Grandfathered, one half of FOX’s ageless twin-billing sitcom block on Tuesday nights alongside Rob Lowe’s awfully titled The Grinder, isn’t great. But it is OK, sometimes in spite of itself, and that’s as good as it gets for network sitcoms this fall.
John Stamos, milking the nostalgia factor hardcore right now, is Jimmy, a smarmy 50 year old playboy bachelor and restaurateur (it’s called… Jimmy‘s). He plucks his gray hairs, in denial that however imperceptibly, that he IS aging. He’s a world-class schmoozer with his customers and has that casual sitcom chemistry with his coworkers that implies that everyone kind of hates and enjoys him at the same time. Which is about how I felt after Grandfathered, which grew on me as it went along.
There’s nothing subtle about the show, as Josh Peck just shows up out of the blue in the middle of Jimmy sampling his chef’s delicious new gluten-free pappardelle (the secret? a lot of gluten) to just drop the reveal. I’m your son, you had a lot of unprotected sex with my Mom (preferably at a Jane’s Addiction concert) and heeeeere’s Edie, wheeling out his daughter in a baby carriage. For a man refusing to admit his age, this obviously sends Jimmy in a tizzy, unable to even say the word “grandfather” throughout the episode.
Grandfathered is the kind of show where Jimmy freaks out about becoming a Dad (Do I even want a family? Or is that just a pick up line I use to get girls?) in front of not only Gerald (Peck), but his entire restaurant staff. He makes a sarcastic crack about playing the Cat’s Cradle for his new kid, and minutes later, the restaurant band (who only exists for this joke) plays it. Meh.
Unsurprisingly, the show picks up when we discover that Gerald’s Mom Sara is none other than the wonderful Paget Brewster (Community), who elevates mediocre material with the kind of sass and wit that makes you reconsider the death of network TV (just hire more Paget Brewster’s). The awareness that she’s in boilerplate sitcom territory only makes her sardonic delivery that much sweeter. Plus, Brewster actually gets good lines, which are hard to come by in the pilot.
Jimmy is determined to be good at a dad and a g-g-grandfather, if only to spite Sara, who has written him off long ago. He might as well be Barney exclaiming “Challenge accepted!” In fact, Stamos’ character pretty much is a “Grandfathered” Barney Stinson, and that comes in handy when Jimmy meets Gerald’s baby Mama Vanessa (Christina Milian), who only sees the father of her child as a “friend.” Yup, Gerald has been friend zoned AFTER knocking someone up, and that’s why he sought after Jimmy, hoping his playboy tendencies could rub off on his sweatshirt everyday-wearing ways, thrusting the story into a weirdly paternal Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Some of this works, a lot of it doesn’t, as this feels very much like a pilot trying too hard. But the cast is there, and the premise, while practically created in a mad sitcom lab, works, and offers reasonable promise if the show can get out of its way and just breathe after the madness of pilot season dies off. With John Stamos and 90’s nostalgia acting as the fulcrum of a marketing campaign heavily targeting Mom’s, I think there’s a strong chance that Grandfathered can elevate beyond forced Deion Sanders, Don Rickles and Lil Wayne cameos, and instead, mine more comedy in unlikely places, like it does with a tear-inducing scene from Kramer vs. Kramer.