Between the release of the official teaser trailer and the full-blown trailer to Fuller House, the two videos have racked up over 18 million views in the last few weeks. Very clearly, this show has some major steam behind it. But it’s not alone in bringing the 90s back. Fox did a special for the X-Files, and will also bring back Prison Break. And my wife’s favorite, Gilmore Girls, is getting a series of 90-minute specials on Netflix.
What’s going on? I would suggest that there’s two things happening.
First, there’s just plain old nostalgia. This happens to all of us when we happen to come across an old yearbook or photo album (remember those?!). It can transport us back to that time and make us yearn for simpler days when our concerns were limited to whether or not we had to go to school and what was on the menu at the cafeteria.
A second dimension to this phenomenon, I think, has its roots deeper in the human person. This is something John Paul II gets at in his Theology of the Body, when he notes that the shame and guilt that we feel in the personal realm and, especially in the sexual realm, can be seen to be a sort of faint echo of the truth we’re really called to live out.
In other words, through the pain of the modern world and our personal experiences, we come to realize that there must be something better that we are made for. This, the experience of historical man, points us back to original man, to the way things were “in the beginning.” But it also points us toward eschatological man, the way things will be in the end. So in a strange sort of way, when we confront the difficulties, sufferings, and pain of our daily lives, if we meditate on it, we can see through the darkness, and maybe even in the very darkness itself, a way which points us toward the light.
So, back to Fuller House. Without trying to be either overly-theological or sacrilegious, I think that it’s fair to call this a religious phenomenon. Here’s how I think it works.
One of the main features of Full House, and a host of other older 90s television hits, was their rather clear presentation of basic moral attitudes. In other words, they operated in a universe defined by moral clarity. While there are many tv shows today that try to make a clear distinction between what’s right and wrong, Full House provided not only entertainment, but taught many critical lessons to its viewers.
I, for one, learned not to drive a car into the house and, when I did make small hole in the wall as a 17 year-old lead-foot driver, I immediately went in the house and owned up to my mistake, just like Stephanie Tanner should have. But lest you think that Full House only dealt in humor, don’t forget about some of the more serious moral issues they confronted. In a 1994 episode, Under the Influence, DJ and Kimmy go to a party where Kimmy gets drunk and demands to drive home. Luckily, DJ holds her ground, and in the end the audience learns that Kimmy lost her mother to a drunk driver.
What Full House had going for it, besides its theme song and memorable plot lines, was a vision of how the difficulties and sorrows of daily experience could function as a sign to point us toward the solution. Through those troubles, we can reflect on the brokenness of the world, and look forward to a day when things will be right. Thus what we have is a sort of veiled image of the hopes for eschatological man.
Is that just old-fashioned, “aw-shucks” morality? Perhaps. But in a world where some networks have shows built around teenagers in rehab or cheating spouses, maybe we could use a bit more of the Tanner family in our lives. Now, the question remains: will it deliver? I’ll have to watch it and see. For now, I’m hopeful.