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Not so predictable after all

Andrew Miller | Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What ever happened to predictability? More importantly, what ever happened to “Full House?” From 1987 until 1995 it was broadcast on ABC and was extremely popular – the key element of ABC’s TGIF Friday night line-up. Now it’s a show on which people reflect with mixed reviews.

The serious: “I’m busy every weekday at 12:00 p.m. watching it.”

The ironic: “I bet Comet has some stories to tell from that set!”

And the confused: “I just don’t get it.”

No matter how you feel about “Full House,” you have to admit that this family-oriented sitcom which ran for eight seasons became part of the nineties cultural zeitgeist.

Many nineties sitcoms began to push boundaries. In its third season, “The Simpsons” became a giant of television that remains on the air to this day, simultaneously ushering in the genre of the animated sitcom not inherently intended for youth audiences. Meanwhile, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David received the opportunity to create a show about nothing. The thirty minute comedy did not have to present a problem in a wholesome atmosphere and force that problem to be resolved by the end credits anymore. The standard sitcom progression would no longer suffice as Ivy League writers and outsider comedians pushed the limits of what is funny. In the midst of all this, the show-runners on “Full House” said, “Nuts to you, avant-garde sitcoms!”

Not that “Full House” didn’t change the rules. It most certainly did. In 1987, America was still holding on to traditional family models. Reagan’s “Morning in America” had not yet turned to dusk: the color of states remained dominantly crimson. Full House played to the conservative by using traditional sitcom themes. The premise of the show itself, however, offered a non-conformist family model: a widower who raises his three daughters with his brother-in-law and his best friend. At a time when America was not necessarily ready to see a strong family bond exist without both a dominant mother and father figure, “Full House” showed that as long as love exists in a household, a family will survive.

“Full House” also deserves much more respect than it is given in terms of its comedy. We look at shows like “The Simpsons” and “Seinfeld”, with ironic jokes so subtle and clever that most audiences will never pick up on them, and we say, “‘Full House’ comes nowhere near their comedic sensibilities.” But that’s because all we remember is Uncle Joey’s “Cut it out,” Stephanie’s “How rude,” Michelle’s “You got it, dude” and Uncle Jesse’s “Have mercy.” What we forget is the subtle physical humor that Bob Saget and Dave Coulier brought to the table, the facial expressions that Candace Cameron and Jodie Sweetin exchanged at Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen’s expense and the hilarious use of the dog Comet who could lighten the mood of any situation. I implore you to watch old episodes of “Full House.” Give them a second or third or fourth try and you will see that there’s much more humor there than you would immediately expect. For example, who could forget the episode where Jesse’s Greek family visited San Francisco. Papouli, Jesse’s grandfather, brings the Katsopolis cousins, including a Michelle Tanner look-alike named Melina. The look-alike was in fact the other Olsen twin in a brown wig playing alongside her sister. Only a show as smart as “Full House” would think to do this: subvert child labor law to introduce a completely unnecessary one-time character and in the process produce a lasting hilarious impression on its audience.

I could have discussed any number of family-oriented sitcoms. “Two and a Half Men” is hugely popular right now despite the eponymous fractional character growing ever nearer to full numeric maturity. If I wanted to sustain a retro portrait of the family sitcom, I could have discussed “Family Matters”, “Step by Step” or the lesser known “Aliens in the Family.” The elder sitcom purists will be mad if I don’t tip my hat to the comedic forebears of “Full House:” “The Brady Bunch,” “All in the Family,” “Happy Days,” “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” But I chose “Full House.” And I purposely intended to choose “Full House” if only for the reason that Jodie Sweetin is a consistently underrated comedic actress. (It still bothers me that the show’s producers sacrificed launching her stardom in favor of the behemoth that is the Olsen twins, leading Sweetin into a lack-luster television career after the show ended).

Yet “Full House” is not universally accepted as a high-quality program. People hate it for reasons as varied as its campy humor or its unrealistic analysis of suburban San Francisco life in the mid-nineties. The reason I adore it (as a show, as a source of entertainment, as a way of life) is its unceasing ability to provoke such reactions and yet remain a genuinely wholesome thirty minute program at its core. That is, disregarding its inevitable turn as Olsen twin vehicle.

So the next time you’re in Best Buy or flipping channels on basic cable, go past “Family Guy” and “Everybody Loves Raymond,” even “Seinfeld” and “The Simpsons.” Direct yourself toward the bastion of hope that is “Full House”. When you’re lost out there and you’re all alone, the Tanners will be there to carry you home. Choopa-ta-pop-pa-pa.

Andrew Miller is a senior English major. He can be contacted at amille15@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.