DJ Tanner Takes Responsibility for Her Fuller House
Alice Leppert, Ursinus College
My essay on child-care arrangements in 1980s family sitcoms examines four sitcoms as models of popularly invoked “solutions” to the day-care crisis: Mr. Belvedere (in-home nanny/housekeeper), Kate & Allie (day-care co-op), My Two Dads (flex-time and work-from-home occupations), and Full House (extended family network). In Full House, it is not only Uncle Jesse and Joey who help Danny Tanner raise his children—it’s also eldest daughter DJ. In analyzing episodes where DJ sacrifices her own social life in order to care for her siblings, I suggest that “through Danny’s commitment to raising his family as an autonomous unit, with help only from an extended family network, DJ feels a need to participate in and further this ethic of family self-care.” I conclude my essay by speculating that thanks to extensive syndication, “these programs duly ensured that the children of the day-care crisis would learn from characters like DJ.” However, I did not anticipate that Netflix would provide evidence of adult DJ’s own child-care choices with their reboot Fuller House (2016-).
In a gender reversal of Full House’s premise, DJ’s sister Stephanie and best friend Kimmy (with her own daughter, Ramona, in tow) move into the Tanner house to help DJ raise her three sons following the death of her husband. As Bridget Kies points out, this reversal “lacks the [original series’] progressive depictions of masculinity. Three women, who are naturally adept at child-rearing only for the reason that they are women, have replaced the three men who, in early seasons, had to learn how to take care of children.” Indeed, much of Fuller House’s comedy revolves around DJ’s adoption of her father’s neuroses, but this character trait lacks the novelty of Danny Tanner’s obsession with cleaning products. Whereas Danny’s rigorously maintained, spotless kitchen was funny partially because it marked a departure from patriarchal gender roles, DJ’s preoccupation with household and familial perfection neatly plays into gendered expectations of mothering. Taking Danny’s household management a step further, DJ carries most of the burden of raising her three sons, relegating Stephanie and Kimmy primarily to comic relief with an occasional babysitting stint. Stephanie sums it up best in the season two episode “Fuller Thanksgiving,” observing, “even Dad wasn’t this neurotic. And he used to vacuum the fridge.” Rather than depending on Stephanie and Kimmy to help with child care and domestic labor (as Danny relied on Jesse and Joey), DJ seems intent on doing everything herself, despite her second-episode family pep talk where she tells her kids, “everybody has to do their part to make this new family work.”
On the occasions that DJ does rely on Stephanie or Kimmy for help, things typically go awry, as in the season one episode, “Save the Dates,” when DJ’s son Max interrupts her date to complain that Stephanie failed to feed him dinner. On the one hand, Stephanie and Kimmy’s irresponsibility disrupts the idea Kies puts forward that Fuller House represents women as inherently skilled caregivers. On the other hand, DJ’s insistence on self-reliance, cultivated throughout her childhood, makes Kimmy and Stephanie almost irrelevant with the exception of their insistence on DJ letting loose as a member of their “She-Wolf Pack” from time to time. Moreover, no fan of the original Full House would expect Kimmy to grow up to be a capable parent, and Stephanie’s (sanitized) wild-child behavior can be partially explained by her emotional revelation that she is infertile. Still, even with two live-in adult babysitters and two kids of babysitting age, DJ’s most reliable babysitter is Joey, who, despite having four young kids of his own, is somehow able to babysit regularly.
The season two episode “Glazed and Confused” parallels the Full House episode “A Pox in Our House,” which I discuss in my Cinema Journal essay as pivotal to establishing DJ’s sense of familial responsibility. The original episode follows Danny’s attempt to find a babysitter who can look after Michelle when chicken pox strikes down everyone but himself and DJ, who eventually returns from her slumber party to save the day. In the Fuller House version, Joey comes to babysit for the weekend so that DJ and her boyfriend Matt can take a vacation, but the donuts he brings give everyone food poisoning with the exception of Matt. Matt proves his potential as a suitable mate for DJ by taking care of everyone without complaint, just as she did as a child. At the same time, the episode effectively punishes DJ for entrusting Joey with her kids, as his donuts ruined any hope she had for a weekend away from parental responsibilities.
Unlike Full House, which trained a young DJ to be an excessively responsible adult, Fuller House does not yet represent any of DJ’s children as potential inheritors of her ethic of familial self-responsibility. Instead, middle child Max gets his own second-season story arc wherein he undertakes an environmental sustainability project, complete with organic garden and chickens in the backyard, thus turning his attentions to civic, as opposed to domestic or familial, responsibility. Eldest son Jackson spends the bulk of his screen time attempting to woo Ramona’s friend Lola, not offering to babysit. Despite being raised by three men who solved every problem with a hug, DJ appears disinterested in raising her three sons to buck gendered norms. While Full House made it clear that DJ would take responsibility for her Fuller House, it seems unlikely that Jackson or Max would be able to handle their fullest house. While I would love to see a reboot that calls for comprehensive child care reform, it seems more likely that Jackson and Max will find mates like DJ to shoulder all responsibility.
 Alice Leppert, “Solving the Day-Care Crisis, One Episode at a Time: Family Sitcoms and Privatized Child Care in the 1980s,” Cinema Journal 56, no. 2 (2017): 88.
 Ibid., 90.
 Bridget Kies, “My Two (and Three) Dads: Full House, Fuller House, and 1980s Sitcom Families,” In Media Res, March 7, 2016, http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/imr/2016/03/07/my-two-and-three-dads-full-house-fuller-house-and-1980s-sitcom-families