show if you weren’t already familiar with Full House. But without updating the safe humor to appeal to those adults who actually would have been fans of Full House when it was airing, Fuller House seems destined to float in audience limbo. Who, really, was this show designed to appeal to?
Save your time. Just spend a few hours listening to Carly Rae Jepsen’s rendition of the theme song instead.