Full House

Mum’s The Word

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Growing up in Chennai in the nineties, watching American television, there was a large cultural gap between my world, and the world I saw on screen. It took me some time to understand the way things worked in the west, but what remained for me, the greatest conundrum of all, was the American mother. I was raised in a protective household, typical of most nineties middle class households in the city, so the fact that mothers in the west let their teenagers make their own choices in life was something I found both confounding and exotic (I’ll also go on record to state that I’m glad that my mother didn’t let my foolish teenager self make any).

Although I am now grown up (I think), the television mom continues to be a subject of endless fascination for me. There are a fair number of TV moms who I believe are interesting, but the most interesting, hands down, is Cookie Lyon of Empire. Cookie, played by Taraji P. Henson, is a former drug dealer who spent seventeen years in prison to ensure that her husband could fulfil his musical dreams, seventeen years away from her three young sons. When she returns, her sons aren’t the wide eyed little boys who saw her off at the courthouse anymore, and worse, they don’t understand the reasons behind her absence, and don’t respect her. In the first season of Empire, when she returns from prison to meet her family, her youngest son, Hakeem, isn’t impressed. “Do you want a medal?” he asks. Cookie, instead of crumbling like most TV moms would, goes after him with a broomstick, automatically qualifying her to be the greatest mother on television today.

Cookie is a mother in a dysfunctional family, and while mothers like her are few, dysfunctional families on television are a dime a dozen, with the Tanner family being a notable one. Full House was a show I watched a lot growing up, and I lapped up the squeaky clean humour and the saccharine life lessons. It embarrasses me today, but I know I have plenty company, after all, why else would there be a sequel, twenty years later? Fuller House sees the eldest of the Tanner clan, DJ (Candace Cameron), take on the mantle of single mother of her three children. The show has its flaws, and banks on nostalgia value, but what was interesting was that unlike Full House where it was the children taking on life lessons, it’s the adults. DJ is no perfect mom, and stumbles aplenty while trying to raise her boys. We live in a day and age where everyone seems to have a Instagram perfect life, so watching DJ take on failure was endearing.

My favourite crazy family though, has got to be The Simpsons. Its slapstick humour is timeless and the long running show has won numerous awards with plenty laying claim to Homer Simpson, the dull-witted protagonist, as their life guru. Surprisingly, there is hardly any talk about Marge Simpson, the matriarch of The Simpson family. Although the character was originally designed to be the stereotypical American housewife, Marge’s disposition to handle anything that life throws at her, and her towering blue hair ensured that she’s one of a kind. Despite all the trouble that her husband and children create, she doesn’t lose faith in her family, and handles them with a little love and a lot of patience – which, as any mother (animated or otherwise) will tell you, is the secret to success. Happy Mother’s Day.

{Empire is on FX, Fuller House is on Netflix and The Simpsons is on Star World HD}

Full and Fuller

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

I have very vivid memories of watching Full House (and having long and detailed discussions about how incredibly handsome John Stamos was) when I was in school. It was the early 2000’s, so given the (lack of) cable television services, the ‘80s American comedy about a giant family in one house was as cutting edge as it got then. Danny Tanner (Bob Saget), loses his wife, and is suddenly left to raise three very young, and very lively girls – 10 year old DJ (Candace Cameron), 5 year old Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin), and 9 month old Michelle (played interchangeably by Mary Kate & Ashley Olsen). He enlists his childhood friend, Joey (Dave Coulier) and his brother-in-law Jesse (John Stamos) to help. They move in, and as the show progresses, have their own love interests, and eventually, their own children making it a very full house indeed.

I enjoyed Full House because it reminded me of my own extended family which sprawled with multiple cousins, aunts, and uncles, and also because it was one of the few shows whose jokes I understood because they were always family friendly (and ridiculously cheesy). I found it impossible to be bored of the show because there were so many stories, given the number of characters who occupied the screen. Full House discussed dating pangs, friend fights, family fights, sibling drama and a number of other topics for 8 years before it ended in 1995 as one of the most iconic television shows on American TV. Twenty years later, on the 26th of February, Full House returns, except it’s a little…Fuller.

Fuller House was announced in April last year, amid much speculation and consequently, glee among fans. The story arc of this spin off is essentially the same as the original, but with a gender twist. DJ Tanner, the eldest of the Tanner girls and now mother of three boys, has been widowed. Her sister, Stephanie, and her best friend, Kimmy, move in to help her raise her children. The original cast has been retained (with the exception of the Olsen twins), and the senior members will make cameo appearances from time. The trailer of the series, which has just been released looks like its going to stay faithful to the original, which means viewers will lap the show up right off the bat, after all, Full House is the television equivalent of comfort food. It’s important though, that if Fuller House wants to be anything close to the success that its original enjoyed, must step its themes and stories up to the times that we live in. Every episode in Full House was based on exaggerated 80s comedy interlaced with moral lessons and relentless optimism, all of which can be hard to digest for viewers today (including myself). If Fuller House isn’t going to be relevant and “now”, we may as well stick to watching Modern Family.

{Fuller House releases on Netflix on February 26}