i Need Media
How I learned to appreciate Full House
By Matthew Singer 11/21/2013
Why the hell am I watching Full House?
This is a question I ask myself frequently these days, as I’ve been watching a lot of Full House lately. And not even ironically, either. As anyone who grew up in the ’90s knows — including the kids who grew up on the show — this is a cripplingly embarrassing admission. Full House is universally recognized as the most artless sitcom ever made. “Family friendly” to a degree that would make the producers of 7th Heaven cringe, it almost single-handedly invented the “very special episode” cliché — except every fucking episode ended with a life lesson imparted over winsome strings and punctuated by a hug. Somehow, it became a hit, a long-standing tent pole of ABC’s Friday night lineup, and bequeathed the world John Stamos, the Olsen Twins and, indirectly, Alanis Morissette’s hit song “You Oughta Know.” Bob Saget has spent the last 20 years trying to live it down, one scatological stream-of-consciousness tirade at a time.
I was old enough by the time it premiered in the late ’80s to call bullshit on its alleged charms. (Please note: I was 5 when it first started airing. I was already too mature.) My girlfriend, however, is four years younger. As such, she’s of the generation for which the show was a legitimate cultural touchstone. And so, when sitting around on a lazy weeknight, with nothing else on, Full House takes on the role occupied by Cops when I lived with a bunch of dudes: the time-filler. And as I’ve spent many evenings now invested in the bland exploits of the Tanner family — usually while in the midst of polishing off a bottle of wine — my feelings toward the show have shifted slightly: It is indeed terrible, but also, weirdly tolerable.
Part of that has to do with age: At 31, I can pick up on things I wouldn’t have perceived with my prepubescent brain. Not to say the writers were slyly slipping double-entendres past censors. Aside from a few winking references to Uncle Jesse’s days as a swinging bachelor, it’s still squeaky-clean, from the surface on down. But it’s a show backgrounded by darkness: The entire premise of Full House is based on a father struggling to raise three daughters after his wife is killed by a drunk driver. That’s some fucked-up shit. And while the show never reflected that tragic foundation beyond the first season, if you manage to see the series through that lens, it makes the cornball humor and cheap tear-jerking easier to swallow.
Beyond that, while the accepted view of Full House is as a relic of TV’s more innocent past, the fact is that the sitcom hasn’t come far at all. Look at Modern Family. Still the most popular comedy on network television, it is basically Full House for the single-camera era. Think about it: The jokes, while more “adult,” I suppose, are built for wide appeal, from pre-teens to grandmas. Each episode ends with a heartfelt monologue spelling out the show’s lesson. Manny is basically Michelle, and way more annoying, too. And, in a way, Full House has more gravitas: Modern Family doesn’t even have the specter of death hanging over it. Modern? I don’t think so, dude.
I Need Media is a biweekly media column by Matthew Singer. Follow him on Twitter@mpsinger.