By Legba Carrefour
News broke this week about rumored intentions of a Full House revival. John Stamos, with an ownership stake in the show, has been at this for over a decade, and now has the ratings bonanza for Full House reruns on Nick at Nite and most of the surviving cast behind him (Comet, the Tanner family dog, died of lung cancer in 1998 after a streak of success in the Air Buddy franchise). It’s a noble endeavor in the pursuit of profit, but it’s doomed to failure.
Full House was the single most distressing example of the 1980’s television magic that took the trauma that was the modern family, tacked on a laugh track, and sold it to America as Family Values (and in turn sold that chunk of America to advertisers. Isn’t that what family really is? An incubator for consumption?). If you poke at any given sitcom of the era, it rapidly unfolds as individuals experiencing a series of horrific traumas and petty humiliations as a result of being a family, and then, at the end, everyone says “Thank God, we’re a family” in some sort of Stockholm-syndrome-as-catharsis moment.
The premise was the least believable and most successful of the pack. Ostensibly, it’s supposed to be about three oddball, single, straight men coming together to love one another and build a family, but that’s all lies. I flipped through a couple of episodes before writing this and in the first episode, Jesse (Stamos) tries to bang some random woman from a bar in a room decorated like a children’s play room and tries to bribe a minor to facilitate the process. Meanwhile, the second season finale shows him threatening his girlfriend in a jealous rage as she’s in the midst of taping a talk show, then goading her into marrying him, and then flying into yet another rage once he realizes she isn’t too keen on giving up her career in television to raise the ten children he demands they produce immediately. Both stories end happily. And it’s like that for all eight seasons. People needle each other, lie to each other, try to figure out how to abandon their responsibilities, and, once called on their shit, everyone hugs and reflects on the grand moment. With that kind of approach, it’s no wonder the show was so successful. It takes the visibly disintegrating family that every viewer knew went on and repackaged it as a positive thing, perfect for an age that was a relay race hand-off between Reagan and Clinton. Decades later, you can watch it ironically, and make fun of the naivete of the premise, without ever having to feel traumatized by what’s actually happening on screen.
Sitcoms are by design a bit claustrophobic. You see the static set of a theater stage, but where theater encourages your mind to fill in the blanks and imagine an outside, a sitcom relies on the implied total reality that is the screen. When you exit stage left in theater, you go off to have other presumed adventures. When you exit a sitcom screen, you cease to exist as an existential construct. Full House took full advantage of that, locking you in this clusterfuck of a foster home, never seeing the outside except for a shot of the Golden Gate Bridge (the site of 1,600 suicides since 1937) in the credits. You think I’m nuts? Someone created the brilliant Sad Full House, which is nothing but clips of characters having breakdowns, but without the resolutions. Watch Michelle Tanner find out her mother’s dead.
Another is Full House Without Michelle, which features entire episodes of characters interacting with a Michelle that’s merely the imaginary product of Danny Tanner’s grief-stricken mind.
None of this would work now. When we talk about family, we know that Murphy Brown can raise a kid without the father, we know about gay marriage, we know about divorce, we know that there’s an outside. The closest contemporary analogue to Full House would be Modern Family, which only works because the lead characters have neighbors (something almost unthinkable in an 80’s or 90’s sitcom. Home Improvement went so far on claustrophobia tip that the family neighbor had no face). Could you watch Full House now? A father meanders around the house looking desperately for signs of his dead wife as his eldest daughter battles an eating disorder (somehow, despite being based in San Francisco, the show found multiple opportunities to talk about anorexia, but never dealt with HIV, an infection about as un-family as you can get), his youngest daughter is accompanied by the spectral twin she swallowed in the womb and regurgitates now and again to comply with child labor laws in filming (imagine an episode where Mary-Kate and Ashley simply hold hands and recite all Michelle’s lines as one person and are addressed as such), and much of the parenting is left to two shiftless layabouts. Maybe it would somehow work, but it would all come crashing down on a very special episode about the anniversary of 9/11, where Danny suddenly bursts into a foul-mouthed Bob Saget routine as an ice-breaker, as everyone else just holds their heads and weeps.