Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Unauthorized “Full House” Story (Side Street Post/Lifetime, 2015)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2015 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last night I watched the so-called “world premiere” on Lifetime of the film The Unauthorized “Full House” Story, a TV-movie about the production and run of a TV sitcom called Full House that I never watched when it was on (from 1987 to 1995) and haven’t seen an episode of since, either. Of course I’d heard of some of the people who appeared on it, including John Stamos, Bob Saget (though I knew him only as the host of an even more putrid show, America’s Funniest Home Videos) and the twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, who following my usual “rule” about child stars managed to achieve adult success and psychological stability only by getting as far out of show business as they could and embarking on another career once they grew up. In their case, they managed to become hot-shot fashion designers, and though I’ve never heard of anything they’ve designed (let’s face it, along with sports, fashion is one of the few aspects of popular culture I’m even less interested in than I am in TV sitcoms!), I can respect them for finding a career path that allows them to interface with celebrities without having to be part of the red-carpet scene themselves. Since I’d never seen an episode of Full House when it was new, nor was I particularly interested in catching up on it now (I had vague memories of the title but that was all), I probably shouldn’t have been watching this movie except that Lifetime’s previews made it seem quite salacious, both sexually (at one point John Stamos is dating Paula Abdul and he’s asked about it by an MTV reporter, who then humiliates him by saying, “You’re still on that kids’ show, aren’t you?”) and capitalistically (with the Olsen twins — who were double-cast as the same character on Full House; it’s a common dodge for producers to get around California’s laws limiting the hours children can work by casting a pair of identical twins as a single character — emerging as the stars of the show, their agent demands that their salary be doubled — “each,” he quickly adds, meaning that the producers will have to pay four times as much to them via their parents, who are having their own argument since their dad wants to grab every quick buck he can from their new-found fame while their mom wants them to have something of a childhood). Alas, The Unauthorized “Full House” Story, despite some momentary points of interest, was as dull and stupid as the show itself — as I’ve said several times here already, I’ve never actually seen an episode of Full House but judging from the samples included here, the show was actually dull, stupid and excruciatingly unfunny. (Then again, I find that true of virtually all alleged TV “comedies” — the nicest thing I could say about them was what Dwight Macdonald said about the movies of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s that “in form and intent can be called comedies” — and all too often I’ve watched a TV sitcom in which the laugh track howls with laughter and I want to take it aside and say, “What the hell do you think is so funny?”) 

Though the film credits a director, Brian K. Roberts, and a writer, Ron McGee, arguably its real auteurs are the casting directors, Fern Champion and Jackie Lind, who not only had to come up with actors who were reasonable simulacra of the three adult stars of Full House — John Stamos (Justin Gaston, who if anything I thought was even hotter than the original!), Bob Saget (Garrett Brawith), and Dave Coulier (Justin Mader) — but had to come up with two actors apiece to play the two older kid stars as they had aged during the show’s eight-year run (Shelby Armstrong as the younger Candace Cameron and Brittney Wilson as the older one; Dakota Guppy as the younger Jodie Sweetin and Jordyn Ashley Olson as the older one), and three pairs of identical twins to play the Olsens: Blaise and Kinsley Todd as the toddler Olsens; Calla and Tyla Jones as the twins at age 6; and Kylie and Jordan Armstrong at age 9. There was another Full House cast member, Andrea Barber, who also had to be played by two people: Aislyn Watson as the younger one and Jaime (that’s a girl) Schneider as the older. The series opens with Bob Saget congratulating his friend Dave Coulier for having just landed a gig on the cast of Saturday Night Live — only the producers of SNL withdraw the offer as quickly as they made it and Coulier responds by leaving his cordless phone in the microwave and looking like he’s about to take out his frustration by roasting it. Saget gets an offer to be comic relief on CBS’s morning program, but he’s fired almost as soon as he starts. Full House is the brainchild of writer-producer Jeff Franklin (Matthew Kevin Anderson), whose original idea is called House of Comics and is about the racy, raunchy adventures of three young straight male stand-up comics sharing a house and each trying to break into the big-time entertainment business — only when he pitches it to ABC, they tell him that due to the success of The Cosby Show (a name that plays very differently now than it did in 1987, when Bill Cosby was considered the wholesome avatar of family values on TV — little did we know then that in his dealings with women he was essentially Dr. Huxtable and Mr. Hyde!), so on the spot Franklin tells them that one of the comics will be a single dad (his wife having died three years earlier) raising three daughters.

With Bob Saget still busy on his CBS show they cast the pilot with John Posey in the lead — only after it’s completed and ABC buys the show, once Saget is fired by CBS and is therefore available again, Franklin fires Posey and reshoots the pilot episode with Saget. The Behind the Headlines documentary on the real Full House cast, crew and staff shown immediately after the movie includes interviews with both Franklin and Posey on this typical example of Hollywood heartlessness, with Posey having long since reconciled himself to losing out on a potentially career-making gig (he looks down and mumbles a lot the way Pete Best used to when he was interviewed about how it felt being fired by the Beatles just before they broke through to superstardom) and Franklin justifying it by saying he’d always intended the role for Saget, that he’d conceived the part around Saget’s approach and way of delivering lines, and therefore once he was available it was a no-brainer to go with the actor for whom he’d crafted the part in the first place. The rest of the Full House TV-movie cycles through a surprisingly dull set of occurrences centered mainly around the fear of the parents of the child actors on the show that Saget’s notoriously dirty mouth (when the story starts his ambition is to become a stand-up star and Richard Pryor and George Carlin are his stated role models) will unleash expletives they aren’t ready for their kids to hear. In order to bond and become the best friends the show’s scripts say they are, Stamos and Coulier suggest a trip to Las Vegas, and Saget reluctantly goes along, leaving his wife behind — only when the other guys come up with three women (no doubt hookers, though like its prototype this is still enough of a “family” show that isn’t spelled out) to be their “dates,” Saget begs off — it’s implied that he’s never had sex with a woman other than his wife, which makes it all the more tragic when at the end of the run of Full House they divorce, mainly because taking on America’s Funniest Home Videos on top of Full House has made him so busy he hardly ever has any time with their kids, and in one of the best lines of McGee’s script he wryly comments that he’s spent eight years playing the single dad of three daughters, and now that the show is over he suddenly is one.

Aside from that genuine moment of domestic tragedy, and Coulier’s short-lived (two years) marriage while Stamos seems to be nailing every young, attractive, available woman in Hollywood while carrying a torch for Lori Laughlin (Stephanie Bennett), the actress brought into the cast of Full House in mid-run to play his on-screen girlfriend. Rumors persist that Lori was the great love of Stamos’s life and the main reason they never got together was they were never both single at the same time; though they’d dated briefly before she joined the show, she was married when she was cast, and by the time she and her husband broke up Stamos was already in love with model Rebecca Romijin (Ashley Diana Morris) — the other cast members pronounce her last name “Romaine” and made me briefly wonder why John Stamos had fallen head over heels for a head of lettuce. The show offers little about the post-Full House lives of the cast members, and you’d have to keep watching during the Behind the Headlines documentary to find out that not only did Candace Cameron marry a Russian hockey player, Victor Bure (pronounced “burry”), she met at a celebrity hockey match organized by Dave Coulier, but as a hard-core Christian (as is her brother, Growing Pains star Kirk Cameron), she wrote a book boasting of being “submissive” to her husband and essentially letting him run their lives, which of course drew the predictable hackles from all those hopelessly retro feminists out there. What’s more, the film didn’t depict Jodie Sweetin’s descent into alcohol and drugs even though one would have thought that, out of all the aspects of the story, would have been the strongest and most familiar territory for Lifetime’s filmmakers to work — according to the doc, she eventually got into rehab, it actually worked, and like a lot of other ex-addicts she took up addiction counseling as a career. There might have been some interesting Lifetime movies locked up in the Full House story, but for the most part this is a pretty bland and boring story, offering little of the titillation promised by the “unauthorized” in the title — this is such a whitewash, quite frankly, Jeff Franklin could have written it himself!