In the final moments of the Fuller House pilot, the Tanner family is gathered in their living room when a baby begins to cry in a bassinet. “Oh!” an aged Uncle Joey says, crossing the room. “I know how to handle this.” The camera pulls back into a split screen. On the left: a clip from Full House, in which the much-younger cast serenades a wailing Michelle with The Flintstones theme song. On the right: the same characters, now 29 years older, stand in the same places, singing the same song in unison. The visual metaphor for the show—where the now-grown children of the original sitcom exactingly recreate its multi-parent structure with joyless Sisyphusian acceptance—is clear. “There’s a point where nostalgia becomes more like necrophilia,” The Washington Post’s Hank Stuever wrote at the time, “and Fuller House immediately crosses that line.”
When Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim—the comedy duo behind Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!—began outlining their latest project, they had Fuller House in mind. Beef House, a multicam sitcom which debuted on Adult Swim Sunday night (after a surprise release last week), follows a similar premise. Tim, “a laid-back rock-and-roll slacker,” according to a release, and his best friend Eric, “a high-strung stay-at-home husband,” live in the Beef House house with three other guys (familiar to any old Tim & Eric fans: Ron Auster, Ben Hur, Tennessee Luke), and Eric’s cop wife Megan. It marks the pair’s first attempt at a serialized narrative and the latest addition to the vaguely meta sitcom canon. If Seinfeld perfected the “show about nothing,” while Community and 30 Rock riffed on television itself, Heidecker and Wareheim set out to satirize a particular blend of the two: the empty sitcom tropes specific to the 2010s. “We tried not to lean into an ‘80s sitcom look. We didn’t want to go retro with it,” Heidecker said on a phone call from their respective quarantines. “More like what you might see if you were flipping through the channels in the past ten years.”
The glut of 2010s reboots, like Fuller House or the Roseanne spinoff, The Conners, shared almost everything with their predecessors—characters, plot structure, jokes—but with a few key differences. “We found things like Fuller House and The Conners so over-the-top,” Wareheim said. “With Fuller House, everyone was so tired and didn’t want to do it. Or it felt that way.” (When Danny explains Michelle’s absence, for example, he cites the Olsen twins’ real reason for declining the reboot: “She’s busy in New York running her fashion empire.” The cast members turn simultaneously to the camera, as if angry they didn’t also have better gigs). Likewise, if the narrative form had not evolved in three decades, the technology did. “When you look at Fuller House on your giant, big HD TV or The Conners, you see every detail of that set,” Heidecker said. “You see everybody’s make-up. You see so much more clarity and definition, that it feels somehow more artificial and more insane than the show that we used to watch on a little box, when everything was kind of compressed.”
Hints of Fuller House become apparent when you know to look for them. Beef House was shot on the same cameras as Fuller House, giving the 11-minute episodes an eerily well-defined finish. They worked with the same laugh track technician, and the relationship between Eric and his wife, Megan, flips the playful sitcom-couple dynamic on its head. Megan seems not to like her husband at all, as if she approached her marriage with the same loveless nihilism the Fuller House cast brought to their reboot. (That Megan is played by Jamie-Lynn Sigler also adds a mobbish undertone for those who still associate her with Meadow Soprano). And like Fuller House, which relies so heavily on its viewers’ familiarity with the original that it provides almost no background whatsoever, Beef House begins right in the middle of things. In the first episode, you don’t learn much about the characters, why they live together, or why it’s called the Beef House. Because of the format, you don’t really need to.
The main problem with Fuller House is that it’s not funny. “No one stuck to their jokes. It was a cash grab,” Wareheim said. “We still wanted it to have jokes. We made the tagline: It’s a Sitcom, But Funny.” The show is pretty funny. It dements the genre’s off-kilter situations (“Like where kids have to build a robot that solves a crime or something”) into manic montages and literally shitty plot points, paired with a sickly pastel color palette and the awkwardly long shots now synonymous with the Tim and Eric brand. In the pilot episode, “Army Buddy Brad,” Eric’s annual Easter fashion show is disrupted by the arrival of Tim’s Army buddy, Brad, who eventually overstays his welcome by rekindling a childhood romance with Megan and using the gang’s bathroom, forcing them to chase him out with a simulated Army drill. An egg telescope, an egg dildo, and an oversized pink suit are involved. In the second episode, the Beef Boys help Tim relieve some digestion issues, using a hot tub and a very long hose. In a future episode, Wareheim said, he drives a bus off a cliff and ends up killing everyone in town.
But the show also has another similarity with Fuller House, in that its appeal relies on familiarity. Beef House may be the pair’s first sitcom, but it lives very much in their old world. Their characters are named Tim and Eric; their roommates, save for Sigler, are all returning faces from Awesome Show and elsewhere. In an old New York Times interview from 2008, the pair described the rules for their comedy: “In no particular order: darkness, discomfort, confusion and things that shouldn’t exist.” But in the first two episodes, at least, there isn’t much that would confuse or discomfort someone who’s seen old Tim and Eric. It all should exist pretty comfortably within their oeuvre, only tamer and with fewer knee-jerk laughs. It’s testament to the influence of their unhinged world-building that seeing more of it now borders on dull.
In his Fuller House review, Stuever contrasts the show with The Brady Bunch Movie, a 1995 feature that emerged after a series of failed Brady Bunch revivals. Unlike earlier efforts, Stuever explained, the movie came out of a comedy tradition, occasioned in part by the Jan Brady character on SNL’s Weekend Update, and weaponized its stock characters in service of seemingly endless step-sibling incest jokes. “There you have a textbook lesson in how to make something new out of something old,” Stuever said. “It didn’t succeed until it was sacrilegious.” The problem with Beef House is that it rebooted something that started with sacrilege, and doesn’t try to take it any further. If Fuller House’s sentimental feedback loop bordered on necrophilia, Beef House turns guys who would probably be into necrophilia into something more like nostalgia.