I’d like to start, if I may, with a bit of vulnerability. I have doubts—such doubts—as to what it is that I’m doing here. I’ve been The Fandomentals’ assiduous Fuller House reviewer for three years now, and each time I sit down to write about this show, it’s with a certain sour dismay. It is not good. It is not interesting. It is seldom funny. Perhaps most fascinating still, it seems to have glimpses of self-hatred, no doubt in response to its entire premise being a cynical way of milking our nostalgia.
I’m afraid these opinions of mine are quite unshakable at this point, because I know they’re with reason. Many reasons, in fact, which I can document in every episode.
Yet as I sat on my couch over the weekend, actively rooting for Steph’s in vitro fertilization to fail, I began to wonder to myself: am I too far gone? Would anything have pleased me? Is there any way this saccharine show of the late 80s/early 90s could have been rebooted where I would have accepted it?
3B provided flashes of such a show, believe it or not. I’ll admit there were a few occasions (possibly as many as four!) where I audibly laughed. “That uh…that was actually pretty good,” I’d say sheepishly to my partner, who had made the very good decision to play a turn-based RPG next to me on the couch while I worked my way through the new nine episodes. They were all of a common theme, however: calling out the stupidity of the tropes Fuller House thrives on.
For instance, Danny gets reunited with Vicky for one conversation on their couch, where she expresses incredulity at his family’s staunch refusal to join the 20th century.
Danny: Anyway, this evening, the girls are throwing a “Dad-iversary” party for us at the Smash Club, if you’d like to go.
Vicky: You guys are still naming your parties? And there’s still a Smash Club? Don’t tell me Jesse and the Rippers are playing.
Danny: No, I doubt those guys are still alive.
Similarly, Becky was finally given lines unrelated to babies, and it turns out she thinks her husband and Joey are kind of idiots.
Jesse: Well, is the Smash Club still radical or what?
Becky: At the risk of bursting your bubble, this is a laundromat.
Jesse: Yes, I know that. It is now, but Joey and I are gonna restore it to its former glory.
Becky: Wouldn’t it have been easier to buy a nightclub and rename it?
Jesse: No, it wouldn’t have been easier, huh, because it’s too late. We paid cash. That’s how we got an eight-hour escrow.
Oh and then for some reason the Beach Boys are at the “Smash Club” doing their laundry. Just…that’s the gag. Of course they end up singing, but for a moment it was just a good ol’ absurdist humor.
Thinking back, maybe I only liked the last episode.
These moments, of course, were fleeting, and far from the overriding tone of the season. That, instead, revolved around (and forgive me for some spoilers here) DJ and Steve trying to make a go of things, a friend of Jackson’s named ‘Mankowski’ uncomfortably hitting on DJ every time he came over, Jackson and Rocki becoming somewhat of romantic interests to one another (they both seem to change their minds on what this entails every episode), Ramona continuing to dance in high school, Steph finding a surrogate mother to carry her baby, and Max and Tommy still existing in vaguely appropriate ways for an elementary schooler and toddler. There’s an episode where Ramona and Jackson dress up as pilgrims and can’t navigate to their school without cellphones. There’s no particular reason I have for telling you this, other than having you understand that I sat through an episode where Ramona and Jackson dress up as pilgrims and can’t navigate to their school without cellphones.
There’s still plenty of issue I take with in terms of the show’s jokes, no matter how wholesome the packaging. Deviation from gender norms once again received a good yuck from the studio audience, and if you thought Fernando’s accent existing (or something) was a knee-slapper, just wait until you get a load of him finding out that he is 1/32 Jewish, so naturally he buys smoked fish and complains about his poor physicality.
The best choice Fuller House made in this regard was to set Steven and CJ’s wedding in Japan, where there tends to be a favorable and lenient view of cultural exchange. Yes, it included Kimmy Gibbler performing a bastardization of kabuki dance, but at least CJ’s Japanese stepfather was given a reaction shot where he shook his head and said, “Americans,” in a disgusted tone. Needless to say this show has now alleviated any concerns I might have had regarding Stephen Sondheim’s agency to write Pacific Overtures.
There’s also some aspects of this season that I can’t make heads or tails of, and I suspect that the writers never bothered to figure it out. Why are we now encouraged to root for Steve as DJ’s partner, despite him being portrayed as incredibly creepy (to the point of seeking out a near-clone of hers to date) in the past? How was she able to accept a job offer for him on his behalf? What function does Rocki serve at all? She’s a punk girl who can’t conform to the rules, but is the idea to get Jackson to staunchly reject this point of view? To learn how to pursue a girlfriend without devolving into Nice Guy™ tactics? Did the writers only recently remember that Tommy existed?
Instead, all the effort seemed to be poured into one storyline: Steph’s.
I never liked it. It’s not as though there aren’t women who are told they can’t have kids, find out different information later, pursue options such as in vitro fertilization, and stress about the success rate because of the emotional toll of the whole thing. Of course there, and I truly hope that there were women who found Steph’s tale validating and inspirational, even in much different circumstances.
My issue, however, is that there was only ever one conclusion of this plotline that was endorsed by the narrative. Infertility in media is often treated as a problem to fix, and this was far from any exception. Despite very reasonable emotional reservations and mental health/financial concerns, Steph was strong-armed into pursuing in vitro fertilization, and had she said “no,” there’s absolutely no way the studio audience would have been cheering as they did to her “yes.”
Then in the back-half of this season, it was (of course) a foregone conclusion that the in vitro would be a success. After all, nothing else is happy or TV-ready, is it? The writers did their best to try and pretend there was actual tension in this, like telling us that there was “less than a 50% chance of success,” but this is Fuller House, where everything just *works out*. Who would want to watch a show where a woman would have to confront societal expectations placed on her body and redefine herself within that paradigm?
I guess it is too much to ask Fuller House to lead the dialogue in this realm, but frankly even in telling this tale, it seemed there was no basic research conducted. Steph was taking hormone shots before any surrogate was found, for instance. The point of hormones is to sync up her cycle with a surrogate, so there’s no reason she’d need to do this, other than that they thought it’d be funny if she had to have Kimmy administer a shot in her butt. It also means that Steph opted to make embryos ahead of time and freeze them, which given the fact that there was less than a 50% chance of successfully creating one, is appallingly risky. Her interviews of surrogates focused on making fun of the types of women who would be in need of money and thus be willing to put their own bodies through this (based on outdated stereotypes of the welfare system, not struggling millennials buried in debt or anything), rather than say, legitimate screening for someone healthy. Oh, and the hilarious punchline was that Jimmy, the baby daddy, wanted to know their views on Sasquatch. Finally, for maximum humor, Steph put her three viable embryos into Kimmy Gibbler, who is at least forty-years-old at this point. Which would be considered a risky pregnancy already, even without artificial insemination.
So yes, I found myself rooting against the whole thing. Because this is actually something pretty serious for a lot of women. And many in the same situation would have chosen not to go through with it at many points in the process. Not to mention, we were even told that if it failed, Steph could always adopt and that would be fulfilling, just like it was for Becky and Jesse. So why was that not more of a conversation? Why are we supposed to laugh at Kimmy doing a very altruistic thing, simply because her somewhat zany behavior has annoyed Steph before? (Also at this point, her resistance to Kimmy just makes her seem like an asshole. This is the woman who started off the show giving her a job when she was completely unqualified, and has never been anything but blindly supportive through its run. Now she’s willingly putting her body through this, and wasn’t even considering compensation.)
DJ: Well, [Kimmy] went with me to the doctor today, and it turns out she’s your perfect surrogate.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?? THIS ISN’T LIKE GIVING BLOOD; ANYONE CAN BE A “MATCH”! IT’S ABOUT HEALTH AND FERTILITY!! (Unless, of course, the doctor was aware of Stephanie’s views on selective reduction and abortion and Kimmy’s lined up perfectly, which seems very Fuller House to me…)
I wouldn’t be harping on this if it hadn’t been the entire basis of 3B. You can make a slim argument that DJ and Steve’s romance was a major thread, but the month they agreed to not date each other ate up most of the episodes, and he reappeared just in time for DJ to accept a job in a different city on his behalf. Which I’m sure his new employer wouldn’t have questioned at all. So if the Steph storyline was something the writers were so eager to tell, couldn’t they have at least bothered to do their homework?
I guess they don’t need to, though. Fuller House still has cute dogs, random dance numbers, and chaste yet archaic-to-the-point-of-offensive humor. There’s no official Season 4 announcement, but if it’s plodded on for this long, I don’t see why it’d stop now. 3B doesn’t stand out as especially bad, or interesting, or anything really. It just exists, like it has, and like I’m guessing it will continue to do. The ending left room for Danny, Joey, and Jesse to come back as regulars, and why not at this point.
I think I could have accepted a show that updated its humor. That made an effort to expand its former definition of inclusivity. That told one—just one—unpredictable story. But the one thing Fuller House is decidedly not is brave. So I’ll hold out hope that Michelle somehow gets written is as an unabashed modern feminist who shreds through her family’s political passivity and downward-angled punches. (Literally anyone could play her and it’d be fine. Elizabeth Olsen isn’t busy or anything, right?) Meanwhile, the writers will find new wacky antics for Kimmy and new reasons to stick outfits on Cosmo.