By Will Ferrer
So commonplace are reboots and spin-offs that these days, complaining about their market dominance has evolved into a cliché. Nonetheless, those who warn against the revisiting of established properties make a relatively convincing case: When it comes to said revivals, the question is always whether or not it’s possible, and never whether or not doing so is actually a prudent proposal. The truth is, in this TV landscape, anything goes. In this TV landscape, even “Fuller House” is fair game.
Designed as a sequel to the popular sitcom “Full House,” “Fuller House” is currently in production at Netflix with plans for a reported early 2016 release. “Fuller House,” following much the same formula as its predecessor, resumes years after the events of “Full House,” as eldest daughter DJ (Candace Cameron Bure) — now grown — finds herself widowed and expecting her third child. To aid her in the task of raising three without a spouse, DJ Fuller (yes, her surname is actually Fuller) asks perennial underachiever Kimmy Gibler (Andrea Barber) — a single mother herself — and sister Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin) to take up residence in her home, a request that echoes the actions of her father (Bob Saget) in the original series.
In short, the show is a mirror image of “Full House”: a surefire recipe for success — at least on paper. Despite the inexplicable effectiveness of “Full House” reruns on Nick at Nite, a lot has changed since the show first launched in 1987. Today, the live audience multi-cam sitcom is struggling. Sure, each year a handful of sitcoms emerge that manage to achieve satisfactory ratings, but for every “How I Met Your Mother” there’s a “Dads” or a “Whitney”: programs so outdated it’s a wonder they made it to primetime in the first place. In the age of “Veep” and “Inside Amy Schumer,” laugh tracks and narrative simplicity no longer drive numbers. Quality, on the other hand, does.
Since the 80s, television has gone from low art to a respected mode of expression, and, with the rise of premium cable powerhouses like “The Sopranos,” “Breaking Bad” and “Six Feet Under,” viewers have discovered that it’s okay to think autonomously: to chew up their own message without needing to be spoon-fed. In turn, the “bullying is bad” heavy-handed morality of shows like “Full House” is very nearly in poor taste: It just doesn’t synch up with the way we currently watch television.
Yet creator Jeff Franklin offers no reason to believe that he intends to shake up the equation for the second go. From the mimetic plot to the virtually unchanged cast (most of whom have not acted in years), “Fuller House” is shaping up to be a carbon copy of its dated forbear. Netflix is hoping that lightning can strike twice, but the times are not what they once were, and the target has seemingly changed.
Moreover, Netflix of all major networks seems least suited for the effort. The HBO of the Internet, Netflix thrives on single-camera dramas and a cinematic aesthetic that pushes the boundaries of what one might classify as television. Next to the work of, say, David Fincher (“House of Cards”), “Fuller House” stands little chance of developing a distinguished identity. It’s a system rigged to fail: a basic nostalgia trip begging to compete with the very best in modern entertainment.
To a lesser extent, the decision to air “Fuller House” on Netflix also begs the question: Is a program of its type binge-able? With minimal continuity between episodes, “Full House’s” nine-season arc was surprisingly lacking in sustained plot threads. Most viewers would find it rather difficult to imagine watching “Full House” in one sitting, and it’s correspondingly difficult to imagine the half-baked “Fuller House” faring much better.
Then, of course, there are the age-old issues of intent and purpose. Is there even a story to tell, or is this just some haggard attempt to revive one of the most popular properties of our time? Without variation, is “Fuller House” doomed to toil in the shadow of a sitcom classic? Why fiddle with the collective memory of something that many viewers regard with great esteem?
Perhaps I’m wrong about “Fuller House.” Perhaps it’ll be a critical and commercial dynamo: a hit the likes of which contemporary television yet to see.
But, regardless of the outcome, the question remains ever important: Yes we can, but should we?
Contact Will Ferrer at wferrer ‘at’ stanford.edu.