The New 'Full House' Unfortunately Deals With Old Cultural Stereotypes
On the most beautiful day of the year this past weekend, the weather in New York skyrocketed up to the high 50s. Well, that’s according to the weather app I checked as I considered getting out of bed between episodes of Fuller House. Spoiler alert: I didn’t leave my apartment that day. Instead, I burned through the Netflix reboot in a haze of nostalgia for the big family tucked into the hills of San Francisco. Only ‘90s kids may remember the ’90s, but it seems like almost everyone I know has fond memories of Jessie, Danny, Joey, D.J., and the rest of the cast. They were a hug-happy family that fit neatly into the fabric of early-’90s sitcoms, which means they were very white and overwhelmingly wholesome. Every episode was a happy ending, and privilege and diversity had more to do with the food they were constantly eating on the show than with race.
A lot has changed on television in the 20 years since Full House closed its doors. Diversity in both race and sexual orientation has become a benchmark rather than an exception. The generation who grew up just as much in the Tanner household as their own homes have embraced the Internet and, by proxy, I’d like to think we’ve become more woke to the interconnected oppressions that impact people based on race, class, gender, and other factors. In short, we’ve come to expect more. When I heard that Full House was coming back with a Netflix revival series, I was cautiously optimistic. I imagined that this could be their chance to make Fuller House a return to their roots while updating it to fit into the more diverse landscape of sitcoms dominated by shows like Modern Family and Blackish. 13 episodes and a few bathroom breaks later, I finished up the first season of Fuller House in conflicted disappointment.
From the overwhelming ’90s throwbacks and catchphrases to the meta references to being a reboot of a beloved ’90s sitcom (and a few sly digs at Mary-Kate and Ashley’s refusal to return), there’s no doubt this show is aware of it’s space in the modern sitcom landscape. The bad news is, even after 20 years they still don’t seem to understand how to depict people of color on the show. They’ve got the peak whiteness on lock, but when it comes to cultural representation, the show is a ’90s throwback to cringeworthy caricatures.
When you can count the nonwhite recurring characters on one hand and one of them is named (I shit you not) Fernando Hernandez-Guerrero-Fernandez-Guerrero, it’s safe to assume that the show’s creator Jeff Franklin is still struggling to represent minorities. It was disappointing to see a show set in one of the gayest and most racially-diverse cities in the United States resort to making minorities into caricatures and treating sexuality as a joke (thanks but no thanks for the same-sex kisses done for laughs). It’s great to see that Kimi is married to an Argentinian and has a biracial daughter, but when the husband only speaks in an accent so strong that half the cast make jokes about not understanding him, is that progress? Fernando is the hunky Hispanic character ripped out of your mom’s romance novel equipped with an expertise in dancing and an affinity for melodramatic metrosexual antics. Luckily for the show (and viewers looking for some hope of redemption), Ramona and her friend Lola seem to be the antithesis of Fernando’s character. I wasn’t so sure at the beginning when Lola was introduced as the overachieving Asian student with a tiger mom who does her science projects and Ramona’s biracial identity only came up in brief bouts of Spanish dialogue (that went unsubtitled), but by the end of the season they actually achieved some depth.
The problem of cultural stereotyping doesn’t start and end with the characters, though. In one of the most horrifying examples of cultural appropriation I’ve seen in ages, the writers of the show decided to stage an “Indian-themed” party. As if that idea wasn’t bad enough, the party is being thrown for the old white veterinarian who retires after finding spiritual enlightenment in the faraway country rather than moving to Florida like every other geriatric. The party is a trainwreck that includes a sacred cow, turbans, and a group Bollywood dance, because those three elements best represent a country with 1.3 billion people and a diverse range of cultural and religious practices.
From the Indian party to the bad caricatures, it’s clear that Fuller House has a lot of work to do. Despite being a modern remake, the show still struggles to represent minorities in a way that doesn’t devolve into accent jokes and turbans. That might’ve been ok twenty years ago, but when the Republican presidential nominees are more diverse than your cast, there’s a problem. TV shows like Blackish, Modern Family, and Fresh Off the Boat are tackling diversity with ease and nuance. In this new era of sitcoms, it’s no longer acceptable to treat cultural diversity as an afterthought.
Stay tuned to Milk for more nostalgia.
Images via Netflix.