DJ didn't make a lot of jokes. Mostly, DJ obsessed over having a boyfriend.
In a time not so long ago (the early 90s), I was a gawky little girl who watched a lot of TV. Some of those shows — like Ghostwriter or Peter Pan and the Pirates — continue to stand the test of time as imaginative examples of children’s programming.
And then there are those other shows, the ones most of us are embarrassed to admit we once loved unabashedly, the shows that didn’t age well: a reflection of lowest common denominator appeal to younger audiences.
Like Captain Planet… or Saved by the Bell… or (heaven help me) Full House.
For good or bad, I looked up to DJ Tanner the same way I looked up to my two older cousins.
These older girls were beautiful, friendly, and naturally attracted attention. Their families fawned over them. Guys wanted to date them. I wanted to be near them, absorb their essence, distil whatever information I could glean on womanhood.
I longed for clothes that would mirror DJ’s iconic 90s style — a closet filled with flower-covered sun hats and snazzy neon shirts. I loved her glossy blonde hair, her dimples, and even her denim overalls.
But unlike my sarcastic, gossip-loving, fallible family members, DJ Tanner is the very definition of what TV Tropes calls The Generic Guy, a character with no distinctive personality traits. DJ Tanner was not the main character — she was part of an ensemble, all of whom were quickly overshadowed by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's youngest daughter character, Michelle Tanner.
Yet, it seems naïve to blame casting when the main crux of the DJ personality problem lies squarely in the writer’s room of Full House. In his video review of the show, Nostalgia Critic Doug Walker argues that DJ and Stephanie occupy "the same boat of blandness… Neither character really makes an effort to stand out."
And his assessment is not far off the mark. DJ didn't take risks — at her most rebellious, she snuck out with best friend Kimmy Gibbler (Andrea Barber) to the mall. DJ didn't make a lot of jokes. Mostly, DJ obsessed over having a boyfriend.
When compared to other teen female sitcom counterparts of her time — like Clarissa Darling of Clarissa Explains It All or Blossom Russo of Blossom — DJ seems like a missed opportunity for the writers to create a dynamic, free-spirited personality.
The adult DJ of Fuller House doesn’t evolve into a more compelling character. She’s the merry widow with a smile permanently affixed to her face, a fussbudget who clears her throat angrily when Stephanie alludes to
hooking up in front of her kids. And in case you were hoping that DJ’s tedium might skip a generation, the kid characters are just as dull as their mom — none more so than middle-child Max, a clean freak whose greatest excitement at a going-away party is wiping up spills with a paper towel.
Fuller House only seems interested in DJ’s veterinary career when it presents romantic possibilities for her to date a co-worker. There’s no real passion for her work with animals, and no explanation as to why she chose this particular field. We don’t hear about her hobbies, dreams for the future, or inner thoughts. Even without Michelle to outshine her, there’s still no visible effort to make DJ stand out in a meaningful way.
But in some small regard, maybe the show does sense DJ’s underlying tedium, even if it doesn’t intend to really correct the issue. In the pilot episode, Stephanie and DJ take turns holding the latter’s youngest son, Tommy. Stephanie seems to chafe within the confines of her San Francisco home — we hear about her travels to Ibiza, London, Singapore — and she clearly longs to return to the road. Her life is challenging, unpredictable and exciting — the very opposite of steadfast DJ’s home and career, as we see in the exchange below:
Stephanie: I've got my music. I love to sing, I love to travel. No strings. No responsibilities.
DJ: Don't you ever want to have some kids and settle down?
Stephanie: It sounds boring — to me, you know. It's perfect for you!
The scene doesn’t really seem intended to be read as feminist transgression — inevitably, Stephanie gives up her traveling to help shoulder DJ’s childcare needs — but it was a refreshing (if slight) corrective to the notion that women can’t be fulfilled if they aren’t caregivers.
The multi-camera, canned-laughter sitcom era of Full House gave way to shows with brave, funny women who are anything but boring. Kimmy Schmidt put a cult leader behind bars. Joan Clayton ran a law firm. Leslie Knope campaigned for political office.
These characters are DJ’s contemporaries, yet their careers and friendships show the spark of rich inner lives that DJ’s dull flame may never experience. If the writers of Fuller House have mercy for season two, they’ll give DJ more than romantic angst — they’ll give her a life.