Once upon a time, it was the 1990s. It was a grand age: denim was a popular fabric; cigars found odd new homes; and O.J. Simpson just couldn’t find a pair of gloves that fit right (the struggle is real, Juice. Not that I’m saying you were involved in a struggle. Um, just, y’know). There was also a popular American sitcom called Full House. It was about a house, that was full. There was no space in that house. It starred some people. Two of those people were twins, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. It was their being crammed into this house that made them famous, launching a brand so robust it escaped the densely-populated, titular ‘house’. These are things I know about Full House.
You see, while I was a child of the early-to-mid-nineties, I grew up in Ireland, and as far as I can recall, Full House did not make it to screens there until several years after its initial run in the US- by which point I had grown slightly more discerning about what TV shows I sat through. The end effect of this delay was that I have never actually seen an episode. This left a gap in my pop-culture education. Despite growing up in an Ireland which had basically no black people, I could still turn on my TV to catch the adventures of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Moesha, or Sister Sister. Yet, while I’m guessing that coke-addled little people were also in short supply nationally, the Olsen twins and their packed domicile were not there to comfort and educate me.
So fast forward to 2016: denim remains popular, as does mass government surveillance, and Netflix decided it was high-time to ride the wave of Full House-nostalgia – a wave that I’m pretty sure they invented – by rebooting the series as, Fuller House. No, the twins of Olsen will not be appearing. There was obviously no room. Neither will Samuel Fuller, because he is dead and this doesn’t seem like his kinda gig anyway. But other people from the original show will appear. The show will assure me of this through extensive recycling of old footage, capturing the cast in their youth, when things seemed simpler, provided you weren’t paying attention.
The reactions in the wake of this Phoenix-like resurrection have thus far been ecstatic. Optimism Vaccine’s own Steve Cuff described the show as, “repulsive”, declaring the first episode to be, “the worst single sitcom episode [he’d] ever sat through.” Optimism Vaccine’s also own, Adam Miros quickly chimed in, “This can’t be unseen.” “This is horrible”, Optimism Vaccine’s also, also own Jake Tropila added, establishing what we in the business refer to as, ‘a consensus’.
So sure, I missed the boat for the original Full House but dammit all, I’m not going to miss the Fuller House-boat too. Hmm, that could make a good spin-off. How many people can you usually fit on a houseboat? Maybe that’s better answered when Breaker High inevitably returns to our screens. Ryan Gosling could get Nicolas Winding Refn to direct. It could be a very carefully composed kind of awful. In the meantime, I decided to watch the first episode of Netflix’s new series based on exactly all the studious research and prior knowledge reflected in the incredibly long pre-amble above.
We open in a living space that is large and devoid of thronged human bodies. But there are some people, and the audience, hidden beyond our ken, applaud wildly for them, like Pavlovian dogs slavering for their meat. The characters banter aimlessly, repeatedly invoking the episode’s primary theme, that of time’s uncaring passage. They talk of how things are not as they once were, in the time of the 90s, yet still assuring themselves that life holds meaning. But just below the surface, we know that the ceaseless march of time will fell them all- even the swarthy Fonz-looking guy. Especially the swarthy Fonz-looking guy.
The jokes are not so much hit-and-miss as they are…not funny, but the cast pause nonetheless so that the audience can cackle their reckless approval. Eventually the entire cast assemble, each to loud brays of recognition that lord their 90s pop-culture savvy over me. Except when new children show up. They were too young to be in the original show. No one recognizes them. They are as nothing.
Then, the opening credits: a panning shot of the Golden Gate Bridge and the realization that a ritual from theatrical screenings of Tommy Wisseau’s, The Room is sourced from this very show. A similar, achingly slow, pan of the same bridge in Wisseau’s film prompts audiences to sing the Full House opening theme. I am now in on this joke but questions arise. How many layers are there to The Room? One? Two? The truth is we may never know. What else do I not know? Terror sets in, much like the cream in a Queen Victoria Sponge Cake presumably also sets. And just how many layers has this hypothetical cake? More terror.
As a point of trivia, if you squint just right during the opening credits, it may be possible to mistake the phrase, ‘A Warner Horizon Production,’ for, ‘A Werner Herzog Production.’ If you did this, it would lead to much confusion. I did not squint but perhaps some other viewer will be less well prepared. Anyway, the show continues after the opening credits- a structural technique that media experts such as myself would term, “traditional.” The various cast members continue their fond recollections but, despite their obvious familiarity, each also takes the time to painstakingly explain just what they do for their day-jobs. The effect is jarring. Is this a house full of Alzheimer’s? Or are they all just delusional- assembling and re-assembling their self-identity in a reality rendered murky by some powerful, unseen force?
“I am a vet.”
“I am a successful DJ.”
“I am a TV talk-show host.”
“I am a child grown old.”
“I am a child of less years but more precociousness. My cruel decline lies before me.”
Is any of this true? I must trust them for now. But doubts persist. This house is full…of mysteries! Like how does that one guy hold so many leftovers with one hand? That’s not a feature of Tupperware. This is some other sorcery. In addition, why do they have all that nautical shit by the front door? Did the original house sink, once upon a time? Did they hunt a white whale? You’d think they’d mention this while reminiscing. Perhaps they merely prepared for these eventualities but they remained unrealized. Much like the show’s attempts at political edge. They invoke the name Donald Trump and this reference will surely age the show mercilessly in the coming years. Time’s cruel passage creeps again to the fore. Like Fritz Lang’s “weary death” only this time cloaked not in Death’s garb but instead the vibrant hues of day-time television.
Other elements arise. A stoic dog issues forth a new generation. This single puppy remains unseen, swaddled in cloth. It is silent and still and it is promised to the youngest boy of the household as a lesson in “responsibility”. Given the puppy’s state, the inference here is grim, more reprimand than reward, but the house’s denizens continue to smile. In the 90s, there was hope. For the young of 2016, there is only its dim outline. Later a party is held to bid farewell to the home, as its myriad inhabitants set out on the diverging paths they deliberately explained to one another before. They briefly sing and briefly dance, though never briefly enough. In a nod to Brian De Palma, the show utilizes split-screen and blunt-force trauma as it seeks to remind us, even those like me who couldn’t possible already know, that the cast previously sang and dance too.
There is a grim teleology at play here, these disparate agents bound tight by unseen bonds, but soon they must put aside this mockery of festivity and indulge discussions of more traditional familial bonds. The idea of the house dissolving strikes fear into their hearts and they reconsider. This house will remain full of these same people, for they are unfit to mingle with a wider world that might question their ways. They never lock their exterior doors. At first this might seem a sign of trust until you consider that they bestow dead dogs to their young. Any outsider fool enough to breach this perimeter will surely find only regret in the short minutes remaining them.
All of which leads me to a single conclusion, I am glad I never saw Full House as a child. It must have been dark and steeped in threat. The bright lights and lurid colors are wicked pantomime. Here instead in this “full” house are swirling questions of warped identity and incestuous couplings. Everywhere you look. Everywhere you go. There’s a heart, a hand to hold on to. When you’re lost out there, and you’re all alone. A light is waiting to carry you home. There is only this house. This fuller house. There is no escape.