Fuller House: When Nostalgia Goes Wrong

Everywhere you look the jokes are still awful.

Nostalgia can be a good thing. Television shows from The Wonder Years to Mad Men to Freaks and Geeks have used nostalgia as a powerful tool to help tell interesting, unique stories. In the case of Fuller House, nostalgia is not a good thing. The jokes are terrible. The plot is paper thin. And, as cruel as it sounds, there is a reason that these actors haven’t been working much in the intervening years between the end of Full House and the beginning of this ill-advised cash grab sequel. The reason that nostalgia isn’t a good thing in Fuller House is that in this series, nostalgia is the only thing.

Many millenials are nostalgic for Full House and the 90s sitcom format in general. If you scroll through Facebook on a lazy Sunday, odds are you’ll find a status about someone curled up in a blanket eating comfort food watching long ago cancelled multi-cam sitcoms. Once you immerse yourself in the multi-cam cornball world you used to love, you realize that everything you’re nostalgic for has nothing to do with the quality of the show. Shows like Full House, Family Matters, and Boy Meets World weren’t popular because they offered quality. They offered a warm fuzzy feeling that would get you through a couple of hours alone at home while your parents were at work or while you were left to languish with a disinterested babysitter or soothe you as you waited at the dentist’s office. The show offered warmth and kindness in the kind of doses that only a 10 year-old can truly enjoy. Watching Fuller House today is like trying to handle an entire bag of halloween candy in one sitting now that you’re an adult. You remember this being a lot easier when you were younger, and it definitely didn’t used to cause you any pain.

Plot and character are never the point of a show like Fuller House . An episode worth of plot barely takes a sentence to describe. “Stephanie realizes that when it comes to parenting she’s in over her head” or “D.J. has a night out at a club away from the kids for the first time in a while” are the kind of plots the show stretches to fit the half-hour mark. The characters are a combination of lame stereotypes and catchphrases. Stephanie still says “How Rude,” but now she’s a very single party girl. Uncle Jessie is still a metrosexual Elvis fan who says “Have Mercy” unironically, but now he’s a silver fox instead of a young DILF.

The only thing about this show that was given even an ounce of effort is the joke writing. But, it isn’t even really quite right to call what is happening here “jokes.” They’re paced like jokes, feel like jokes, and they even get the laugh track that is supposed to be reserved for jokes, but they are merely references. The lines are meant for recognition, not laughter. You won’t laugh at Fuller House. But, if you are dull enough, it will leave you smiling and nodding like a lobotomized Winston at the end of 1984. Instead of frothily mouthing that you love Big Brother, you’ll alternate between “I remember that” and “I know what they’re talking about.”

Here’s how the terrible writing of Fuller House attempts to trigger your nostalgia, as that’s only thing the show has going for it.

Full House References

Fuller House is filled with references to its predecessor. Every sequel does this. The winking look back at the original is part of the joy of even the best sequel. Wayne’s World 2, one of the great comedy sequels, is filled with references to the original.

The difference between Wayne’s World 2 and lesser sequels like Fuller House is that Wayne’s World 2 was interested in both building on and challenging the work of the first story while creating something new. Fuller House is interested in parroting what you’ve heard before in hopes that the audience will hoot and holler at the first taste of the familiar. In the pilot alone, there are more than a half dozen references to the original series, not counting that extended applause pauses given to every single returning actor in the pilot.

Before the thirty-five minute pilot is over, Stephanie throws out a “How Rude!,” Uncle Joey hauls out his old woodchuck puppet, Uncle Jessie sings a song with the Rippers, Michelle is referenced (she’s in NY running her fashion empire lol), Joey says “Cut. It. Out” and Jessie makes a handful of Elvis jokes. What old Full House bits weren’t retread in the pilot are trotted out in subsequent episodes. For example, the Olsen Twins aren’t there to reference how they used to say “You got it, dude!” so by the third episode, characters take the liberty of making the reference on their behalf.

Outdated Pop Culture References

When the writers are at a loss for direct references to Full House, they mine pop culture of the late 80s and early 90s (the show ran from 1987-1995). Dirty Dancing, The Lion King, and New Kids on the Block each get extended bits in the first few episodes. Since these writers are lazy, they don’t even attempt the specificity of other TV nostalgia shows like Fresh off the Boat (set in the 90s) and The Goldbergs (set in the 80s). References to anything in the past are fair game, from The Flintstones (1960) to “Wild Thing” (1966).

References to Current Events

The oddest moments of Fuller House come when the show attempts to approach current events through a nostalgic lens. Dozens of pop culture items are mentioned without so much as an attempt at a joke. It seems that the writers believe that the mere mention of current pop culture phenomena by these throwback characters will bring laughs. Here’s a list of the (relatively) current pop culture references made in the first three episodes:

– Shark Week
– Donald Trump
Sister Wives
– “on fleek”
– Uber
– Instagram
– Facebook
– Spin Class
– Pilates
– Neil DeGrasse Tyson
Dancing With The Stars

This list is probably missing a few, as I can’t be expected to account for the moments when my eyes were glazed over from boredom and/or disgust.

No, Fuller House isn’t good. But if the show were simply bad, that would be fine. Lots of series are bad, but offer something for some kind of audience. Vinyl is stale, but the classic rock loving suburban dad can appreciate it from the comfort of his mancave. Quantico is predictable and melodramatic, but there is an audience out there for an anti-terror soap opera in which everyone wears form fitting v-necks. Fuller House has so little respect for its audience that it doesn’t even try to make jokes. There was so little effort put into the show that there are commercials with better plotting and character development. There is so little to admire about Fuller House that the show tries to get by on its forced relationship to a fuzzy past.

A series cannot live on nostalgia alone, and Fuller House is proof of that.