History has been overly kind to “Full House.” Though it’s now seen — through the obfuscating fog of nostalgia — as a classic family sitcom, the show was also archetypally average, hiding behind a ubiquitous laugh track and obnoxiously on-the-nose life lessons. It may well have been a television touchstone, but it was also the equivalent of a stack of pancakes drenched in maple syrup: fluffy, insubstantial, and so sickly sweet it could induce toothaches.
So when it was announced that Netflix planned to brush away the cobwebs for a new series dubbed “Fuller House,” one question immediately arose: Why? Why this sitcom? Why does the original, which ran from 1987 to 1995, warrant a second serving, especially in a TV landscape already populated by series like “Modern Family,” “black-ish,” and “Fresh Off the Boat,” all of which mark smarter, more inclusive evolutions of the “Full House” formula?
Well, as it turns out, the answer’s that it doesn’t, at all. In the six episodes sent to critics, “Fuller House” suggests a raison d’être that amounts to little more than fan service of the most bare-faced, blaring variety.
As the pilot, by far the worst installment, teases out one familiar face after another (minus the Olsen twins, who get a fourth-wall-breaking admonishment for sitting this one out), an excess of communal back-patting takes center stage. “Damn, we all still look good,” Uncle Jesse (John Stamos, who admittedly does still look very good) even says at one point.
But like most of the shout-outs in “Fuller House,” that line feels like less of a triumphant, meta declaration and more of a plea for fan validation. Jesse shouldn’t sound so desperate. The live studio audience, of course, is ready with a hero’s welcome, not just for Stamos but also Bob Saget, Dave Coulier, Lori Loughlin, Candace Cameron Bure, Jodie Sweetin, and Scott Weinger.
However, the joy that hardcore fans will find in seeing this crew reassembled mostly intact is short-lived. At premiere’s end, most of them hit the road, destined to flit back for occasional cameos, and the gender-flipped conceit of this new take becomes apparent: a widowed D.J. Tanner-Fuller (Cameron Bure) winds up installed in the San Francisco house, alongside sister Stephanie (Sweetin) and pal Kimmy Gibbler (Andrea Barber), both of whom agree to help her raise a trio of young boys.
There will be three schools of thought around how “Fuller House” riffs on the original’s premise. Some may praise the absence of a domineering patriarch, seeing the freshly forged Tanner-Fuller-Gibbler triumvirate as a commendably feminist foundation. Others will likely fault the series for how it regressively encourages its three female leads to answer the call of motherhood and ditch any professional or personal ventures that could get in the way. And others still (the ones Netflix is really catering to) won’t care to consider either thematic implication, instead relishing every stock plot, speech, and group hug the show has to offer, just as one relishes comfort food on a lazy Sunday morning.
And therein lies the rub — with “Fuller House,” Netflix has created its first critic-proof series. It’s easy to wish everyone involved with this revival had been concerned with something more honorable than narcissistic self-celebration. Furthermore, in 2016, it’s fair enough to look upon trite laughs, cloyingly sentimental touches, and cutesy diversions (a baby here, a puppy there) with some degree of distaste. If “Full House” had aired this year, it — like its sequel — would pale in comparison to practically everything else on offer. As such, most sitcom aficionados will find they’ve outgrown the Tanner clan.
Netflix knows it only has to please the ones who haven’t, for whom seeing this mix of new and old characters run through the motions will feel like going back to the glory days of the sitcom itself. Bashing those folks is futile — let them enjoy this hollow exercise in nostalgia. But for the rest of us, “Fuller House” never justifies its own existence, let alone why the uninitiated should give it a chance.
On: Netflix, streaming Friday