These days, it has become commonplace to observe that there’s an entire generation of American adults carrying around in its collective head the theme song and a few dozen vividly remembered episodes of The Brady Bunch . The series was a classic example of mass entertainment that bypassed critical acclaim while soothing ’70s youth with earnest but false banalities about the enduring strength of the nuclear family. The Bunch gave comfort both sincere and campy to its decade as no situation comedy ever has. Until now. Many grown-up Bunchers probably don’t even realize it, but another sitcom has come along featuring a family unit that epitomizes the ’90s and has the same nurturing stickiness as the Bradys. It’s Full House, ABC’s Tuesday-night, 8 p.m. entertainment-that-transcends-entertainment. The No. 1-rated show among children across America and guilty goof to scads of adults, Full House is the ongoing, six-year-old saga of Danny Tanner (Bob Saget), a San Francisco TV host and winsome widower, and the extended family that fills his house. Let’s see, there are his daughters D.J. (Candace Cameron) and Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin), his wisecracking moppet, Michelle (played by twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen), his brother-in-law, Jesse (John Stamos), his brother-in-law’s wife, Rebecca (Lori Loughlin), and his best friend, Joey (Dave Coulier). And, as if the house weren’t full enough, the brother-in-law and his wife have twin babies (this last little Full House subdivision lives in the attic).
One reason Full House has become so popular is that it’s the ultimate anti-nuclear-family show — it assures millions of kids in single-parent, extended-family homes that life can still be loving, cozy, and secure. House also offers a bittersweet fantasy: Although most single-parent homes in America are headed by women, this show presents the spectacle of a small battalion of warm, friendly men raising a passel of sweet, rascally girls.
In TV’s dream answer to the problem of day care, the girls in Full House are always being overseen by a father figure they know and love: Somehow, no matter what work schedule each of these big lugs may have, either Danny or Jesse or Joey is always able to be home to prepare meals, horse around, bandage scrapes, and decide whether Stephanie’s old enough to get her ears pierced. As my 11-year-old observes with the mix of awe and sarcasm that typifies the hard-core Full House fan, ”They always end with a hug.”
And never underestimate the power of a hug. Oh, Full House contains its share of decadent postmodernism — Coulier can mimic Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator and be sure that most of his audience gets the joke; the girls constantly push comic catchphrases — ”How rude!” ”You got it, dude!” — with aggressive relish. But Full House is the exact opposite of Seinfeld, whose cocreator, Larry David, became a hero to all jaded TV watchers when he said that in his show no one would ever hug, and no one would ever learn an Important Lesson in Life.
In Full House, by contrast, everyone embraces at the drop of a hat, the guys are as likely to shed a sensitive tear as the children, and not an episode goes by without at least one young character gaining some new bit of wisdom on the order of Sharing is Good, or, Lying is Bad. A recent episode centered on a schoolmate of Stephanie’s who was being physically abused by his father; Stephanie learned that it was okay to rat on the bad dad, and the show concluded with a toll-free child-abuse hot-line number. Imagine Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with ”inner-child” guru John Bradshaw as its mayor and you’ve got the Full House philosophy down cold.
My kids and their friends watch every Full House they can, including reruns in syndication. Look in the listings and say to them, ”This one is about D.J. sneaking out of the house at night to meet her boyfriend,” and they yell, ”Oh, yeah, we saw that one — let’s see it again!” I predict, 20 years hence, Full House reunion specials (”Michelle, now the mother of triplets, brings the girls over to Grandpa Danny’s for a special weekend”) and dinners among trendy thirtysomethings that will conclude with a ritualistic wry singing of the show’s dizzy theme song (”Everywhere you look/There’s a heart, a hand to hold on to”). Watch it now: Full House is intense nostalgia in the making.