On a cinematic scale ranging from “The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story” to, oh, “Citizen Kane,” Lifetime’s latest unauthorized trip to nostalgia-ville, built around “Full House,” falls somewhere in the middle, representing modest progress. That’s because the movie has largely embraced the program’s ethos, yielding a project that, like the show, isn’t afraid to be both sappy and a little silly, while racing through years of on- and off-screen events. High art it’s not (and neither was the inspiration), but with “Melrose Place” and “90210” movies to come, call this a small step in the right direction.
There’s an underlying formula to these films, and “The Unauthorized Full House Story” follows that recipe, starting with the show in production, then flashing back to how it came together in 1985. In this case, a sitcom pitch by producer Jeff Franklin (Matthew Kevin Anderson) is altered on the fly from being an edgy laffer about comedians who live together to a heartwarming family sitcom, because ABC is looking for an answer to “The Cosby Show.”
Bob Saget (Garrett Brawith) and Dave Coulier (Justin Mader) were already standup comic buddies before being reunited on the show, but the former desperately needs a steady gig to support his actual family, even if the saccharine nature of “Full House” makes his teeth ache. As for John Stamos (Justin Gaston), sure, the groupies and easy sex are nice, but he’s introduced as fretting about having been in canceled series, and still awaiting his big break.
Directed by Brian K. Roberts from a script credited to Ron McGee, the movie features plenty of the predictable near misses and fortuitous moments en route to 192 episodes and oodles of syndication cash. They range from Saget becoming a last-minute replacement, to Coulier’s “Saturday Night Live” shot falling through, to the discovery of the Olsen twins during auditions.
Fortunately, the project delivers a slightly higher TV IQ than its predecessor, with a couple of reasonably funny (and historically accurate) bits, like Mary-Kate and Ashley’s attorney pressing for more money and ancillary projects, and the adult actors’ reaction upon learning that the tiny tykes have higher “Q” scores than any of them do.
Granted, there are plenty of showbiz cliches here, including the toll success exacts on Saget’s marriage, and the way the sitcom family becomes a surrogate one, supporting each other through deaths, divorces and everything in between. If there’s one groan-inducing device, it’s the frequent conceit of having characters conveniently overhear other people talking about them, a sort of cheap shorthand to let them display their inner turmoil.
Still, this sort of retro TV is in the zeitgeist (witness Netflix’s “Fuller House” revival, featuring most of the original cast), so it’s hard to fault Lifetime for opportunistically seeking to latch onto the everything-old-is-new-again trend. Besides, for this show to be deemed a success, the audience doesn’t have to resemble anything close to a “Full House” — one of the advantages of living in a fragmented TV world that, in ratings terms, has gone condo.