The ‘90s were rife with family-friendly television programming. Perhaps the single most embraced half-hour of wholesome TV was Full House, the story of three men raising three girls (more or less). The show explored the unconventional, non-nuclear family, and in doing so, foreshadowed the changes in American culture that would unfold in coming decades. As a product of an unconventional marriage, I can appreciate the sentiment. But this is only one ingredient that makes Full House the quintessential ‘90s show. The other? The continuous, kitschy, unapologetic use of music as a plot device.
Think about the first time you watched Empire Records. Who didn’t want to work in a record store after that? These people made going to work seem like something you’d pay to experience, not the other way around. They came into work when they weren’t scheduled, just to shoot the shit. The entire staff was seemingly “in the know” with regard to every song, pop culture reference, and band ever. They only paid mind to the hyperbole pop star Rex Manning if they were trying to sleep with him; otherwise they were a perfect army of alt soldiers. They were even capable of breaking out into song at any given moment. This is showcased several times throughout the movie; including a group performance of Seems by Queen Sarah Saturday, and in the fundraiser scene in which Gina and Berko perform “Sugarhigh” from the roof of the store. It’s only as a “Year 2000+” adult that you revisit that movie and think, “What the fuck?” None of it was plausible – looking back, it’s not even desirable. But that was the ‘90s: an endless parade of musical montages dressed up as reality.
Shows similar to Full House failed to fully realize the ‘90s dream. There was Family Matters, which had one episode in which Donna Summer made a cameo appearance and sang “Last Dance.” There was an episode where Laura drapes herself over a piano and sings “Saving All My Love For You,” but what else? The Urkman? Spare me, please. Saved by the Bell gave us the fictional band Zack Attack, or Slater and Jessie would occasionally dress up like Julius Caesar and Cher and cover Michael Bolton for one of the million Bayside High proms. Insufficient when compared with your entire TV family performing on stage with the Beach Boys, for Christ’s sake. Music on these shows, for the most part, showed a level of ignorance on the writers’ behalf. What the hell was that .MIDI instrumental shit that was always playing at The Max? Why were a bunch of teenagers obsessing over Michael Bolton?
Full House showed awareness about the way people consume music; the show thoughtfully developed plotlines around the emotional connection one has with it. Here, we remember the best music-themed episodes Full House offered us.
Beach Boy Bingo – 12-year-old DJ wins tickets to a live Beach Boys performance via a radio show – but she’s only granted two tickets, which the family proceeds to salivate over. They all employ histrionics to prove that he or she is the member of the family who deserves the second ticket. DJ is perplexed as to whom she should take along. This is relatable, right? Having to choose which member of your family deserves to be “treated” to something at the expense of the others? What doesn’t make sense is that Danny doesn’t play the power position of DAD by forcing DJ into taking him to the concert. The two fake uncles are living under the dad’s roof; the siblings are like, five years old, and truth be told? Life didn’t really need to become so complicated. In the end, the Beach Boys invite the whole damn family to share the stage with them.
Gotta Dance – Stephanie takes up professional dancing. She busts her ass, struggles with practice, and thinks about quitting several times. When she hears that her group performance of ‘Motown Philly’ might land her an entire summer of dancing boot camp, she throws the performance on purpose and busts out some cray cray dance moves. All of her fellow dancers are like, “Homie, what?” The performance is cut short and Stephanie flails her uncoordinated ass backstage. Insert inspirational pep talk from dad here, in which the Tanners decide Stephanie will dance on her own terms going forward. Stephanie and her dance group give ‘Motown Philly’ another go and this time, girlfriend kills it – and gives tween white girls everywhere hip-hop skills to aspire to. Also, fully grown women of any race. Girl could move.
To Joey, With Love – Jesse gets kicked out of the Rippers for his lack of commitment to the band and begins auditioning guitarists for his new venture, Hot Daddy and the Monkey Puppets. He settles on Viper, a leather-clad stud who wins Jesse over with his insane guitar skills and woos DJ in the process. Basically, exactly what happened to Selena. Except for the murder part. The relationship eventually fizzles out, but every teen girl has to date a hot, rebellious guitar player at least once in her sitcom life.
Baby Love – Michelle gets majorly obsessed with Aunt Becky’s nephew Howie, who visits from out of town for a few days. His departure leaves her heartbroken at age five or so. Who hasn’t been there? She’s totally joyless without her boo, so Uncle Jesse writes her a song called, ‘Michelle’s Smiling’ to cheer her up. The tune doesn’t really do the trick, but it does reinforce Uncle Jesse’s constant need to steal the spotlight via his musical capabilities.
We Got the Beat – Stephanie and her poison-friend Gia form a band with Kimmy Gibbler and a filler character. Naturally, Uncle Jesse finds a way to be involved by becoming their overbearing manager. Instead of practicing their vocals, the girls become total divas and spend most of their time shopping for cropped t-shirts and glitter. Uncle Jesse is fired when he tries to advise the girls that their sound is a hot mess. The girls perform ‘I Saw the Sign’ (an extremely appropriate cover song choice for a 1995 girl band) at the Smash Club. They bomb and lose the talent competition they’d entered. Steph reluctantly apologizes to Uncle Jesse, the well-intentioned attention whore.
While Full House would occasionally reach (really, really far) in order to allow storylines to come full-circle, their commitment to using music as an emotional, evolving component in its character’s lives can’t be denied. I’ll take a shoddy cover of ‘Forever’ over the completely outlandish ‘Urkman’ song and dance any day.