February 23, 2020

When You're Older Than Everyone on TV

“Lately, I can’t stop thinking about Danny Tanner turning 30. This is strange for a number of reasons. Danny Tanner, a fictional character played by Bob Saget on Full House, turned 30 on December 11, 1987, a little over two years before I was born. I haven’t watched the episode since the late ’90s when the sitcom seemed to be the one constant, dependable fact of life— while you were eating breakfast, doing your homework after school, walking up sick in the middle of the night. In short, everywhere you looked.

I only remember snippets of the episode titled “The Big Three-O.” The Tanner patriarch is unsettled by the milestone, his anxiety portrayed the way all ’90s sitcom characters were allowed to show existential dread: cartoonishly, as if they could see stressed-out animated birds circling their head. I vaguely remember a beloved car from his adolescence being destroyed and replaced, to mark a new chapter of his life. But despite the fuzziness of my memory, the knowledge that in less than a year I will be the same age as Danny Tanner is sharper and more terrifying to me than any real-world marker of my own mortality, including the accomplishments of actual 30-year-olds not created in a late ‘80s writers room. Yes, my fertility may be about to drop off a cliff. Yes, many of my former high school classmates have bought homes while I continue to consider how much I could save on rent if I could just convince a few friends a studio could be a three bedroom with enough of those room-divider legos. But knowing there will be a full ten episodes of Full House where the dad is younger than me? That’s not something I’m ready to face.

Using fictional characters’ ages as guideposts for my own life (or shortcomings) isn’t a new obsession of mine. I clearly remember thinking “I am so behind” when, at nine, I read that Matilda Wormwood had checked Great Expectations, Jane Eyre, and The Sound and the Fury off her literary bucket list by the time she was five. It didn’t matter that Matilda was described in the novel as a genius, with so much brain power it spilled over past the normal bounds of human ability until she was telekinetic. If a kid, even fictional, could tackle the classics before first grade, what kind of aspiring English teacher was I to be still reading Judy Blume in fourth? And much more importantly, if I was this far behind at nine, who might I be lagging behind at fifteen or 20?”

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