American sitcoms are often taken for granted. While they’re among the first kinds of shows to ever air on television, the material is viewed as broad appeal that has warranted little real merit until the last 30 years. As Netflix prepares to launch Fuller House in February, a pattern has seemingly emerged between the original series and this new iteration. Both pilots open on the death of a spouse. For those that don’t remember the original pilot, Full House began with Joey Gladstone and Jesse Katsopolis coming to live with the Tanner family in San Francisco. Family patriarch Danny Tanner had recently lost his wife Pam in a drunk driving accident. While that is standard exposition, the first forty episodes of this series kept this death as subtext while introducing the show’s relationships.
After moving away from the death of Pam Tanner, the show began looking for other avenues to milk sentiment. Rebecca joined the show to ground Jesse, while Danny began dating again. Whether it was random flings or his Wake Up, San Francisco co-host, nothing ever made Danny feel whole again. It also bored audiences and another death was demanded. That’s when Jesse’s Greek grandfather was sacrificed to the Gods of Lorimar to satiate the bloodlust of TGIF. Papouli Katsopolis was on a handful of episodes until he offered to teach Michelle the Great Dance on Share Day. In the morning hours of Share Day, Papouli would suffer heart failure and die to teach Michelle about death. The kicker is how the show handled the passing.
Death on Full House and seemingly on what’s coming with Fuller House is presented like a GI Joe PSA. When Papouli dies, it’s handled as a team supporting the closest relative to the deceased in an almost alien sense. Listen to the language of the Tanners comforting Jesse, as he wishes he could’ve done more for his grandfather. It’s about what could be done, solidifying internal support and moving on. Death is never shown as being relatable, just something that doesn’t happen to those that dwell within the townhouse. In a sense, as young Michelle comes to learn of Papouli’s death…the audience sees just how alien the Tanners have become over the seasons.
Watching the opening scene from the Full House pilot suggests a certain metaphysical something about the Tanner household. The stock goodbye is laced with tension, as Danny’s mother adamantly refuses to leave her grandchildren. That little townhouse with the biggest backyard in the Bay Area serves as a reprieve from death. You have to volunteer to stay there and dedicate your life to shoring up its concerns. Whether it be DJ’s new brood in Fuller House or Jesse & Joey shackling their lives to the Tanner family, a bizarre truth begins to emerge about the Tanner clan. They’re not human anymore. What do I mean by human? Well, the family might be the first to break through that fourth wall and subconsciously acknowledge the immortality of TV fame and nostalgia.
Fan demand drives them back from reruns, the same unit exists minus any major new members and the new younger cast is forced to have a tie to the Tanner clan. DJ Tanner returns to her childhood home demanding safety after the death of her husband in the pilot. Sorry for the spoilers, people…but the information is out there. Immediately, the childhood caregivers are drawn back together and DJ forces her friend Kimmy Gibler to join the support circle full-time. Kimmy brings along her daughter to add to the circle of life, as all outsiders are immediately shuttered out. What does this mean about death?
Inclusion as an abstract power requires a sheer defiance of what is held to be true. People are born alone, they die alone. The concept of family, social groups and greater community are only instilled when an individual matures enough to understand their creation. Throughout the original series, the audience watches as Michelle grows and is forced to identify with the Tanner versions of these concepts. Important figures are gone from her life, but all that matters is those that dwell within the home. When the Tanners bond with people outside the home, they either romance or marry them. If that doesn’t work, they befriend them and entice them to join.
Those that don’t are quickly shoved out of focus and become the stuff of retrospectives. Does that turn the Tanner family into the Elder Gods of 80s TV? Well, no. It suggests something far more sinister about the show and fan appreciation of said material. Full House and Full Houser are continued fan wish fulfillment of conquering death. As long as you love something and crush it into the foundation of your home, it can never leave you. It might go away for while, but demand will always drive it back into your arms. The shows’ meditation on death borders on childish and perverse. If you think that’s weird, wait until you hear the truth about Punky Brewster.