There’s a point where nostalgia becomes more like necrophilia, and “Fuller House” immediately crosses that line. Exhumed on the pretense of millennial desire (you loved the show as kids; you’ll love it even more as stunted, binge-watching adults), Netflix’s 13-episode revival of the old ABC sitcom “Full House” is less an update than an irony-free pantomime of the past.
It represents a new low in the current culture’s inability to leave behind the blankies, binkies and wubbies of one’s youth. It squeezes itself in with all the other retrograde fare (“The X-Files”; the forthcoming reiterations of “Gilmore Girls” and “Twin Peaks”) that is constantly being served in response to millions of fists pounding a table. Even that new “Star Wars” movie we all loved so much exists, to some degree, because of mass petulance.
But now that the stone has been rolled from the Tanner family tomb, all we really see is another one of TV’s underwhelming acts of resurrection. Lured by the empty promise of more “Full House” (which ran for 192 episodes from 1987 to 1995), we are instead subjected to the only logical spinoff, “Fuller House,” in which the show’s original child actors (Candace Cameron Bure; Jodie Sweetin; Andrea Barber) now play grown-up, single, working women tasked with raising a set of new child actors whose precocity and artificial sweetness reflect three decades of synthetic refinement.
The first episode does indeed reunite (almost) all of the extended clan, with its attendant Katsopolises, Gibblers, basement dwellers and lovestruck fridge-raiders. Also back are the catchphrases, overcheered by a studio audience of devoted dimwits.
The only person missing, of course, is baby sister Michelle Tanner, played from infancy through first grade by the saucer-eyed twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. It’s a devastating absence that throws volumes of deserved shade at the whole endeavor — and the show meets it early on with an ineffectual response from the gathered ensemble, who glare at the camera’s fourth wall at the lone mention of Michelle’s name and her “fashion empire.” (Netflix only let critics see “Fuller House’s” first six episodes; if an Olsen twin eventually appears in the back half of “Fuller House,” my heart will sink like a stone, for there will be no integrity left anywhere on the planet.)
The gang is brought back together by momentous news: Patriarch Danny Tanner (Bob Saget) is moving from San Francisco to Los Angeles to co-host a syndicated morning show with his longtime colleague Becky Katsopolis (Lori Loughlin), which means her husband (and Danny’s brother-in-law), Uncle Jesse Katsopolis (John Stamos), is going, too. (Jesse and Becky’s twin sons, born late in “Full House’s” run, are now college bums who aspire to operate a taco truck near the beach.) Danny’s lifelong pal Joey Gladstone (Dave Coulier) is now performing 10 comedy shows a week in Las Vegas; he drops by to spend a final night in his former basement dwelling and salvage some of his favorite late-’80s belongings.
Eldest daughter D.J. (Cameron Bure) is, like so many sitcom characters before her, grieving the death of her husband (grieving is too strong a word here; she is a little bit sad) and focusing on her career as a veterinarian and raising her three sons: Jackson (Michael Campion), Max (Elias Harger) and baby Tommy (played by twins Dashiell and Fox Messitt, who are so cute you could eat one up and still have another to eat up later).
Danny magnanimously hands the keys to his vintage Laurel Heights home over to D.J., and nothing has changed in two decades — not a stick of furniture, nor the terrible jokes.
D.J.’s kid sister Stephanie (Sweetin) decides to give up her fledgling music career in London and move home to help care for the kids. They are joined by D.J.’s lifelong friend and perpetual irritant, Kimmy Gibbler (Barber), who is recently divorced and moves in with her tweenage daughter Ramona (Soni Nicole Bringas).
Once Saget, Stamos and the other older alums head off to cash their checks, “Fuller House” gets down to the real business of utter vacuity, in which the women and their adorable children (that baby! Seriously! Nom-nom-nom-nyaaaarrrghmppf) experience moments of carefully plotted hubris, light humiliation, personal reckoning and group hugs.
Only Barber seems to truly intuit “Fuller House” as both pleasure and pain — just as she did in her adolescence. It’s something about her Kimmy Gibbler grin and the knowing, the utter and complete knowing, that the tone of “Fuller House” is so insipidly wrong that it becomes, for certain viewers, perversely right. Barber is on some other psychic plane with it, washed in the divine meta-awareness that this is all a dream. A sick and recurring dream.
Cameron Bure and Sweetin, on the other hand, still grapple with the unfortunate air of earnest intentions. The children, too, give off that counterfeit Disney Channel sass of showbiz — especially when one of the boys tries to land a punch line about Donald Trump. Just dreadful.
I could stop here and go home, having dutifully shot the fish in “Fuller House’s” barrel. But we haven’t done the part where you accuse me of telling the kids to get off my lawn. I feel we must.
This show has uncorked in me some deeper fear and loathing about the fate of our culture, just as it did in the late ’80s, when my crowd used to watch and make fun of “Full House” as stoned and drunk college students.
The “Fuller House” retread reminds me of similar attempts with “The Brady Bunch,” which was Generation X’s “Full House”: Years after its cancellation in 1974, there was a Brady variety show and then there were Brady brides and then “A Very Brady Christmas” reunion, the relative success of which necessitated a wan attempt at a one-hour family drama in 1990 that was called “The Bradys.”
It all failed because the producers didn’t understand the emerging dynamics of modern irony.
There was no true “Brady Bunch” revival until comedy troupes started reenacting the original episodes with a naughty wink, followed by a “Saturday Night Live” cast member who delivered commentary as Jan Brady on “Weekend Update.” In short order, those satirical big-budget movie versions came out, meticulously cast with Brady lookalikes, all for the purpose of making the fullest possible Greg/Marcia step-sibling incest jokes. There you have a textbook lesson in how to make something new out of something old. It was laborious, creative, demanding work — but it didn’t succeed until it was sacrilegious.
And that’s why “Fuller House” is such a letdown — there’s no twisted undertow. Saget, who reinvigorated his stand-up career a decade ago with the filthiest material he could come up with (which in turn delighted the “Full House” generation), is needlessly restrained here in his brief, compulsory appearances. “Fuller House” clings to its stale insouciance, brought to us by the same producers (Bob Boyett and Jeff Franklin), who apparently believe their show is some golden treasure of family-friendly programming. It’s not.
“Fuller House” also shows that multi-cam/studio-audience sitcoms are just too old-fashioned for commercial-free, vanguard Netflix. Too dopey, too boring, not worth the price. This show begs for a single-camera, Tina Fey-style treatment (like in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”). It should come to us bluntly and filled with tawdry, grown-up situations and children who need their mouths washed out with soap. Set in San Francisco, it could satirize so much about the 21st century as seen from the perspective of ’80s ladies of a certain age. And if the Olsen twins both pass up the opportunity, then you must — must — recast the part with a new actress who plays Michelle as a malevolent skank.
Go big or go home, in other words, but mostly, stop going back. “Fuller House” confirms once again what we’ve known for some time: that we are trapped in an endless loop of pop-culture self-regard. It’s a cycle we have to break, and now is as good a time as any to break it. I am therefore forbidding you — yes, I forbid you — to watch “Fuller House.”
I forbid you all, with this exception: Are you watching it from a place of sadness? Are you looking at “Fuller House” across a chasm of broken hopes? Are you so worried about the future that you’re not even sure you want to live in it? Is the world irreparably screwed? Is your brain that fried? Are you that afraid of growing old? Are you that hard up for a hug?
All right, you can watch.
But keep it down.
Fuller House (13 episodes) begins streaming Friday on Netflix.