Bob Saget’s Full House role made him dad to a generation
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/01/2022 (385 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
As an Elder Millennial, I knew Bob Saget best as Danny Tanner.
Danny Tanner, the corny, khaki-loving, clean-freak patriarch at the centre of ABC’s saccharine sitcom Full House, who dispensed both hugs and advice to the three daughters he’s raising with the help of his brother-in-law, Jesse (John Stamos), and best friend Joey (Dave Coulier) after the death of his wife.
Full House aired from 1987 (the year I turned two) to 1995 (the year I turned 10), so it loomed large in my childhood; the theme song, Everywhere You Look, still gets in my head and my crush on Stamos, it turns out, is lifelong.
The show does not hold up very well, but certain storylines live rent-free in my mind — like the one where D.J. (Candace Cameron Bure), the eldest Tanner daughter, starves herself to look good in a bathing suit.
It’s telling, perhaps, that when Saget was found dead at the age of 65 in his Orlando hotel room on Sunday, people searched “Danny Tanner death” on Google.
To an entire generation, that’s who he was: Danny Tanner, TV’s nicest dad. Whenever those girls stormed off, Danny always followed — and always knew exactly what to say. Cue the twinkly after-school special music.
The most destabilizing thing about being a member of the Full House generation, however, was eventually having to reconcile Saget’s image as America’s Dad — both on Full House and in his role as host of America’s Funniest Home Videos — and as standup comedian who worked very, very blue.
Seeing Danny Tanner pop up on Entourage, for example, or hearing his take on the infamous dirty joke at the centre of the eponymous 2005 documentary The Aristocrats, will never not be shocking — in large part because, to many of us, Bob Saget is Danny Tanner. He was acutely aware of his alter-ego: the title of his 2014 memoir is Dirty Daddy: The Chronicles of a Family Man Turned Filthy Comedian.
For Saget, Danny Tanner was both shackle and golden handcuff; he reprised the role for the Netflix sequel series Fuller House, which ran until 2020.
Of course, Bob Saget is not Danny Tanner. He’s an actor who became inextricably linked to the role that made him famous, much the way Jennifer Aniston will never fully escape being Rachel Green, or how, to many people, James Gandolfini will forever be Tony Soprano and Sarah Jessica Parker will always be Carrie Bradshaw.
Full House wasn’t a hit NBC sitcom or a prestige HBO property, but it had its own kind of cultural endurance, rooted in nostalgia. It was a formative show that showed a generation of kids a different kind of family and a different kind of TV dad — one who was neither blustering patriarch or bumbling Homer Simpson.
You can’t imagine that role inhabited by anyone else.
Saget’s obvious desire to create some distance between who he was as a comedian and the role he became famous for is understandable — especially since Danny Tanner is the earnest, good-hearted geek in a world where everyone just wants to be cool. (And, in all likelihood, the thrill of seeing Danny Tanner get raunchy probably only helped his standup career.)
But the flip side is, you can’t imagine that role inhabited by anyone else. In fact, the showrunners couldn’t imagine it either; Danny Tanner briefly was played by someone else in an unaired pilot. It’s not hard to see how a career-defining role may eventually start to feel like a career-limiting one — but there’s a blessing in that most unrelatable curse.
Actors may die, but beloved characters have a way of living on forever.
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and author of the newsletter, NEXT, a weekly look towards a post-pandemic future.