You weren’t allowed to have a sitcom in the 90’s unless a wacky neighbor was involved. Family Matters had Steve Urkel, Home Improvement had Wilson and Full House had Kimmy Gibbler. However, unlike her contemporaries, Kimmy never used a shrink ray on the Tanner family or obscured half of her face whenever she went into public. She was just kind of a dumpy weirdo who got shit on all the time by the people next door.
But here’s the thing—in what bizarro universe is Kimmy the wacky, eccentric next door neighbor when you consider the shenanigans happening at the Tanner house? How is it that we’re tricked into thinking that Kimmy is the weirdo when she doesn’t live in a house with her dad, two sisters, her uncle’s entire family and her dad’s unmarried college buddy?
To everybody else in the neighborhood, the Tanners must seem like some creepy cult polygamist family of serial killers. First of all, every single adult in the household is a quasi-celebrity. Danny and Becky host a local morning talk show, Joey is a stand-up comedian and ventriloquist who hosts his own children’s show and Jesse is apparently a popular enough singer to warrant impromptu jam sessions with the Beach Boys, which only continues to add to the Manson-esque mystique of the Tanner clan.
The point is, these are people who really could and should be living on their own by now but are somehow compelled to live in basements and attics, like college students who just returned home to mom and dad’s place. And at the heart of it all is Danny—a broken man who fell to pieces after his wife died and is now obsessed with keeping the house clean and “full” of people.
This is what Kimmy Gibbler lives next door to and the Tanners have the audacity to give her shit about having smelly feet?
Okay, granted, Kimmy and her family aren’t any much better, but their quirkiness seems almost more grounded in reality. Her parents are more like some old San Francisco hippies who are just sort of letting their kids take care of themselves. They do some weird shit, like one episode where they were raising an ostrich in their backyard—but hippies do weird shit like that all the time. How else are you going to have free range organic ostrich eggs?
The Gibblers and their free loving ways run counter to Danny’s orderly and morally-driven household, which is why Kimmy is treated like a pariah by everybody except her best friend DJ (who still manages to shit on Kimmy whenever she can.) Kimmy might be the one to try cigarettes or lie to her parents to go to a party, but that’s the kind of stuff any curious teenager would do. Meanwhile DJ never pulls that shit and if she does, you know Papa Danny is going to give her such an end-of-the-episode sermon that she’ll never do it again.
Since Kimmy isn’t a Tanner, when she acts up she just—learns a lesson the way any of the rest of us do, by living life and making mistakes. She can’t be given a cheesy “I’ll always love you” speech by Danny, punctuated by some lame joke to cap off the episode. So instead, on those rare Kimmy-centric episodes, it’s DJ who gets the speech that Kimmy would have received—and it’s usually about how Kimmy is lucky to have DJ as a friend because without that Tanner influence rubbing off on her, Kimmy would be dead by now.
Kimmy’s parents, on the other hand, had completely different thoughts on the subject. In one episode Kimmy’s parents grounded her by sending her to live with the Tanners. The joke was supposed to be that it felt more like a punishment to the Tanners than Kimmy, but in the end Kimmy’s parents were still kind of right. She can’t cuss or spit or even masturbate at the Tanner household without there being some genuine moments of awkwardness and there’s nothing to do over there except listen to Michelle talk like a Ninja Turtle or watch the Beach Boys perform “Kokomo” for the umpteenth time.
So if Kimmy isn’t the wacky next door neighbor, just what is she?
Kimmy keeps the audience’s attention occupied while the writers and producers pull the greatest illusion of all—convincing you that the Tanners represent how families actually act.
When Kimmy shows up on the screen, she’s belittled and insulted by everyone from Uncle Jesse to the fucking family dog, Comet. That’s because Kimmy acts too much like a real person, making her own decisions and occasionally choosing the wrong ones.
If we’re ever to believe that a family of nine people could live together in perfect harmony and only resolve conflict through heartfelt speeches, then the only realistic character on the show has to be treated like a gross weirdo so that we don’t want to identify with her.
Instead we try to imagine ourselves as Tanners, which brings up a whole new level of internal conflict since nobody could realistically be that perfect. Deep down we know we’re all Kimmy Gibblers and after awhile, you start to think that maybe your family is as dysfunctional and trashy as you had always feared. Maybe the Tanners are how other families act. Maybe when other kids get in trouble it ends in a hug and a profound family moment instead of screaming and irreversible emotional trauma.
Fuck it, maybe you should lie to your parents and try cigarettes.