John Stamos (Jordin Althaus/FOX)

As with “Catherine Sanders,” last week’s slightly problematic but mostly winning installment of Grandfathered, the trouble with “Some Guy I’m Seeing” isn’t easy to pin down. It’s not bad, by any stretch. The show’s impressive writing staff has put in a lot of work over the season, making sure to flesh out the characters and relationships so diligently that they can occasionally wander out of the realm of the sitcom and dip a toe or two into the land of the “dramedy,” to use an awful fake word that nonetheless gets the job done. It’s that kind of work that makes even the fluffier episodes pack just a bit more of a punch than they might otherwise. They’ve built a great foundation, and when the show’s as smart as this one aims to be (and mostly succeeds at being), that kind of stuff matters.

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This episode is a case in point. There’s nothing wrong with it, per se. But without the time spent over the course of the season building these people, filling out all the little nooks and crannies and making sure they feel familiar but can nevertheless surprise us, what would we get from “Some Guy I’m Seeing,” really? Not much. It would just be some show we’re watching. And the way this episode is structured, splitting its storylines in half with only the briefest few moments of crossover, highlights the strengths of Grandfathered by providing a contrasting weakness. To put it plainly, we know and care about Vanessa and Gerald. We know nothing about Catherine, and we’re not learning much more. The former storyline, while predictable, mostly works. The latter? Not so much.

Now, that’s not to say that nothing about Catherine and Jimmy’s continuing courtship is of interest. Regina Hall is endearing as hell, and in a low-key, understated way that’s a great foil for the slightly manic charm Stamos gives Jimmy whenever he’s really making an effort (and here, he is.) The actors are great together, the jokes mostly land, and all the right boxes get checked. But something about the whole thing feels rushed, as though the series skipped the part where we see why these two people are well-suited for each other.

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On paper? Sure, it makes sense, and dramatically, the logical romantic pairing for Jimmy would be someone for whom he has to continue to grow and evolve. Catherine is certainly that, and she’s not easily manipulated or managed. The old Jimmy won’t be enough for a woman like her (or a woman like Sara), and so he’s forced to continue down the path he started on when Gerald first showed up in his restaurant. He has to learn how to look outside himself, to put others first, to care for and take care of the people he wants in his life. That’s all very well and good. But what matters isn’t the type of person she is, but the actual person she is, and that mostly remains a mystery.

Catherine’s being set up as a) a person similar to Jimmy, in that she is used to managing her relationships in a way that suits her lifestyle without thinking much about how that affects the other person involved, and b) a grown woman who isn’t going to let someone into her life unless they’re a grown-up, too (in short, a Sara). Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive, and in theory, it’s an interesting approach. But other than a few punchlines and throwaways here and there, that’s about all we’ve got. She’s part Jimmy, part Sara, and part void. So yes, it’s easy to invest in Jimmy embracing a role that seems so out of the norm for him. Yes, it’s charming and engaging, and for most shows, that’s enough. But Grandfathered can do better, and the fact that they can is what elevates the sometimes paint-by-numbers plotting to a much higher level.

Take Vanessa and Gerald’s story, for example. They just officially decided to give the whole coupledom thing another go in the last episode, so the odds of them giving that up already sit at about zero. Not even secret gambling addict Gerald would take that bet. So movie night goes badly, and so does MMA night (though not in the way you’d expect), but in the end they come together and focus on the things that matter. Of course that’s what happens. But because Grandfathered has shown us the way these people have grown and changed and matured over the last 18 episodes, because we’ve spent months hearing about movie night and about Vanessa’s love for MMA and about her grandmother and his tendency to try too hard, the plot isn’t what matters. It’s the way these people move through the plot, the way they interact, the comfortable, lived-in feel of their scenes—that’s where the real pleasure is found. Even in an episode that doesn’t rise to the heights of some of Grandfathered’s best installments to date, Peck and Milian shine. They clearly trust each other, and the material, and it makes it all engaging and affecting, even when the stories fall a bit flat.

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Still, it’s an entertaining half-hour, and far from a total flop. Beyond that, this is only Catherine’s second episode, so there’s still plenty of room to grow. In time, her character could gain the nuanced shading of the other people who fill this little fictional universe. But it isn’t just that we haven’t seen much of her yet–Bruce (we miss you, Andy Daly!) feels like a fully realized character, as does Craig (Michael Trucco), and neither of them has had loads of screen time. Catherine feels less like a person than she does a plot device, and on a lesser show, that would be just fine. But because Grandfathered typically rises beyond that, it’s a flaw that sticks out like a sore thumb (or like a weird joke about Bill O’Reilly). No one else on Grandfathered exists solely to tell us things about Jimmy, which is a great, great strength. But the one time someone does, it’s also a hell of a weakness.

Stray observations

  • Hey-it’s-that-guy watch: two of ‘em! Catherine’s ‘movin’ on’ buddy is Arian Foster, who the internet assures me is a football person having a very interesting week. He was funny! Jimmy’s doorman is comedian, roast expert, and total that-guy Jeff Ross.
  • “I’m only a board-certified therapist who’s always right.”
  • Not enough Ravi, Victor, Annelise, or Sara tonight. Ravi’s surprise that Edie’s sauce wasn’t edible was cute, though.
  • “Beer!” - a baby.
  • I have to say, a dude who makes sure to have tampons in his bathroom is a total keeper.

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