Why is Fuller House the most popular show on Netflix? To be clear: Nobody outside of Netflix, which famously refuses to release viewership data, really knows what rests atop the streaming kingdom. But the signs suggest that after its first season debuted in late February, Fuller House shot straight to the top of Netflix viewership. In June, Symphony Advanced Media, a tech company that uses audio recognition on phones to determine what’s being played around the devices, proclaimed that Season 1 of Fuller House was Netflix’s biggest hit of 2016. Last Friday, the second season dropped, and it would be reasonable to expect it to continue to carry on in much the same way. It is the first search result for “F” in Netflix, ahead of Family Guy and Friends. It appears on my screen with 1.5 stars out of a possible five.
I have never seen an episode of Full House. I have never really wanted to see an episode of Full House, having missed the high-ponytail/perm boat while I was still working on potty training. But I have also not historically been in the habit of turning down unpleasant/uncomfortable/otherwise unwise assignments, so when my editor asked if I would be willing to investigate Full House’s unkillable-zombie-reboot bride, Fuller House, I said yes.
Armed with the means (the login info to my boyfriend’s best friend’s wife’s Netflix account), the time (a whole rainy December day), and the tools (a single frozen enchilada), I binge-watched all 13 episodes of the second season in one sitting in an attempt to figure out why Fuller House is so successful, and what lessons I could potentially glean along the way. I offer these in hour-by-hour format. I do not recommend this exercise.
My understanding of the plot of the original Full House is that a bunch of female children live in a house with a bunch of adult men. My understanding of the reboot is that they flipped the model: Now, a bunch of male children live in a house with a bunch of adult women. This turns out to be wrong on two counts: There are female children living there, too, and “a bunch” is a wild undersell of just how many kids reside inside. I quickly realize that I have no idea just how many there are: Within a few episodes, a rotating cast of babies, schoolchildren, and teenagers rapidly overwhelms my ability to count. It’s clear that some are related and some are not, but given that the central three women — D.J., Stephanie, and Kimmy; holdovers, I learn, from the original series representing the Tanner and Gibbler clans — are surrounded by a lovestruck herd of near-identical white men with brown hair, the precise lineage of offspring is difficult to determine.
I have been accused on many occasions of being a “bad San Franciscan” by dint of never having seen Full House, which is set in my hometown. This charge has come exclusively from non–San Franciscans, the sort that turn up on vacation there dressed for the beach and promptly buy $65 fleece jackets from Pier 39. Full House was about San Francisco in the way that Die Hard was about Christmas, which is to say that the baby Jesus would cry. The reboot is no different: It showcases such tourist wonders as Lombard Street and Alcatraz, and manages, somehow, to bring up Rice-A-Roni. At one point, a character suggests that another is “on her way to the Wharf to pick up three new boyfriends,” which is a good place to look for men if you’re really into dudes who sell stuffed sea lions and/or frazzled dads from Iowa. In the sixth episode, Bob Saget goes skinny-dipping in the San Francisco Bay at night. He does not succumb to hypothermia, which is pretty solid evidence that zero of the show’s writers have ever been to San Francisco in their entire lives.
I start to wonder what percentage of the total air time is devoted to the laugh track. I attempt to time it, but give up when my phone starts to overheat. The point is: It’s a lot. When I die, automated laughter will follow me into the grave. I make my enchilada. It is 11:15 in the morning.
Seriously, how many kids are in this fucking house? The Fullers and Gibblers are like the goddamn San Francisco Weasleys. The baby is played by twins, à la the Olsens, and I begin looking for discrepancies during his appearances on screen.
The Olsens, by the way, are not-so-subtly absent. Mary-Kate and Ashley, who together played the youngest Tanner child, Michelle, in the original and made clear that they wanted nothing to do with the reboot, are alluded to a couple of times. This happens most notably when the extended cast — the current principals as well as those of the original series, plus a quantity of children that falls somewhere between 10 and 70 — gathers for Thanksgiving dinner. At one point, a character sighs and says that she hopes Michelle will be able to join next year, inspiring John Stamos to look up suddenly, lock eyes with the camera, and say, “Come. It’ll be fun.” Given what I know about the Olsen twins — that they are very rich, romantically entangled with much older men, and poorly disguised vampires — I do not personally think that this is a particularly likely Season 3 twist.
The adults have the kinds of jobs that a child might dream up: veterinarian, race car driver, jet-setting National Geographic photographer, party planner, singer/songwriter. Others appear to be happily unemployed, which also seems like the product of a child brain. In Episode 7, Ace of Base is played no fewer than three times. I begin to think that I can see the Netflix star rating decline when I queue up new episodes, slivers of stars disappearing as time passes.
An alternate title for Fuller House would be #wokefullhouse. Within the first few episodes of Season 2, we get diatribes about climate change, universal health care, and fair elections from the family’s 8-year-old, Max, who soon adopts vegetarianism. Later, the 13-year-old son is denied permission to play football, in part because of concern over concussions. By Episode 8, we’ve gone thoroughly down the rabbit hole, with a gang of third graders holding an impromptu rally and screaming that they must “make Earth great again.”
Max, by the way, is up to something. Midway through the 13-episode run, it becomes apparent that he has embarked on a season-long quest to wound the beings around him. He sends the family dog into emergency surgery. He breaks one of his mother’s dental crowns, forcing her to flee to an emergency dentist visit on her birthday and miss a serenade by (OK, sure) New Kids on the Block. Max’s sole stage direction appears to be “yell,” which he does with aplomb, usually while tormenting the people around him. Children I have never seen before wander into and out of the house, like kittens.
The la…la-la-la-la-la! theme is going to make me lose my mind. I start to resent the laughter of one laugh-track personality in particular, a woman whose distinctive squeal of delight is deployed less when a joke is particularly funny than when the producers want to give the actors an extra beat. I wonder what she actually laughed at whenever she was recorded. I suspect it was not very funny. I despise her.
I am going to tell you something now, and you are not going to believe me, but here it is: In the latter hours of the second season of Fuller House in the year of our Lord two-thousand-sixteen, WE ENTER THE MIND OF THE FULLER FAMILY DOG. Not just that: THE FAMILY DOG IS IN LOVE WITH A PET RABBIT. Am I hallucinating? I don’t know! The best descriptor I can find for the dog’s mind-voice is “sultry,” followed shortly by “deeply concerning.”
The end is in sight.
Fuller House is riddled with references to various trappings of 2016. Uber surge pricing, vaping, and Spanx get nods; one character plays Pokémon Go live on television. The show is current in a way that feels less like an attempt to be hip than to postmark the action with a specific date. In the same way that the still-syndicated Full House seems to derive its staying power at least as much from ’90s nostalgia as from the actual events of the show, Fuller House’s creators seem to be trying to tether their creation as firmly to its time as possible, perhaps in the hope of imbuing a similar effect.
Fuller House’s ambitions do not extend beyond sitcom mainstays: It wants to be a show where laugh tracks loom large and Important Moments™ are bookmarked with coordinated awwws. That you can see the heart-to-hearts coming from a mile away doesn’t detract from the fact that they are occasionally touching; that the beds of the resident teenagers seem to exist exclusively so grown-ups can sit down on them and thoughtfully expound on life lessons is less galling in a show that only dares to leave the walls of the central house a handful of times over the course of the season.
My suspicion, given the sheer number of them involved, is that the show is made for children. You could also make the case that it is for the limited number of ex-children who tuned in for the original show’s run, the ones who might have thought that “race car driver” was a reasonable occupation for an adult. And now, here, we have it. Just watch out for Max.