Fuller, Feminister House?

by | March 18, 2016
filed under Pop Culture


If you’re like me and remember the sitcom Full House through nostalgia-tinted lenses, you were excited to learn of the Netflix reboot Fuller House. This reboot manages to hit the tone and themes of the original most of the time, paying homage to the characters and catchphrases of the past.

On the surface the show is relatively feminist-friendly – the three adult women at the centre give the show a decidedly 90’s Girl Power theme, but when it comes to diversity and intersectionality Fuller House falls short.

Fuller House inverts the premise of the original show, with D.J. Tanner, Stephanie Tanner and Kimmy Gibbler working together to raise their children. D.J. is a recent widow and mother of three boys, and Kimmy a recent divorcee with a daughter.

Stephanie, a DJ, leaves her party girl life to help her sister. The plots are fairly expected; not much edgy or groundbreaking happening here The characters have some depth, but overall tend to feel somewhat cartoonish.

Let’s break down some of the good and bad of the show, starting with the good. The heart of the show is the love between three women and how they come together to support each other. D.J., Kimmy and Stephanie call themselves the “She-Wolf Pack” and always have each other’s backs.

[Spoilers Ahead]

The final episode of the season leads up to D.J. making a decision between her two suitors, a plot that initially had me cringing. However, the show chooses to subvert the narrative by having D.J. make a conscious decision to choose herself. Kimmy, too, decides that she isn’t ready to get back together with her ex-husband, Fernando.

The women finish with a scene between them where they conclude that as long as they have each other, they’ll never feel unloved or alone. I like that sentiment. They choose to define themselves by their relationships to other women, rather than to men. The men D.J. declines are disappointed, but respect her decision. That is a good message to send to any children watching.

The rest of the episodes show us women who have both careers and families and who can stand up for themselves when needed.

Fuller House does take a more serious turn in one episode when Stephanie admits to D.J. that she can’t have children. Infertility is certainly an unexpected topic for this show to tackle, and something that many find hard to discuss, but they handle it fairly well. D.J. doesn’t offer suggestions or judgment to Stephanie, she doesn’t blame her or suggest that everything happens for a reason. She simply hugs her and tells her that she loves her and is there for her. The moment is well acted, too.

Another positive is the way Fuller House makes the case that non-traditional families can be just as loving and stable as the traditional nuclear family (which the original show did too). At no point in the series does anyone mention the lack of male guardians for D.J.’s boys or question her ability to raise strong, balanced men. Physical affection between all members of the family is normal and isn’t treated as weird.

However, there are definitely some problems with the show, and the biggest one is the lack of diversity.

The majority of the main cast is white and middle-class. I feel like the creators made a small effort by making Kimmy’s daughter, Ramona, half-Latina. Ramona at one point pokes fun at the Fuller family for being so white. The subject is pretty much dropped after that. There is more diversity in supporting characters, like the kids’ friends, but not among the main cast.

Lack of diversity behind the scenes could also explain one pretty egregious example of cultural appropriation. In the episode where D.J.’s boss retires to an ashram in India, he requests an Indian-themed party. There is an extended joke about a sacred cow, a white baby in a turban, and numerous characters dressing in traditional Indian clothing, doing accents, and participating in a Bollywood style dance sequence. There is no attention or respect paid to the nuances of Indian religions and cultures. It’s pretty cringe-worthy.

The show also inexplicably includes some very grown-up jokes and references in what is ostensibly a family show. There’s a conversation about Kimmy’s kama sutra skills, and another extended online dating scene where a man comes over expecting a date or sex from D.J. There are a lot of mixed messages going on. I’m torn between being glad that these women can own their own sexuality and confusion because there are probably young children watching.

The show also fails to address white privilege or economic privilege. Without either of those things, the women in the show would not be able to pursue many of their interests and be able to stand up for themselves as much as they do. It’s the same blind spot that many white, middle-class feminists have.

Finally, one elephant in the room is actress Candace Cameron Bure and her fundamentalist Christian worldview. I’m curious about how much that determined what she would and would not do and what messages were shown, and if that will influence what direction season two takes.

While Fuller House certainly has some problems, I did still have fun watching it. If you’re someone who grew up with the show and wants to see beloved characters again, by all means watch it. This show knows exactly what it is and runs with it, and is unabashed fan service. I wouldn’t call it good television, but it’s good for some laughs. Just take it with a grain of salt, and maybe pre-screen before watching with actual children.

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