‘Fuller House’ and the Dark Mirror of TV in the Nostalgia Age

The reign of nostalgia driven pop-culture is here to stay, and so far the results are terrifying. The latest fashion has been filled with whimsical reminisces of millennial childhood, bringing back television, film, and trends that (mostly) deserved the graves they had been rotting in since the dawn of the 2000’s. Granted, there’s a level of comfort in looking back at our adolescence; it certainly helps to keep the big, bad world at bay. However, when is enough, enough?

Netflix released its latest original programming, Fuller House, to the horror and delight of the internet last weekend. A mangled monster of the original series, we were presented with an updated look at what happens when three clueless folks move into together and attempt to navigate the world together. “But wait,” you’re thinking, “wasn’t that what we loved about the original show?” Why yes it is! However, when Full House hit the air in late September 1987 there was still a steady wave of family programming dominating the air with their lessons, tales, and all ages goodness. It made sense that Full House would be a hit on the family circuit, and they quickly reaped the benefits.

Here in 2016 puberty starts at 10, middle schoolers are sexting, and we’re losing the ability to communicate not only through the mediums of email, texts, and phone calls but also in person. In the case of Fuller House the idea of bringing back the family programming seemed like a solid one. A similar idea was released a few years ago in the form of Girl Meets World, a spin-off of the ABC “TGIF” tween favorite, Boy Meets World. Corey Matthews is all grown up with his still too smart and foxy for him wife, Topanga, and they’ve spawned! Their daughter’s adventures in growing up makes up the majority of the show as she deals with middle school woes like a champ.

Girl Meets World held on to this idea of the family friendly programming that Boy Meets World once had, but made the right decision in appealing to a younger audience. Rather than consistently pander to the emotionally available heartstrings of the parents stuck on the station of their children’s choosing, they slip in an adult joke here and there to pacify the need for grown-up content while also keeping things kid safe.

Fuller House on the other hand, went all in. After watching the whole season in one sit down (as one is apt do in this the TV dweller generation) it became apparent that the series had only one leg to stand on—the hope that the kids who grew up tuning into the series would come back for more. And why wouldn’t they? The internet is mostly cat videos, gifs, memes, and listicles all about how great and wonderful the 90’s were. Uncle Jesse was hot, Joey was goofy, and Danny was a respectable widower and father who just wanted the best for his children.

In Fuller House Stephanie is a DJ sex-pot, Kimmy is a goofy mom stuck in the 80’s, and D.J. is a respectable widow and mother who just wants the best for her children. It was rife with pandering, capitalizing on our need for the known, even split screening scenes that would remind of us of how much we enjoyed a moment in the episode.

The mirror these ladies are reflected in is not kind. D.J. is quickly compared to The Bachelorette as she navigates the stormy waters of dating two men at once after losing her firefighting husband. She worries about being “slutty” and is never quite allowed to explore her newfound sexuality, which would make sense, it being a “family friendly” program, were it not for the semen joke made by Uncle Jesse (or the resulting sex jokes throughout the season). In Stephanie’s case she’s inhibited by a static idea she’s meant to embody; she’s a European-centric party girl now with a budding DJ career. Unlike D.J. she’s allowed to explore her sexuality but only because she’s found out that she cannot have children, and even then she’s only looking to “fill a hole” (in more ways than one) as seen by her readiness to “wed” her childhood sweetheart. Kimmy on the other hand embodies what the show used to be—holding onto a world that never really existed while somehow still thriving.

The children pose a whole other problem as they are all living in a world both stuck in time and trying desperately to fit in. The cellphone jokes are rampant and distracting, reminding us that kids really like screens and emojis and technology, etc. They’re so present because that’s all they’ve got; the writers are doing their best to relate to a generation that is so self-aware it feels fake when it’s projected back through the media. Unlike the Girl Meets World model, the kids are almost too grown up for their own good. They acting as a bridge between the older and younger generations. They’re what is supposed to be keeping the kids entertained as they are stuck on the program of their parent’s choosing. And yet there isn’t a single episode that focuses on their problems; everything with them is a side-note.

Fuller House has a problem with diversity, and in order to quell this problem they insert random chunks of culture wherever they can fit it. Since it’s a show about white people for white people (let’s be real, that’s what we’re working with) the Bollywood dance break, the Luchadore style wrestling match, Kimmy’s Latin husband, and inexplicable drop in by Macy Gray are all immensely distracting and unnecessary. It draws away from the core of the show which is simply about a mixed family trying to make it work. That’s where its culture lies, and they have yet to find it.

Fuller House is just the beginning of this mess. So far it’s already been renewed for a second season, and no matter your feelings about season one, you’ll be back. They know it, they count on it; the public can’t help it. For entertainment to move forward it has to stop looking back; Hollywood’s exploitation of the sequel, the throwback, and the remake will be the death of originality, giving way to a steady stream of predictability, which I guess we should’ve seen coming based on the lyrics to the theme song. But dammit if it won’t be fun to watch. Dammit if we aren’t trapped.

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