Every generation has their own TV dad who becomes so familiar, he’s like a real member of the family. In earlier eras, it may have been Andy Taylor on “The Andy Griffith Show” or Carl Winslow on “Family Matters.” For me, growing up in the 2000s, it was Danny Tanner on “Full House.”
I wasn’t born when the sitcom first aired in 1987, but watching re-runs on TBS became as essential a part of my after-school routine as homework and dance classes. I’ll admit I wasn’t a “Full House” loyalist because of Bob Saget, who died on Jan. 9 at 65 and played Danny Tanner, the wholesome clean freak and father of three girls — D.J. (Candace Cameron), Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin) and Michelle (Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen). I was unapologetically obsessed with the youngest member of the family, a character who was so popular, she’d make the Olsen twins into tween moguls. In my eyes, the smart-aleck catchphrase “You got it, dude!” was the pinnacle of comedy.
But as I think back to my memories of the series, Saget provided the heart of “Full House,” which began as a show about a family trying to keep it together after the death of their mom, who perished in a car crash involving a drunken driver. As the dorky dad, Saget didn’t have the showiest role, often sharing the screen with his best friends, resident heartthrob Jesse (John Stamos) and class clown Joey (Dave Coulier). But he was the glue that held the Tanner clan together, the Gregory Peck of “Full House.”
No, Danny Tanner wasn’t Atticus Finch. But he could sometimes sound like him. At the end of nearly each episode, it fell to Danny to convey the moral message, usually a life lesson about kindness, empathy or telling the truth. Sure, “Full House” bordered on saccharine, but that’s one of the show’s best attributes. It was able to be comforting and familiar without tasting like medicine. And it defined ’90s family TV, airing during its original run on ABC’s popular “TGIF” bloc — prime programming for grade-schoolers who were delighted they didn’t have classes the next day but weren’t old enough to leave the house. The Tanners were the amiable TV pals who hung out with you after a long week of geography and math lessons.
Anyone familiar with Saget’s career can appreciate how far removed the mild-mannered Danny is from the actor’s Comedy Store persona. As a stand-up, Saget was everything his on-screen persona wasn’t — filthy and foulmouthed, with jokes that veered into X-rated territory. Stamos joked about that discordance on Comedy Central’s 2008 “Roast of Bob Saget,” opening the show by proclaiming: “Now if you younger viewers are tuning in to watch Uncle Jesse help Danny Tanner find a tender way to solve one of Michelle’s problems: Go fuck yourself!”
It speaks, rather profanely, to Saget’s many personas in Hollywood. Beyond “Full House,” he had fans that spanned generations. In my house, my dad knew him as the voice of older Ted Mosby in “How I Met Your Mother”; my brother saw him playing a parody of himself, Bob Saget, on “Entourage”; my mom and grandparents tuned in on Sunday nights to hear his G-rated baby and animal voice-overs as the host of “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”
His talent bridged genres, but for someone who first encountered him at an impressionably young age, his most enduring legacy is that of fatherly funnyman. He was, to put it simply, America’s dad.