Everywhere you look, everywhere you look, nostalgia is coming for you. If this was not apparent before, it is after last week. According to a fresh batch of Internet rumors, there may be a Full House reboot in the works.
For those who didn’t grow up worshipping at the altar of ABC’s TGIF lineup, Full House was a popular sitcom that ran from 1987-1995 about a single dad raising his three daughters with the help of his brother-in-law and his best friend. That dad was played by Bob Saget, in what’s still his most notable role (save perhaps his appearances in The Aristocrats and Half Baked), although the show also helped to introduce America to John Stamos and the Olsen twins.
Focused on family values and life lessons learned, Full House was a ‘90s sentiment-fest of the highest order, up there with any sitcom millennials remember watching fondly as they grew up. But while the Internet’s love for nostalgia is well-documented, that instinct isn’t always a good one, and the possible Full House revival looks poised to prove just that.
‘90s nostalgia is the most potent kind of nostalgia on the Internet, because it is primarily driven by millennials. BuzzFeed’s whole “Rewind” section basically exists to demonstrate this. And yet since we’re still not that far out from the ‘90s, Hollywood has only recently begun finding ways to capitalize on this.
That said, it only seems a matter of time before ‘90s reboots begin to encounter the same kind of problems reboots from other eras have suffered. io9’s Rob Bricken wrote a list of reasons why several movie reboots have failed in the last few years, listing examples like, “The Original Was a Product of Its Time,” which applies directly to Full House. And in 2011, The Atlantic’s Kevin Fallon talked about why TV remakes fail specifically, asserting that it’s hard to get viewers to stick around once the initial novelty of seeing a new version of an old show wears off.
Nevertheless, it’s not impossible to buck these curses. Boy Meets World, another TGIF sitcom, was given a new spin this summer in the form of Girl Meets World, a sequel of sorts which returns to the protagonists’ lives, but follows their daughter as the main character. A hit both critically and in the ratings, Girl Meets World has been so successful that it’s already been renewed for a second season.
However, the success of Girl Meets World isn’t based on nostalgia alone. Sara Bibel at TV by the Numbers noted in August, “Since its June premiere, Girl Meets World has ranked as television’s number one series among Kids 2-11, Kids 6-11, and Tweens 9-14.”
What this indicates is that Girl’s power has less to do with recapturing the people who watched the original show and more to do with appealing to their children. It’s a smart, fairly straightforward move—they rebranded. Rather than launching a copycat of Boy, the creators of Girl Meets World bet that young parents who had happy memories of the TGIF offering would expose their kids to this new version, trusting that it would recapture part of what they loved about the original while still providing something different for a younger generation. In this sense, Girl also serves as a kind of mirror; like the show’s protagonists, the parents who exposed their children to it have grown up since Boy went off the air.
What separates Boy Meets World from Full House, according to Erin Keane of Salon, is that the Boy Meets World reboot is a regular mirror, where the Full House reboot would surely be a funhouse mirror, distorted by time and perception.
The enthusiastic and sincere welcome that was given to the recent reboot of TGIF’s second-generation juggernaut Boy Meets World, which reunited fans with childhood sweethearts Corey and Topanga all grown up and married parents themselves, makes a certain amount of sense. Viewers remember them fondly—they’re a memory of a sweeter, more innocent time in television and their fans’ lives—and were excited to see them grow up and live, for the most part, happily ever after. Corey and Topanga are still aspirational to their fans, and that makes a next-generation storyline relevant.
Full House fandom is also rooted in nostalgia, but it’s the kind of nostalgia that’s so much better consumed in hindsight through ironic filters. The discovery that wholesome patriarch Bob Saget’s stand-up act was startlingly filthy was like finding out your friend’s dad works at a Hustler store part-time, the knowledge adding a layer of absurdity to every bit of fatherly wisdom he ever imparted. Speculation on the exact parentage of the Tanner Girls is a thing. Alanis Morissette went down on Uncle Joey in a theater and told the whole world. The opening credits sequence has been remixed to make the show into a horror film and episodes have been recut to make the show into an existential tragedy. Hot Uncle Jesse sells yogurt.
Keane also claims that the sitcomy premise of Full House is “impossibly clichéd” and that “the predictable style of situation comedy that made Full House so popular in 1987 won’t play in a Modern Family network landscape.”
Keane’s point about how over-sincerity can easily be translated into irony overtime is a deft one. Take the ‘90s Brady Bunch movies, for example, which were intentional parodies of the show that begot them. However, her usage of Modern Family as an indication of just how far TV has come since Full House has been off the air is slightly more complicated.
As the most recent Emmys made abundantly clear, Modern Family looks far less progressive than plenty of other shows that are also on television right now. In fact, one can even make the argument that it’s a sort of spiritual cousin to Full House.
However, the shifting social dynamics from the ‘90s heyday of Full House to the Modern Family era of today do reveal wounds in the current culture wars. In reaction to the supposed smut being peddled by the Emmys, Greg Collins of conservative website The Federalist praised the “traditional” values of Full House compared to what you see on TV today. “The Tanner household smacked more of Modern Family than the nuclear family,” Collins argues. “But the artistic beauty of Full House was that it articulated and elevated the permanent things above the noise of mundane life and the seemingly unconventional nature of its family structure.” He goes on from there:
Reviving the lessons of Full House is not a mere exercise in nostalgia, nor was the sitcom the sole proprietor of such lessons in the coming-of-age millennial generation. (Such as Boy Meets World and Family Matters also come to mind). Rather, it offers an instructive message for current Emmy Award-nominated shows, and for Millennials who grew up on family sitcoms but have graduated to ostensibly more sophisticated television viewing: The end of human existence is not to promote shifting sexual desires or social arrangements or genders or ethnicities, but to achieve something greater, something lasting, something final.
Collins almost grotesque obsession on a permanent family unit over things like “gender” and “ethnicity” reveal how ridiculous his point is. As Collins himself acknowledges, Full House was about three adult men raising children together, in the famously gay-friendly Bay Area, for that matter. On paper, it hardly subscribes to the belief that heteronormative family practices are the be all and end all of civilization. Collins rationalizes this by suggesting that since all the men on the show were straight and looking for women to share their lives with, it really is about the pursuit of the classic, American, two-car garage family after all.
More importantly though, the biggest fallacy of Collins piece lies in the idea that tolerance and diversity are less important than a healthy family unit. This illustrates how much has changed since Full House was on the air, in that it’s widely accepted today that the embrace of tolerance and diversity is part of what makes for a healthy family unit.
Collins’ argument is also indicative of how much has changed since the end of Full House in terms of what it means to be a television show. Because as much subtext as he might want to prescribe to it, when all is said and done, Full House isn’t fundamentally “about” anything. Yes, it espouses traditional family values and has an ingrained didacticism inasmuch as any ‘90s sitcom did, but it wasn’t trying to say anything revelatory or unique about the world we live in. Full House knew what it was: it was cute, it was fun, it was silly. But it wasn’t “deep” or “profound” in any kind of significant way.
And that’s fine, when all you want is a standard sitcom that you can share with the whole family. But unlike adolescent-appropriate shows such a The Fosters, or even the fairly conventional Modern Family, Full House is not a show to expose your children to with the expectation that they are going to walk away having actually learned something about the world they live in.
That’s okay. Not everything should have to do that, especially where child-friendly entertainment is concerned. However, in an increasingly socially aware time for television, it’s important to acknowledge that compared to many shows that came after it (and frankly, many that came before it), Full House doesn’t work as an example of a forward-thinking program.
This contrast was on full display earlier this year when John Stamos wrote an open letter responding to a Huffington Post piece from Annelia Alex, called “The Lies I Learned From Dumb TV,” which targeted the unbelievability of ‘90s sitcoms, and focused heavily on Full House. Stamos fired back aggressively, writing, “[M]aybe you should have [kids] watch re-runs of Breaking Bad—see how that turns out.”
What Alex was missing here is the acknowledgment that to a certain degree, all TV is lies, no matter how “realistic” or not it might seem. But what Stamos is missing here is that no one is advocating Breaking Bad as an appropriate moral template for children. Again, while there is a definite middle ground between Breaking Bad and Full House, a children’s show doesn’t always have to be smartest thing ever. There are a bunch of shows more intelligent and educational than Full House, but as long as parents are aware of that, there’s no reason that, as an amusing little fantasy, it isn’t fine for kids to watch.
This brings us to the final reason why a Full House reboot isn’t a great idea, which is it isn’t merely a less than intelligent show, it is, debatably, a particularly stupid one. Once more, this is totally OK, but it shouldn’t be the go-to mode for family/broad entertainment. Hollywood, of course. doesn’t care about any of that, especially when the additional promise of a ‘90s nostalgia trip for the older patrons presents the opportunity for big business. Consider last month’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a movie which made good money but got horrible reviews.
The conflict that then arises with properties like Full House is one of intellect versus nostalgia. Susanna Wolff, editor-in-chief for CollegeHumor, of all all places, described exactly that, when she wrote,
“Yeah, yeah, you loooove Full House, but, no. You don’t. You watched it when you were a kid, so you had no actual taste, but if you watch a rerun now, you’ll realize that it was a real crap show. The humor was cheesy, the acting was cheesy, all the little kids with their catchphrases were cheesy. Whatever happened to predictability? It was alive and well for eight seasons on ABC and you fools ate it up.” Her addendum to this read, “Fun fact: you’re going to argue with me about this one, but you’re wrong.”
There are probably worse ideas than a Full House reboot, but there are definitely better ones, too. The show lives on because of nostalgia, but that nostalgia is at odds with Full House’s lack of similarity with pretty much any show on the air today and its generally lowbrow sensibility. If the reboot does happen, and everyone involved pulls it off, more power to them, because they’ve facing a huge challenge. But assuming that doesn’t come to pass, it won’t be the end of the world. We’re better off reliving Full House through Super Bowl commercials anyway.