This is a review of the Unauthorized Full House Story, a Lifetime Movie production based on the true story of the making of the sitcom Full House, that ran for 192 episodes from 1987-1995. The movie aired on Saturday, 22nd of August 2015 on the Lifetime channel.
I watched a lot of shit as a kid and teen. Living in the Austrian countryside in pre- internet times, with no car or motorbike, TV was the only entertainment -or better, the best way to kill time. Especially if you are rather on the geeky, less jock-y side.
The next video rental store was a one hour- long bike ride away and did not have that great a selection anyway. Usually the new films were already rented by others and the old ones unwatchable, because the tapes had been worn out by 100s of VHS players. So renting a movie was not always an option.
That’s why I devoured hundreds of hours of afternoon TV-series, from great stuff like Star Trek- The Next Generation to more cheesy fare like Knight Rider or, the for all kinds of different reasons educational Baywatch. And of course all the stupid sitcoms. Afternoon TV was clogged with the sitcoms that came out during the late 80s and early 90s and they were mostly crap. Not that that genre had, apart from a few standout series, ever been a goldmine of high quality entertainment before, but it took another step down in quality around that time.
There was Step by Step with Patrick Duffy, The Nanny with Fran Drescher, Home Improvement with Tim Allen, and and and… Precious hours I will never get back. And of course there was Full House, maybe my first certified “hate watch“.
The unholy union of manipulative syrupy family story beats, cheap sitcom humour and even cheaper slapstick was a simultaneous attack on taste, intellect and humour. To use a worn-out metaphor, you can picture it as the proverbial car accident you cannot look away from, but replace the pools of blood congealing on the asphalt with the even more horrific view of the worst of late 80s/early 90s fashion (Dave Coulier’s sweaters being the main offender) and the screeching tires and screams of the crash victims with the occasional “Aaaw” chorus of the studio audience and the Olsen twin’s presumably cute baby babble. It’s a fascinating showcase of how an increasingly artificial note started to permeate the family-oriented sitcoms of that time.
Watching The Unauthorized Full House story was a double blast from the past for me. Not only for revisiting the shameful TV-habits of my youth, but also because I have not seen a Lifetime– movie in at least more than a decade.
Reviewing a Lifetime movie is not easy, maybe even pointless. When it comes to Lifetime movies, you always get what you expect. I don’t think there is a more reliable brand when it comes to delivering perfect blandness. So don’t wait for the saucy backstage stories the suffix “Unauthorized” in the title might suggest to those who are unfamiliar with the TV-network that created itself a niche by catering to the demography of housewives. The tame account of the rise and fall of Full House staunchly follows the proven pattern of the generic “success story” format. There is the rough start, the first success leading to the actors being celebrated as rock stars and the inevitable decline, till everything ends on an upbeat note with Candace Cameron’s wedding. Any potential scandal stories are omitted, only the exploitation of the Olsen twins as kiddie stars is briefly touched upon. Everybody is presented in a favourable light, even Bob Saget’s depiction as a cynic is toned down. Among the cast members, the actors who play Dave Coulier (Justin Mader) and Jodie Sweetin (Dakota Guppy) are the ones that come the closest to the originals, if you squint a little with your eyes. The fake John Stamos (Justin Gaston) looks like the sun-shy werewolf brother of the original and apparently the producers thought that any tall scrawny dude with dark hair would make a good Bob Saget (Garreth Brawith). Worst of all are the Lori Loughlin (Stephanie Bennett) and Olsen-twins stand-ins (Blaise and Kinslea Todd), who bear not the slightest resemblance to their counterparts at all. I like to imagine that the secretly watching real Olsens high-fived each other upon this reasserting proof of their inimitability and restored feeling of relevance.
According to this film, all the cast members, with the exception of Saget with his penchant for bad, actually harmlessly “raunchy” jokes were in private apparently identical with their vanilla onscreen personas. I’ll go out on a limb and claim that’s BS, without doing further research. At some points, the movie uses some stylistic devices from the subject it portrays, the sitcom. When the casting director tells her boss that Candace Cameron’s audition was “not special”, the camera pans to the right and we see sad Cameron hidden behind the corner, accidentally overhearing the conversation. Aaaaaw.
When the movie was over, I still had no idea how accurate any of this really is, nor did it motivate me enough to find out (surprise: it was probably not). Maybe that’s a typical state of mind after watching a Lifetime movie, maybe it’s just because Full House was in the end only a fart in the halls of TV history.
Fun (?) Fact: Fuller House is in production right now.