How the Stars of Full House, Step by Step and 7th Heaven Are Shedding Their '90s TV Stereotypes

Step one is embracing their former characters.

By Seija Rankin Apr 06, 2017 2:00 PMTags
90s TV Stars, Jodie Sweetin, Christine Lakin, Beverley MitchellABC; The WB

It's 8:00 on any Friday night between 1992 and 1998, which can only mean one thing: Everyone in America is glued to their television.

The TGIF lineup was the stuff of legends for a certain generation, and an exorbitantly impressive marketing feat for the networks. For almost a decade, an entire population was kept inside on Friday evenings, eating microwave popcorn and watching seemingly average families have seemingly average life milestones. But that was the '90s. 

There's a reason that now, almost 20 years later, phrases like Full House and Step by Step and 7th Heaven are still relevant. Sure, it's partly because we can't let go of the past (it's something we're all working on), but it's also a testament to the soothing power of family sitcoms. Listening to the sage words of Danny Tanner is akin to curling up in a fleece blanket and drinking hot tea. 

But, what happens to the pop culture of a nation that just can't get out of the past? And, more importantly, what happens to the actresses whose very identities are woven into that pop culture? That's what Jodie SweetinBeverley Mitchell and Christine Lakin are trying to work out. 

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America knows these women better by their former television personas: Stephanie Tanner, Lucy Camden and Al Lambert. For the better part of a decade they were our female role models. We grew up with them, watching them go from feisty children to angst-y teens. While the characters lived in wholly different onscreen universes, they all represent the same zeitgeist of that era—they were girls with multi-faceted personalities, who gave us more to worship onscreen than their often one-dimensional TV siblings. 

Tropes were an unfortunate side effect of '90s programming, but viewers were able to see themselves in these girls. No offense to the Michelle Tanners of pop culture, but it's refreshing to look back and feel like, even years later, female characters were treated as something more than vapid. So, it only makes sense that in 2017 these three actresses are finding themselves navigating the nostalgia landscape together. 

As of April 12 at 8 p.m., they're back on television, together. Lakin, Sweetin and Mitchell will be starring in Pop TV's Hollywood Darlings, a Curb Your Enthusiasm-esque fake-reality reality show that follows exaggerated versions of their real personalities. It turns out that while the rest of us were reveling in reruns, the actresses were keeping up their tightly-knit child star bond. 

"This project came about because we were all friends and grew up in the business," Sweetin explained to E! News. "We wanted to show a different side of ourselves. This is a much more adult-humored, fun, different style of comedy." 

Hollywood Darlings is about as self-aware as it gets, and if the plot could be summed up easily it would be, what do three child stars do with their time now that they're not child stars anymore? As much of a novelty as it is for viewers to see Stephanie, Lucy and Al on a television show that isn't a crossover episode from their childhood dreams, it very much mimics their lives today. As Lakin explained, they teamed up to be able to finally get ahead of their narrative. 

"We're all three executive producers on the show, and we have an idea of how we wanted to portray these heightened versions of ourselves," she said. "We were able to take this project into our own hands, and to me it's kind of the most satisfying way to take control of your career." 

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This show is clearly a reflection of, and reaction to, our current reboot culture. One scroll through your DVR, or the home page of Netflix, will reveal that truly everything old is new again. So the first question to ask is, why does this culture even exist? Why are there so many reboots that three former child stars felt compelled to create an entire facetious show around said reboots? 

One easy assumption is that television networks have than the idea that if something works, keep doing it, to heart. But, these stars have a more nuanced theory. 

"I think a big piece of it [reboot culture] is that a lot of people that are creating television now are the people that are our age, have kids, and watched these shows growing up," Sweetin said. "I think that has a huge appeal. Once you have kids, you sort of get that sense of wanting your own childhood back or to recreate the things that were special to you."

Mitchell echoes this sentiment, and takes it one step further, venturing to say that we should all be embracing this desire to recreate our very childhood entertainment memories. In short, it's the mark of a true fandom. 

"We had iconic characters and everybody really connected to them growing up," she told E! "You can't get away from that. And it's not necessarily that we want to."

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Watching '90s reruns or reboots may be like a security blanket for the fans, but for the stars, revisiting those TV shows is almost a form of therapy. It lets them reconcile that part of their lives, accept that those characters and typecasting will follow them everywhere and, most importantly, learn how to use that to their advantage. 

"We've all been in the business for a very long time, but there's also something about claiming your identity," said Lakin. "Especially when you've been a child star. People see you a certain way and that's all they ever see you as, and yet we've done a lot of different things in our careers." 

Adds Sweetin, "I think it's really acknowledging that elephant in the room, like, yeah, we all know who we were and the shows we did."

The secret to surviving a starring role on a '90s TV show, the actresses insist, is embracing your past and realizing that it got you to where you are today. So, did it work for the Hollywood Darlings?

In a word: Yes. 

"I walked away from the business for a little bit and now I get to come back and do it again, and do it successfully," Sweetin gushed. "I'm so grateful for that. You get a sense of gratitude for this career as an adult that you don't really get as a child." 

But, don't expect this new series to fully take the emotional place of Full House, Step by Step and 7th Heaven. This is some very non-G-rated material. Think of it like the first time you saw Bob Saget's stand-up comedy routine and realized that he isn't Danny Tanner. 

"We keep telling people, this is not like family television," warns Sweetin. "Go watch old episodes of our shows if you want that. If you want really funny adult comedy than this is the show. This is who we are as adults—there's this whole other side of us that people don't really know."

Consider yourselves warned.