Inspired by a particularly egregious joke in the Ace Ventura franchise, “Mr. Monopoly Man Humour” refers to empty pop cultural references that elicit laughs on recognition alone. With little risk and small gains, it’s a lazy crutch for writers, and has been abused by shows such as Family Guy and The Big Bang Theory, which rely less on developed jokes than empty references that flatter audience’s abilities to recognize popular allusions. This ironic, self-indulgent brand of humour is at the heart of the new Netflix reboot Fuller House – which re-imagines the classic feel-good family sitcom for the contemporary age.
Reuniting nearly all the cast from the ABC series, the pilot of Fuller House lays down what audiences should expect from the series: this is a wink-filled, self-cannibalizing vehicle for nostalgia. Drawing on source material that was more notable for catchphrases than substance, Fuller House delivers on the formula that made the initial series so popular. Assembling enough familiar faces to be notable, even if they are relegated to glamorised cameos, the show focuses on recreating the family dynamic of the original with an added feminine flair. The ages, the circumstances and the backstory are xeroxed straight from the 1980s, so carefully orchestrated that the show seems to revel in the artificiality of its own existence. There is nothing new, fresh or innovative about this experiment and that is entirely the point.
The opening episode is by far the worst of the bunch. Pandering to every possible question and thought the audience may have about the revival, it goes full-meta in an attempt to elicit cheap, recognition-based laughs. Every reference to Full House is obvious and superficial, often more in reference to the careers of the personalities than the characters themselves. In the most discussed incident of the series by far, the full cast minus Michelle (Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen) break the fourth wall to confront the fact that the Olsen twins decided not to join the revival – unwittingly exposing the fact that the Olsens likely have better taste and business acumen than any of the other actors involved.
As the show progresses, it settles on the laurels of what made the original series so popular: it is an inoffensive parade of cuteness. Puppies, adorable respectful kids and out-of-touch parents propel the show forward, with minimum conflict and absolutely no stakes. Like your high school best friend turned disillusioned housewife, the show recalls a Facebook wall plastered with pseudo-inspirational quotes and pictures of ugly animals in unusual situations. It’s cute for cuteness’ sake, which, in 2016, feels especially tired as a concept for a TV show.
This is counterbalanced by a strangely crude sensibility that revels in jokes about bodily functions and adolescent sexuality. Sometimes, the two worlds meet, as in Episode 4 (The Not-So-Great Escape) when we close on the image of a naked Stephanie hanging in a barrel of tomato juice, which overflows obscenely onto the floor of a veterinary office; two of her nephews and a bunch of puppies also bathed in red liquid complete the horror image. The moment feels more David Lynch than family friendly, and DJ’s reaction to snap a picture for Facebook only adds to the discomfort.
And yet, the show becomes increasingly bearable as it wears on. It’s hard to say why, because the writing doesn’t necessarily improve, and it certainly doesn’t become more memorable. Maybe a sort of Stockholm Syndrome sets in; once you’ve decided you’re in for the ride it’s better to just accept the numbing lack of substance than to fight against it. Fuller House may be built with fans in mind, but only serves to illuminate how vapid Full House really was. As the show builds on the legacy of the original series, it showcases that when push comes to shove, Full House was never more than fortune cookie morals with a handsome cast, some cute kids and a puppy. Netflix has already announced a second season.
Fuller House is available exclusively on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.