About an hour into The Unauthorized Full House Story, the Lifetime special achieves a rare, honest-to-goodness moment of creative intelligence. While John Stamos (Justin Gaston) and his TV band, The Rippers, are in the middle of rehearsing an unbearably cheesy cover of the already unbearably cheesy Kool & The Gang hit “Celebration,” the entire cast decides to run up and join them on backing vocals and auxiliary percussion. If this were the set of any other show, the musicians would be understandably pissed, but hey, it’s Full House, so everyone’s laughing and dancing and having the time of their lives—everyone, that is, except Bob Saget.
As played by Garrett Brawith, the man behind Danny Tanner has a much more pessimistic reaction to the fluffiness surrounding him, which isn’t a surprise given how much Saget’s profane sense of humor famously clashed with ABC’s family-friendly programming. “It can’t be real life because everybody’s too happy,” he grouses before plopping down on a couch in front of the rehearsal area to watch the spectacle. For a few seconds, it’s as if he’s one of his own viewers, witnessing an aggressively cheery family harmonize both literally and metaphorically with each other. Only this isn’t a pretend family; after the first season of the show, he’s bonded with these performers to the point where they feel like his real family. And yet, they’re still his pretend family on television. If we’re being blunt—and using the vocabulary of Saget’s stand-up—it’s a real mindfuck.
It’s also the closest The Unauthorized Full House Story gets to having any kind of thesis—the idea of how acting in a (not very good) family sitcom that’s so much tidier than the open-ended harshness of real life can lead to some serious bouts of existential dread. It’s never put in such complex terms, but we frequently see scenes of the performers palling around on set followed by a sobering event in someone’s offscreen life, from multiple divorces to the deaths of both Saget’s and Dave Coluier’s (Justin Mader) sisters. During these obstacles, we’re constantly fed lines like “Wouldn’t it be great if your life was more like Full House?,” which do little beyond pointing out that the dichotomy exists. It’s a theme that’s first presented in the “Celebration” scene, then flatlines.
Of course, this is Lifetime—a channel that hasn’t exactly built its viewership on nuance or layered messages, even if the network executives and schlockmeister screenwriter Ron McGee had to have at least a rudimentary sense of self-awareness to even put those kinds of lines and scenes in there in the first place. Plus, let’s not forget about the very self-aware way that Lifetime celebrated its 25th anniversary of churning out subpar movies.
Still, it would be senseless to wish for something like Auto Focus, Adaptation, or any other subversive behind-the-scenes drama, if not for the fact that The Unauthorized Full House Story doesn’t work as the opposite end of that equation either: being a piece of trash so hot, the wavy dance of its stink lines ends up being compulsively watchable. In a way, that’s understandable, as the most scandalous thing that happened off camera in real life was the Olsen twins’ parents wanting a salary increase for their girls. Diff’rent Strokes this was not. But even the salary dispute is treated with as little consequence as possible. The Olsens ask show creator Jeff Franklin (Matthew Kevin Anderson) for more money, he balks at the figure but eventually agrees, the rest of the actors try to get more scenes with Michelle to increase their own exposure, and that’s about it. It’s never followed up on or treated as a source for potential conflict between the cast.
Even worse, the film doesn’t function as a remotely competent representation of its namesake show. We never discover anything about Full House that can’t be found on its Wikipedia page, and the performances, with the exception of Gaston and Mader, fail to capture the essence of the memorable—albeit one-note—characters and the actors who portrayed them. It’s as if someone filmed a TGIF equivalent to The Moopets. This laziness even spills over into the set design. The Tanner house is literally flipped from its real-life counterpart—the living room connects to the kitchen on the opposite side and the staircases in both areas are in the completely wrong places. And that’s to say nothing of the details: The wall colors are way off, there’s nonexistent furniture (and rows of encyclopedias?), and there are hallways where there shouldn’t be hallways. Hell, there’s a friggin’ ukulele hanging on the wall.
This who-gives-a-shit aesthetic applies to the actors’ physical appearances as well. Jesse, Joey, and Danny all start the series with their signature ’80s mullets, but their hairstyles never change like they did on the show almost every season. And the Olsen Twins—a little over one year old when the show premiered—begin Lifetime’s version of Full House as toddlers for some reason, ones who are already parroting the quips that will soon make them famous.
It may seem nit-picky to bring up all of these nuts-and-bolts errors in a Lifetime film, but let’s not forget, Full House was a cheaply made show whose reruns provide a literal blueprint of how things actually looked. It would have been easy to pay even the most basic attention to the old episodes, which would have at least made the movie enjoyable from a fan standpoint. The egregious mistakes could also be forgiven had the creators followed through on their commentary or at least cooked up something wickedly sensationalist that took real advantage of the “unauthorized” in the title. But The Unauthorized Full House Story does neither of those things, never paying the cheapest of lip service to fans nor developing any kind of viewpoint except “This kinda happened.” Hopefully next year’s reboot, Fuller House, will capitalize on the gift of hindsight by either skewering the corniness of the original show or, at the very least, giving fans an unabashed, historically accurate nostalgia trip. Otherwise, it will be just another broken-down time machine—one that can’t even get back to the era it came from.
- Out of all the production errors, the set reversal was the most glaring. Did that bother anyone else? For a minute, I thought that maybe it was intentional because the camera would have flipped around the perspective, but I don’t think that’s a thing.
- At first, Saget’s voice sounded like Coulier’s and vice versa. But that didn’t bother me after a while.
- To its credit, the film did get the various divorces and their corresponding years right.
- I’m sure it was a rights issue, but it would have been nice to see The Rippers lifelessly get through a Beach Boys song instead of “Celebration,” which, according to my inner Full House scholar, they never played.
- No Comet. What gives?
- Man, they really laid it on thick with the expositional dialogue, even by Lifetime standards: “That’s Candace Cameron. Her brother Kirk is the star of Growing Pains.” “What about Bob Saget? You remember Bob. He’s the comic who did the warmup act on Bosom Buddies.” “I love music. You know, I get to sit in with The Beach Boys sometimes.” And so on.