Lifetime is often hard to take seriously. We’re talking about the same network known for ridiculous melodramatic made-for-TV movies whose titles* you’d think were made up by a segment on “@midnight.” However, Lifetime recently made a comeback this summer with its reality-tv themed show “UnREAL,” which has amassed positive reviews and just got renewed for a second season, and the TV movie “A Deadly Adoption” starring, apparently-not-too-good-for-this-kind-of-ironic-comedy, Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell.
The network’s latest attempt at TV biopics (last year they released “The Unauthorized Saved By the Bell Story” and are planning on giving “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Melrose Place” the same treatment), “The Unauthorized Full House Story” comes at a serendipitous time. Earlier this summer, it was announced that Netflix was working on a “Full House” reunion series to be titled “Fuller House” and will air next year. The legacy of “Full House” has remained strong since it premiered nearly thirty years ago. Its dysfunctional, yet amiable characters, working out life’s problems with morally righteous panaceas that made the show squeaky-clean, family-friendly fare is something people still want to see today. Syndication for the show is surely higher today than it ever was when the show was still on the air. And considering what has become of other family-friendly TV reruns of late – i.e., “The Cosby Show” – Netflix has room to explore this all-will-end-well fantasy of TV that is lacking in a sexually ambiguous, morally-corrupt landscape of home entertainment.
Too bad “The Unauthorized Full House Story” is a tedious two-hour spectacle to sit through, a lackadaisical event lacking in the vivacious persona that made “Full House,” with all its memorable characters and sassy Michelle catchphrases (“You got it, dude!”), fun to watch with the family.
“The Unauthorized Full House Story” has its moments. Watching Garrett Brawith, playing the ascerbic Bob Saget, deliver his caustic lines is funny, at times – at one point, Saget suggests that his character, Danny Tanner, have Tourette’s syndrome and “curses everyone out.” But overall, no one will take this film seriously as a “biopic” when it’s given the full-blown Lifetime-treatment. It’s hard to get over the fact that all the actors look like generic versions of look-alikes of the real people. How much is real and how much is embellished crap is hard to distinguish. Recently, show creator and executive-producer Jeff Franklin tweeted that he and Saget never fought, as depicted in the film: “And for the record, I never had a fight with Bob Saget.”
The film focuses far too much on the actors’ personal lives. The focus on who the actors were dating/marrying/divorcing is almost as tedious to watch as seeing how they managed to get the set of the show backwards (the original kitchen was located on stage right not left). Also noticeably absent are the twin boys – in the series Jesse and Becky had twin sons: Nicky and Alex – who are all but nil except in the last few minutes of the film. A few histrionic moments make this a Lifetime production through and through: a tween Candace Cameron storming the set to ask co-star Lori Loughlin about an on-screen kiss, a precocious Jodi Sweetin reacting to the show’s cancellation, a few fights between the Olsen twins’ parents over what’s best for their entrepreneurial daughters.
Despite all the untrimmed fat, there is an interesting origin story the film got right. The show was originally pitched to ABC exec’s as “House of Comics” a show about three stand-up comedians living together, trying to make it big. ABC wanted a family angle to appeal to viewers, so creator Franklin added a story-line about a widowed father raising his three daughters with his two best friends (“It’s about a dad with a dead wife, raising three little girls” says a deadpan Saget about the script) and re-named it to the title we all recognize today. The role of Danny was originally given to actor John Posey, who filmed the pilot episode with the rest of the actors. But Franklin, wanting Saget desperately for the part, re-cast the lead role after ABC already ordered a full season. Saget, at the time, had just been let go from a co-hosting gig at a CBS Morning News Show and, needing to support himself and his pregnant wife, agreed to do the show.
The film focuses on Saget, because Bob Saget. The actor, as most of us know, has a dichotomous career – on one hand, he’s known for playing “everybody’s funny TV dad” and on the other hand, he’s a raunchy, highly inappropriate comic whose material would make Michelle roar: “You’re in big trouble, Mister!” In the film, the character of Saget makes no attempt to hide his anathema towards a family-oriented show. He wanted to leave the show several times, but the film makes it seem like he bonded with his set-family quite well, e.g., the incredibly juvenile scene where the three adult men have a whipped-cream fight during a taping. The Vegas trip between Saget, Stamos and Coulier seemed legit. If you’ve ever heard his stand-up there’s some interesting highlights where Saget talks about an R-rated trip to Sin City with the two other men.
What’s most interesting about “Full House” is how it’s grown into a full-blown cultural phenomenon, despite a less-than-warm reception from critics when it premiered. The media eviscerated Saget and the show in the late ‘80s. The show, although it ran for eight seasons on ABC, never peaked to the top of the ratings. In fact, the show didn’t penetrate the ratings’ top ten until after 1993 (the show premiered in 1987), it was never able to best tough competition like “Home Improvement.” And yet, the series continues to captivate both Millennials and baby-boomers.
It’ll be interesting to see how “Fuller House” lives up to its unprecedented legacy and serve returning and new audiences G-rated entertainment in a TV era where zombies, dragons and pregnant teens run rampant. There’s certainly an element of “suitable for the whole family” missing in the media. But it’s unlikely anything will top the original series that has become an American pop-culture phenomenon. “Unauthorized Full House” is a disappointment that doesn’t even come close to capturing what made the series exciting to watch. “Wouldn’t it be great if real life was more like ‘Full House’?” one of the characters asks in the film. Yes. But it would have been even better if “Unauthorized Full House” was more like “Full House.”
* “The Bride He Bought Online,” “Another Woman’s Husband,” “Killer Hair,” “Abducted: A Father’s Flaw,” “A Face to Kill For,” “She’s too Young,” “Mother, May I Sleep with Danger?”, “Crimes of Passion: She Woke Up Pregnant,” “Baby Monitor: Sound of Fear,” “My Stepson, My Lover,” “Dirty Teacher,” “Live Once, Die Twice,” “I Me Wed,” “A Colder Kind of Death,” “Co-Ed Call Girl,” “Deadly Honeymoon” and “Murderous Cat-fessions: My Pet Tabby Has a Secret.” Okay, that last one I made up – but you totally believed it didn’t you?