The cast is the lifeblood of any sitcom. Writers, directors, and producers all have a hand in guiding the sitcom, but it is the actors that ultimately determine whether the sitcom flourishes or languishes. As the audience, we connect with the actors through the characters they play. Indeed, we care about these characters. Of all the forms that acting takes, the sitcom is the arena in which an actor proves his true mettle. Neither film nor theater tests an actor’s range in the same manner as a sitcom. The genre requires that an actor be charming, funny, and emotionally moving; sometimes all in the same episode.
The undisputed master of the form is John Stamos. In his performances, Mr. Stamos routinely disregards conventional wisdom. Ignoring WC Field's advice never to act with children or animals, Mr. Stamos forged a career path in which he acted alongside not one, but two sets of twin child actors, a monkey, and, in one episode, a donkey that will only relax when Mr. Stamos' character Jesse Katsopolis sings it the theme song from Three's Company. While Fields’ advice is sage for an actor of lesser skill, Mr. Stamos blazes new trails where his contemporaries dare not tread. In each and every scene, Mr. Stamos’ talent burns brightly like a beacon for all lesser actors to follow. It is little wonder that Mr. Stamos is currently starring in one of television’s great dramatic mainstays, ER. Mr. Stamos has long demonstrated an ability to completely dominate the television landscape.
In his singular character Jesse Katsopolis, Mr. Stamos created a man of great inner turmoil. Jesse is tough but sensitive. He is cool but passionate. He is everyman and the superman all at the same time. Nowhere is Mr. Stamos’ brilliance more evident than in the seventeenth episode of the seventh season of Full House, entitled "The Last Dance." Originally airing on February 8, 1994, “The Last Dance” is humorous, yet ultimately heartbreaking. The raw emotion that Mr. Stamos projects in every scene is gut-wrenching. The action begins with Danny, Joey and the girls preparing grape leaves in anticipation of the arrival from Greece of their great grandfather, Papouli, played by Jack Kruschen. Excitement and anticipation builds as Jesse calls out that he and Papouli have arrived. Papouli bursts into the family’s living room, and indeed ours, full of life and laughter. He hugs the family, jokes, and is generally a ball of energy. Not surprisingly, the whole family is captivated by the charm of this loveable scamp. Mr. Stamos perfectly encapsulates Jesse's affection, even worship for Papouli setting the tone for the episode.
In the next scene, Papouli is making his famous moussaka in the kitchen. DJ is in the middle of a fight with Kimmy about some sunglasses that each wanted. Papouli quickly resolves the conflict with a story about villagers in Greece. All ears focus on Papouli. As Jesse points out, Papouli is “passing down the wisdom of our Greek ancestors.” Mr. Stamos’ performance balances reverence for the story with the right amount of humor. After this sage tale, Papouli is quick to inject some levity back into the scene by starting a flour fight with Michelle and Stephanie. Jesse tries to maintain a certain level of decorum, but cannot resist joining in Papouli’s life affirming fun. Soon there is flour everywhere. “Opa!” Papouli repeatedly shouts. It’s a celebration. The audience begins to wonder how the show ever survived seven seasons without the loveable Papouli! Papouli also teaches Michelle a Greek dance. Notably, Papouli wants Jesse to help teach Michelle the dance as it is part of his heritage but Jesse declines. Papouli agrees to teach Michelle’s whole class the Greek dance during her share time at school next Monday. Michelle tells Papouli she loves him and Papouli does likewise.
The next scene, however, is ushered in by somber music. Everyone is grief stricken. Mr. Stamos’ performance, however, is clearly the emotional focus. “Its like a bad dream or something” says a solemn Jesse. The audience’s worst fears are confirmed. Papouli is dead. In a stroke of sheer acting brilliance, Jesse can’t help but blame himself. Mr. Stamos practically reaches through the screen and makes you feel Jesse’s remorse. “Such a beautiful man full of love and life and now he’s gone.” In a heart-breaking performance, Jesse tries not to cry and, instead, keeps busy with funeral arrangements, burying the overwhelming pain. He runs from the room lest the family see the strong Jesse breakdown.
It is only at this point that Michelle returns from her Honeybee meeting. She has made a popsicle house for Papouli. Danny swallows his own pain and reveals that Papouli is dead. Michelle flies into a rage, smashing the popsicle house to pieces. Later, in their room, Stephanie tells Michelle that she “has to be brave for Uncle Jesse and not let him know we are sad too.” Michelle does the best she can but her grief haunts her.
The rest of the family gains a new appreciation for life. DJ forgives Kimmy for their earlier fight. Danny gets a new boat, naming it “Papouli.” Jesse, overwhelmed by the tribute to Papouli, gives Danny a hug. The emotional release that the audience longs for seems imminent. Mr. Stamos, however, expertly builds this anticipation before Jesse rushes back inside the house to make some phone calls about funeral arrangements.
Later in the action, Jesse receives a call that Michelle is absent from school. Looking out the window, he sees her in the boat. When he confronts her, Michelle tells Jesse that Papouli was supposed to teach her class the Greek dance that day. She explains that she did not want to be sad because she had to be brave for him. Jesse is stunned. He explains that as a family they should share their feelings. Michelle, fighting back emotion, says that she really loved Papouli. Jesse shares that he did too. This love is not only evident in Jesse’s words. The emotion radiates from the scene. Michelle asks if it is OK to cry. “You bet,” answers Jesse. In a very satisfying emotional release for both the characters and audience, Jesse and Michelle breakdown crying in each others’ arms.
Jesse then takes Michelle to school. At share time Michelle tells the class that Papouli was supposed to be there to teach the Greek dance. She tries to perform but does a truly terrible job, butchering the Greek dance. Michelle sheepishly explains that she cannot remember the steps. “I can,” says Jesse. In a final tribute to Papouli, Jesse steps in and shows the class how it is done.
In the history of acting, maybe one or two predecessors could have connected with the audience in the way that Mr. Stamos does in “The Last Dance.” To simply call the performance genius would be a disservice to Mr. Stamos and to you, the reader. Unfortunately the skills of this reviewer are inadequate to properly describe Mr. Stamos’ accomplishment in words.