People who’ve seen Bob Saget’s standup won’t be surprised by the complete and total lack of Danny Tanner to be found in “The Sat Pack.” People who know him primarily through Full House might want to wear their pearls while watching, in case they need something to clutch.

Of course, this is network TV, so this is the tamest kind of foul-mouthed, but still, from “I’m right here, you son of a bitch” through that last step out of the limo, Bob Saget brings a completely unexpected note of vulgarity to Grandfathered. The show takes that energy and runs with it, succeeding in using the faintest hint of nastiness, as well as Saget’s rapport with his former Full House (and current Fuller House) co-star to highlight the ways that Jimmy Martino’s life has changed. It’s a little dark, and a little mean, and yet everyone still learns a lesson. It shouldn’t work. It does. Oh boy, does it ever.

Underestimate Grandfathered at your peril. As always, the series turns out something that seems awfully simple on the surface, but bubbling there beneath the familiar sitcom rhythms and cute one-liners, there’s a thoughtful exploration of character. It might seem effortless, but it isn’t, and it might feel slight, but it’s anything but. A well-executed sitcom can be a pleasure on its own, and Grandfathered is certainly that, but in its best episodes—and “The Sat Pack” is the best thus far—it uses all the things that can make so many other sitcoms feel stale or predictable and employs them in service of something much more interesting and far from ordinary.

That’s a really long way of saying if you were hoping for a great episode of Grandfathered, then you got it, dude.

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I’ll admit that I had to stifle a groan when I saw that this was the Saget episode. I assumed we were in for another unnecessary cameo, a reckless jamming of the nostalgia button between all the other good things. Nope. Instead, episode writer Dan Klein and director Alex Reid crafted a smart, tight entry that seamlessly ties together its sub-plots through the tension that exists between Jimmy and longtime best friend Ronnie (Saget). There are throwaway jokes here and there (looking at you, Annelise and Ravi hitting on the “boob window” woman), but for the most part, absolutely nothing’s extraneous. In an episode that seems likely to highlight the differences present in this small, oddball family, what it actually does is show how tightly they’re linked.

What’s needed to achieve that, in sitcom-land, is the bad-boy best friend who resents all the time their formerly super-cool pal is devoting to family. Enter Ronnie, who isn’t on screen for a full minute before he makes a buggering joke. He’s got the cornball humor of Uncle Joey, the playboy antics of early Uncle Jesse, and almost none of the tenderness of both. But he’s not just an asshole, and that’s what makes this episode interesting. He’s that, but he’s also obviously lonely, and angry, and sad, and a person who dearly loves (and is jealous of) his best friend.

Since Jimmy spends the first few minutes of the episode (including a totally charming cold-open) trying to prove to himself and others that he’s still a cool guy, you know he’s going to end up back with the family by the episode’s end. What’s not expected is exactly how complicated and strange his relationship with Ronnie is, and the dividends it will pay. There’s a lot of joking about how Jimmy’s turned his back on his friends, a lot of digs at the people who’ve pulled him away, and it’s all just a little too savage for comfort. We get hints of what might be going on here and there: the obvious comfort and closeness of the two (a vibe helped by Stamos and Saget’s clear rapport); the too-casual mention of Ronnie’s recent divorce (his wife left him for someone “older and much poorer”); his obvious dislike for Gerald, a person who’s connected with Jimmy by both blood and affection. These are two men who’ve left their twenties far behind, but in hugely different ways. Jimmy’s got a full house. Ronnie does not.

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It all leads up to a climax that could be silly, but instead soars. When Jimmy learns that Gerald’s isn’t the only breakup of the evening, he stops for a little detour en route to the yacht party: Sara’s house. (Bruce, we hardly knew ye.) While Ronnie’s waiting in the limo, Jimmy’s inside “sippin’ on wine” and offering what comfort he can. Soon Ronnie’s slapping Jimmy, Gerald’s punching Ronnie, and the two friends have a real conversation.

“I’m horny for what you have,” Ronnie says. “I’m horny for family.” Like The Little Mermaid, he wishes he could be part of that world.

Is that brilliant or what? It’s a scene that wouldn’t be out of place in something like Full House, except for the fact that it trades on the personas of the two actors involved. It’s a straightforward resolution to the episode that also ties all the way back to the pilot (when Jimmy was using his longing for a family as a pickup line). It’s also funny, but also oddly touching; over-the-top, but totally honest. And it leads to one of John Stamos’s finest moments thus far: when Vanessa (Christina Milian) brings Edie out, covered in flour, and says she’ll only take a bath if Jimmy goes with her, both Ronnie and Jimmy crumble. Ronnie gives his friend a simply pat on the shoulder, and Jimmy’s face twitches. Ever so slightly, his collected mask slips, and he see the unbridled delight he has that this tiny girl calls him “Bimmy,” that she needs him. He’s done for. RIP the old Jimmy Martino, long live Bimmy.

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This is a show that has always made the most of the charms of its stars, and “The Sat Pack” is no exception—Stamos, Brewster, and Peck are all excellent throughout—but this is the best marriage of the smart, subtle stuff they’re doing with the personalities on screen. It isn’t a show that exists in a vacuum, and instead of ignoring our associations, it uses them to help tell the story. The episode leaves us with Jimmy loudly protesting how completely his life has been taken over by his unexpected family, while sitting, obviously deliriously happy, in a tub with his granddaughter. “I’m in hell,” he says, as Edie splashes and the yacht sails without him. It’s the most joyful hell I’ve ever seen.

There’s not much more to say. It’s a near-perfect episode, and I think that now it’s safe to say that Grandfathered is one of the best sitcoms on television.

Stray observations

  • “It’s Pasadena, and it’s charming!”
  • Public requests to move to a different continent are only a small step above public surprise proposals. Don’t do it.
  • Edie is going to be scarred by Michu Michu forever. Hell, I might be scarred.
  • “PLAY TENDER FOLK MIX!”
  • The cut from Ronnie and Jimmy doing shots to Bruce and Sarah downing dumplings was great.
  • “Oh hey, Ronnie! I was just talking about how I was gonna have sex with you but I’m not going to.”
  • “Go unclog the shower, pledge.”
  • “There’s only so many times I can hump your couch.”
  • “I can’t even enjoy violent rap songs because of her!”
  • We’ll miss you, Andy Daly.

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