Confession: I watched all of Fuller House, Netflix’s reboot of Full House, in one day.
I was an 11-year-old fundamentalist Christian when Full House premiered in 1987, meaning I was in the exact right demographic for the original. It was squeaky clean enough that my mother let us watch it (with occasional side-eye at Uncle Jesse.) It was about a household with three sisters, like my own. It was silly enough to elicit the occasional laughing fit and maudlin enough to appeal to my developing emotional experiences.
When I first watched it, I did so with unabashed, uncritical joy. I memorized the lyrics to Forever by Jesse and the Rippers and quoted the catchlines at a time when most of my friends had moved on to In Living Colour and Arsenio Hall.
By the time the show went off the air, I had been homeless, dropped out of school, entered the system and was well on my way to rejecting the idea of god. A lot had changed for me while Full House had stayed essentially the same.
It was this sameness that I think I was seeking when I watched the new show. I was hoping, despite how much I had changed, that I would find some precious nostalgia in the repeated, almost memetic nature of the show.
I didn’t make it far.
Kimmy Gibbler, the awkward, socially inept girl whose primary job was always to highlight DJ’s pretty and wholesome normality, is now married to a man named Fernando Hernandez-Guerrero-Fernandez-Guerrero. In case the name hasn’t clued you in, he’s the one-note latin lover archetype, taken to its most obvious and painful extreme. Like Fez from That 70s Show or Raj from The Big Bang Theory, Fernando falls victim to the funny foreigner trope.
Fernando’s otherness is his most distinctive characteristic and all of his otherness is attributed to his country of origin. Some of this carries over to his daughter, Ramona, who is painted as the hot-headed Latina. We also have dancers Maks and Valentin Chmerkovskiy behaving like a cast-off SNL sketch, an entire episode dedicated to Mexican wrestlers that manages to throw in a little person just in case they hadn’t hit enough stereotypes, and a Gibbler-planned Indian theme party complete with turban jokes, a “holy” cow and Bollywood style dancing. Even incidental characters, like DJ’s unnamed receptionist at her vet clinic, are offered up as comedic others. I can imagine a director or casting agent asking the actor to do it just one more time, but Blacker, with a Jamaican accent maybe?
I cringed every time a same-sex interaction between hetero characters was played for laughs (with lingering shots if they were women, of course.) I couldn’t laugh along at jokes about the “friendzone”, how unattractive older women are and how funny it is that Aunt Becky has baby fever, can’t cook and is the only one to empty the dishwasher. I was saddened by the mis-use of words like psycho. Heck, I was even frustrated by my conviction that the story’s big love triangle would be easily solved if conventional relationship norms weren’t imposed (polyamory FTW!)
It’s been twenty years since the series finale of the original, an event I missed because I didn’t have a TV. Or a home. I’ve never gone back and re-watched it. It holds a special place in my memory, safely cushioned by the secure padding of my own young naivety. While I had experienced a lot by that age, I hadn’t made the mental shift from seeing the world as it was told to me to perceiving the world on my own terms. I came out a few years after Full House ended. I discovered feminism, atheism, intersectionality and the anti-poverty and mental health movements. I discovered that real life is messy. Not buckets of slime over the door messy, real people with real feelings messy. Things don’t always work out messy. Family is not a guarantee messy.
So while 11-year-old me would have loved Fuller House, grown-woman me needs something more. I need a world view that is not so myopic. I need diversity that is inclusive and representational, not easy or one-note. I need to see families that are like the one I’ve built for myself – complicated, unconventional and open to change.