‘Fuller House’ Review: When ’90s Nostalgia Goes Wrong

Netflix revival series is an irritating mix of sappy and meta

It’s still unclear exactly who was clamoring for an update on early ’90s ABC sitcom “Full House,” but in this age of nostalgia-fueled greenlighting anything is up for grabs.

And so we have “Fuller House,” which employs excessive contrivances to put newly widowed mother-of-three D.J. Fuller (nee Tanner, played still by Candace Cameron Bure) into the plush San Francisco townhouse in which she grew up. Seriously, I’m starting to think that that house, or at least the lineage of Danny Tanner (Bob Saget), is cursed — the premise of the original having also hinged on a dead spouse.

But don’t worry, our newly single mom is not alone. Soon enough, younger sister and supposedly globe-trotting DJ Stephanie Tanner (Jodie Stweetin) is moving in to help with D.J. with her three kids (Michael Campion, Elias Harger and Dashiell and Fox Messitt — because of course there are twins playing a baby).

The show has its problems — many of them, in fact — but the biggest seems to be its approach to tone. It wants to be a warm and fuzzy throwback comedy, complete with laughs and awws from a studio audience — a first for Netflix. But it also wants to trade on the winking meta-humor that’s risen to the top of the comedy heap in the years since the original show went off the air. Those two impulses make for an awkward and unpleasant balance.

There are so many self-satisfied references to the off-screen lives of the stars and what’s happened to them in the intervening years, you might sometimes think you’re watching a “Saturday Night Live” skit version of the show. The most egregious is dealt with early on in the first episode, when the absence of Michelle Tanner (Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen) is explained away, followed by a slow group turn to the camera for some laughter- and applause-rewarded fourth-wall breaking.

Such moments would be fine if the show didn’t so often want to shift gears into the sappy heartstring-pulling and lesson-learning more standard to traditional sitcoms. Gears shift a lot on “Fuller House” — and they grind.

The other big problem with the show is the Gibbler factor. In place of an Uncle Joey (Dave Coulier), D.J.’s childhood best friend — and the original show’s Urkel — Kimmy Gibbler (Andrea Barber), moves in along with her daughter, Ramona (Soni Bringas) to help D.J. raise her kids — though the fact that this adds yet another kid to the mix goes unaddressed. Math is hard, after all.

Gibbler as a character and Barber’s channeling of her have not gotten any less grating in the intervening years, though Jeff Franklin and Co. seem to think she’s what audiences are really here for. Wackiness ensues, and it’s exhausting.

All in all, it’s unclear who the audience for this series is supposed to be or why Netflix went ahead with “Fuller House,” aside from the fact that it sounds like something grown-ups who grew up on the show would be into — in theory, at least.

In practice, it’s just a stark example of how nostalgia looks best at a hazy distance.