No reboot is more happy to draw attention to its own return than “Fuller House,” an exercise in nostalgia that leans heavily on knowledge of the show’s past life as a prototypical ’80s (and ’90s) family sitcom. Old catchphrases are pulled out of storage, past stars stop by for strategically deployed visits, and a new crop of kids delivers corny lines. Those who enjoyed the original “Full House” and who don’t mind its patented blend of cloying sentiment, cutesy mugging and predictable humor might find enjoyment in this unspectacular retread. However every time John Stamos wanders through “Fuller House,” we’re reminded that it’s possible to see a better version of this sitcom — in Stamos’ “Grandfathered,” for Fox.
Stamos and other original cast members (including Lori Loughlin, Bob Saget and Dave Coulier) are present and accounted for in the “Fuller House” pilot, but they cycle through only sporadically after that. The center of the new version of the sitcom is Candace Cameron-Bure’s D.J. Tanner-Fuller, who returns to the familial San Francisco home after the father of her three sons dies. Her sister Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin) and her friend Kimmy Gibbler (Andrea Barber) pitch in to help her raise her three boys, the youngest of which is a baby played by twins.
That element of the new show is, of course, a gender flip of part of the premise of the original, in which Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen portrayed the youngest of the family, Michelle. The Olsen twins did not agree to be part of the reboot, and there is a pointed comment about their absence in the pilot, after which the cast looks directly at the camera with exasperated expressions. But that scene — one of many meta moments in this self-obsessed revival — only fuels the idea that it may have been a good idea for the Olsens to avoid the reboot, given that it’s mainly concerned with painstakingly re-creating and celebrating a program that was, in its heyday, a compilation of some of pre-millennial TV’s loudest and most contrived tendencies.
Cameron-Bure, a skilled and likable actress, is a solid foundation on which to build this version of the show, and there are a few laughs to be had, especially whenever Stamos is around, which isn’t often enough. Moreover, there certainly are reasons to celebrate the idea of a streaming service spending money on a mainstream multicamera comedy: In this era of niche-ification, there’s no reason that storied TV format shouldn’t get a chance to thrive.
Still, given the array of multicam classics potentially worth reviving, it’s a little deflating to know that this is the old sitcom Netflix chose to bring back. Sure, thanks to the rise of streaming services, it’s now possible via weaponized nostalgia to get attention by bringing back programs people liked in the past (see also “The X-Files,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Twin Peaks,” etc.). But ideally, every reboot should prove its worth by offering substantial reasons for the program’s renewed existence. Despite Cameron-Bure’s charm and the occasional well-timed zinger, “Fuller House” doesn’t pass that test.
In general, it’s simply odd for a show this derivative to frequently give the impression that it’s taking a victory lap simply for existing. It’d be nice if “Fuller House” had taken the DNA of the original and freshened it up a bit for the era in which it finds itself, and it’d be even better if the new version had more lines that were actually funny, but effective jokes are few and far between. Laughs centered on Kimmy’s “wacky friend” persona, dialogue about hot-to-trot Latin lovers, and humor that relies on farts and baby poop abound, and there’s also a nudge-nudge joke about how Kimmy now knows all about the Kama Sutra. The third episode has a series of extended dance sequences that serve no discernible purpose, and that installment also has an awkwardly inserted guest appearance from Macy Gray. The most notable concession to the conventions of the streaming era are episode running times that stretch well past 30 minutes. As Stephanie used to say, “How rude!”
There is a nimbleness and familiarity to the way that Cameron-Bure, Sweetin and other members of the original cast work together, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with a show that celebrates the loyalty and solidarity that a family can share. Group hugs are nothing to sneer at, and this show has a lot of them. But “Fuller House” continually goes to the well of having cute kids mug for the camera as they practically yell their lines, and just a little of its self-congratulatory, blaring obviousness goes a long way. There is some real affection that sneaks through, but much of it is too obviously and laboriously manufactured.
At one point, the show stacks the deck by having one of D.J.’s cute young sons frolic with a litter of puppies as a tow-headed baby looks on. Viewers not blinded by nostalgia for an overly idealized past may find that it is very possible to resist such obvious, if adorable, enticements.