If you're anything like me, you'll have faced Netflix's revival of Full House with a fair bit of trepidation. Fuller House comes some years (29, the first episode tells us) after the premiere of the original, and this is my childhood they're risking here. Could they make us rethink everything we found so sweet and funny in the late 80s and early 90s? Could we learn that we wouldn't have grown up to be best friends with DJ and Stephanie like we were sure we would?
Despite early reviews which warned of a heavy-handed laugh track and thoroughly unbelievable storylines, Fuller House has provided some genuine laughs and even a tear or two. Is it cheesy? Oh, yeah. Is it sweet? Most definitely. Did I groan a few times? Absolutely. But, rather than slogging through it like I imagined I might from those reviews, I enjoyed it all. I found myself wanting to watch episode after episode.
Beware: Spoilers follow!
The characters feel pretty similar to what I remember from the original series. DJ was always a sort of Everygirl, and she has grown up into an TV Everywoman. She's smart, sweet, caring -- a woman who loves her family and, despite being stressed out a lot of the time, doesn't seem to have to work too hard at her life. She is written to be instantly likable, and she definitely still feels like she can be your television best friend.
Stephanie is a little wilder, having made a career of being DJ Tanner -- a real DJ, get it? -- and partying her way around the world. I wonder how much of Jodie Sweetin's real struggles played into how they've chosen to write adult Stephanie. Sweetin actually looks great, so I really hope she's going to take this success to heart.
Kimmy Gibbler is, well, still Kimmy Gibbler. If someone had asked you 20 years ago to explain what Kimmy would be up to at this point in her life, it'd probably look a lot like what appears on our screen. She is crafty, sweet, and just as weird as you'd hope. She has a party planning business and somehow lands on her feet every time she messes up. She is a mother and (ex-)wife and provides just enough awkward laughter and funky dancing to make her an asset to the show rather than a distraction.
The 'adults' of Full House are much like we left them -- a bit one-dimensional. Danny is still a clean freak, Becky is baby-crazy, Jesse is hot stuff, and Joey is weird with a woodchuck (apparently Joey also has a family which is never mentioned, so good for him). Luckily, they were smart enough to understand that Fuller House isn't about them. (Extra credit goes out to John Stamos for not trying to shoehorn Uncle Jesse into every scene despite acting as an executive producer for the series.) These characters are used sparingly and intelligently, lending a few lessons in parenting to the ladies and getting along to the kids.
The kids are, honestly, quite annoying. As much as I might have seen myself in the kids of Full House back in the day, I have come to understand that they were pretty annoying, too. I'm just old and grumpy now; I can accept that. DJ's oldest son, Jackson, begins as a shy, disgruntled pre-teen still grieving the loss of his father and somehow transforms a bit too quickly into a confident kid with a real chance at getting his first girlfriend and who calls himself 'J-Money'. Max, the middle son, seems to have been the child most impacted by his grandfather Danny, as he dresses like a tiny adult, knows how to clean just about anything, and saves his money for a rainy day. Tommy is the babbling baby who doesn't do much more than be a cute little chunker in a playpen. Ramona is the new kid thrown into the mix. As half-Gibbler and half-(as we will see) Fernando, it's kind of a surprise how stable she is as a 12/13 year old. She's a pretty normal kid who isn't given many opportunities to shine in this series. She acts out (once), she is embarrassed by her mother (once), she is given real responsibility (once), and she works as the voice of reason (once).
Matt and Fernando are the two new guys on the scene. Matt is the son of DJ's boss in her pet clinic (oh yeah, some little girls actually DO grow up to be vets!) who takes over for him while on sabbatical. Until the end of the series when he is more fully realised, he can mostly be described as Hot Guy Who Likes Animals -- which isn't the worst thing! It's clear from the start that DJ has a crush on him and Steve feels threatened by him (Remember Steve?! He's still in love with DJ after all these years!). Fernando is... a mess. My husband astutely pointed out that it's great to see Fez from That 70s Show get new work. It's sad, but it's true. He's flamboyant, he's ridiculous, and he's quite possibly the best match they could have written for Kimmy Gibbler. He does, however, seem like a parody of a parody of a character someone once knew in real life.
The storylines are mostly fluff, but the amazing thing about that is that it feels really true to the original series. You can actually imagine that you're watching a late 80s/early 90s family sitcom again. There are a few little adult winks and nudges -- more in the first episode than in others -- but nothing that would lead to awkward conversations with young audiences. The show doesn't focus too heavily on death and grief but also doesn't pretend that the missing Fuller firefighter father isn't the catalyst for the entire show. It's unclear exactly how long he's been gone; Tommy is less than a year old, but Max doesn't have too many strong memories of his father. As a central plot line, DJ grapples with the question of whether she's ready to move on and date Steve and/or Matt.
There are some surprisingly touching moments, and the first comes in the pilot episode. I have to admit that I nearly stopped watching after this episode ended -- not because it was bad but because it served so perfectly to end the original series. If Fuller House had been a one-off reunion special with this episode, I would have been satisfied. DJ has moved into the Tanner house with Danny to get help with her family after the death of her husband, and he's now moving on and selling the house. She knows she will struggle without his assistance, and in comes Stephanie and Kimmy to the rescue -- just like Joey and Uncle Jesse. This episode is very much winky and nudgey with the callbacks, and there is a particularly strong message sent to the Olsens about their lack of participation. When Baby Tommy gets fussy at the end of the episode, we get a split screen of everyone singing the Flintstones theme song to calm him and Michelle as a family. I won't pretend I didn't tear up a bit. That scene gave the entire revival purpose.
The remainder of the series revolves around the kids' shenanigans and the ladies thinking about love. Kimmy is in a will-they-won't-they-again relationship with her sort-of ex-husband Fernando. She wants to have little to do with him in the beginning but eventually gives in to his wooing. He spends an entire episode on an elaborate plot to divorce and propose to Kimmy all at once -- which, because it's Kimmy, actually works. Stephanie struggles with the idea of sitting in one place and dating fewer than four men at a time. She has a Very Special Episode where she is torn between partying and DJing and being part of a family; she admits to DJ that she has recently discovered that she can't have her own kids. That fact didn't bother her that much before she got close to DJ's kids and saw what she'd be missing out on.
DJ's love life is definitely the center of the series, as she finds herself in a love triangle between old flame Steve -- newly divorced and still regretting not marrying DJ all those years ago -- and new hottie Matt, who she sees daily at work. They eventually and very publicly -- can you say 'Kiss Cam'?! -- learn that they are both vying for her affections, turning her choice into a Bachelorette-style competition. DJ really cares for both of the men, but, in the end, she chooses to invest her attention in herself. She hasn't been widowed long, and she's learning who she is and what she wants -- if she can't make the decision between the men at this juncture, it's probably because she needs time to settle into being DJ Tanner-Fuller on her own.
Fuller House isn't hard-hitting television, but I don't think anyone expected it to be. It's saccharin-sweet and feel good, and it really does hit the spot. I never knew that I was missing a glimpse into the Tanner family all these years on, but I feel more fulfilled having watched this revival. It has the spirit of Full House throughout every scene -- sweet sibling moments, bad dad jokes, and a feeling that everything will be fine at the end of the day -- which gives me hope for future Netflix revivals like Gilmore Girls to feel true to their original audiences.