COLUMN: ‘Fuller House’ like revisiting old friends

Revived sitcom not exactly good, but does bring back fond memories

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Erin Cristales, Adviser

When I was in second grade, Hurricane Hugo slammed the East Coast, barreling its way through much of North Carolina. At the time, my family and I were living in Charlotte, and even though the locals assured us that “hurricanes never hit this far inland,” the city nonetheless fell victim to the devastating storm.

Schools were closed for two weeks, enormous felled trees littered the roadways, homes were leveled. My main concern was the lack of electricity — not because I missed hot meals or cool air, but because the Tanners were about to take their Hawaiian vacation on “Full House” and I was desperate to watch.

So desperate, in fact, that my non-stop lamenting led my dad to unearth a tiny portable TV from the garage and plug it in to our old maroon van’s cigarette lighter. The TV cast grainy black-and-white images on the van’s interior, but the low quality didn’t matter; I watched intently as Danny and the rest of the Tanner brood affectionately squabbled their way across the island, a goofy smile glued to my face as their antics inevitably escalated.

The show cast a similar spell on other viewers my age, who waited each week to watch the crown jewel of ABC’s “TGIF” lineup. On my gymnastics team, Friday practices were always the most precise; we made a pact to be perfect so our coach wouldn’t keep us for extra conditioning, and we’d make it home, seated cross-legged in front of our TVs, by 8 (parental pit-stops not withstanding).

It’s hard to say what exactly was so appealing about the show, other than its cozy, upper-middle-class predictability. Its modern-day TV soul mate is “House Hunters”: Both shows feature gorgeous real estate inhabited by unremarkable rich people with almost no discernible real problems. While inexcusably vanilla, the world portrayed in both shows is so warm and comfy and calming, it’s like changing into your favorite sweatshirt: Who doesn’t want to live in it forever?

Even when early seasons featured some particularly egregious errors on the part of its young characters — mainly from Stephanie, who accidentally chops off Uncle Jesse’s mullet in one episode, then drives Joey’s classic car through the back of the house in another — the adults’ reactions are always cool and collected, the “consequences” little more than hug-soaked pep talks about making better choices next time.

Even as a youngster, I couldn’t help but recognize the mawkish improbability of such a family and its circumstances, which is never a good sign for a show written by adults. But unlike similar TGIF fare such as “Family Matters” and “Step by Step,” “Full House’s” saccharine low notes never annoyed me, mainly due to the family’s almost freakish likability: Of course the Tanners are going to hug it out — that’s just what they do!

As I grew older, I gained a more discerning palette, even working professionally as a pop-culture critic for a few years. I trashed TV shows and movies far better than “Full House” for their maudlin mediocrity, yet always found some unhealthy semblance of pleasure when I stumbled across reruns of the show on Nick at Nite. This enjoyment I kept mainly to myself; when my husband would catch me fascinated by an old episode, I would immediately begin mocking the show’s sappiness, then quickly queue up an episode of “Arrested Development,” my dignity still intact.

Similarly, I kept my excitement about the show’s return — or rather, its reconfiguration as “Fuller House,” in which widow DJ is joined by sister Stephanie and best friend Kimmy to help raise her three kids — under wraps. “Who needs a follow-up to ‘Full House’?” I’d ask cynically, “Especially when they haven’t even tried to relaunch ‘My So-Called Life’?” (which should totally happen, by the way).

Netflix dropped the first season of “Fuller House” on Feb. 26 — fortuitously, the same night my husband headed out to a concert with a friend. Trying (and failing) to not sound too dorky, I told him I was only interested in checking out the first episode, to see how the writers swung the time lapse; in reality, I settled in for a seven-episode binge. When he returned home to find episode eight queued up on his iPad, I admitted my shame like a lapsed alcoholic, then polished off the final six episodes the next day.

The voracity with which I watched “Fuller House” suggests it is good, which it absolutely is not. Objectively, it is better than the original, though I have a sneaking suspicion that upswing in quality is directly proportionate to the dwindling presence of Dave Coulier. Still, the tired poop jokes — coupled with a maniacal laugh track and the most offensive Latin stereotype this side of “Modern Family’s” Gloria — need some serious retooling, as do the show’s lame attempts at rehashing its characters’ kooky catchphrases (“How rude!” is not going to catch on again, people).

What is surprising, though, is the natural charm of the three leads, who have scarcely acted since “Full House” wrapped in 1995. Candace Cameron-Bure as DJ, Jodie Sweetin as Stephanie, and Andrea Barber as uber-geek Kimmy Gibbler, thankfully avoided the awkward look of many former child stars, while also retaining an amiable comic timing. The three occasionally engage in some legitimately emotional moments; when Stephanie tearfully admits to DJ that she can’t have children, and Kimmy admits she’s desperate for her daughter, Ramona, to love her after all the mistakes she’s made, the confessions pack an unexpected, grown-up punch.

The original was capable of these moments as well, and like “Fuller House,” they were normally reserved for DJ, Stephanie, and Kimmy. I’ll never forget the episode when DJ starves herself for days, afraid she’ll look “fat” in her swimsuit at a friend’s pool party (an idea that, unfortunately, had also crossed my mind on occasion). Or when Kimmy is crushed by the revelation that DJ is too focused on her boyfriend to remember her best friend’s birthday. In these instances, the characters seemed like real-life friends — disappointed by their perceived shortcomings, and largely unable to make sense of them, despite the violin-tinged talks at the end of the episode.

Recently, Robert Lloyd, a critic for the “Los Angeles Times,” likened “Fuller House” to Richard Linklater’s Oscar-nominated “Boyhood” (in feeling if not quality). Judging by most of the show’s reviews, he’ll be laughed out of the critics club in no time. But I was struck by the comparison. For those of us who grew up in the late ’80s, “Fuller House” is like watching childhood friends age right along with you, fearlessly — though often fecklessly — tackling adulthood. After all, if hair-cutting, house-crashing Stephanie can handle life at 33, then so can I.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be rewatching season 1 in my car.

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