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“You make me feel like I can do anything in the world, except eat dairy. And I want to make you feel the same way.”

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When the promos for Grandfathered first started airing this fall, did anyone expect that the show’s greatest strength would be the moments that weren’t overtly funny? It’s not something one anticipates from a concept (and star) that practically scream “sitcom,” but here we are. It’s been true since the pilot, when the highlight was a simple little scene in a hospital waiting room. It was true last week, when Jimmy seemed to slip, almost by accident, into some genuine warmth and feeling on his fake date with Sara. And it is definitely true of “Catherine Sanders,” an episode that drags a bit in places—especially compared to last week—but manages to fit in some significant character development and one whopper of a love scene between all the one-liners.

Not everything in “Catherine Sanders” works as well as it might, particularly in the stories of its two grandparents, both of which feel somewhat paint-by-numbers. But damn, Josh Peck and Christina Milian—especially Milian, who is quickly becoming Grandfathered’s secret weapon—sure do earn their keep this week. Theirs is the sub-plot, but the two most impressive scenes in the episode belong to them: Vanessa’s admission that she never thought growing up that someone like her could have a nice office, and the subsequent scene, in which Gerald has taken Jimmy’s crappy back room and turned it into a relatively cozy work space. While the second is more GIF-able, thanks to the hover-board and the smooch, the first hits every bit as hard, with Milian letting Vanessa’s insecurities and fears leak out from behind that tough, MMA-fan exterior. Both serve as prime examples of that Grandfathered unexpectedly does best: small moments of honesty from finely-drawn and expertly-played characters.

But while Vanessa and Gerald’s reconnection (which feels organic, and totally earned) may be the episode’s most appetizing moment, it’s far from the main course. The bulk of “Catherine Sanders” focuses on, you guessed it, Catherine Sanders (Regina Hall). Catherine, a highly successful woman (Gerald calls her the first African-American woman in history to serve on the board of five Fortune 500 companies), seems poised to be Jimmy’s Amal. Hall is a great addition to the cast, and more than a match for Stamos (just as Catherine is for Jimmy), but one hopes that future episodes will serve both the performer and the character better. It’s not bad, by any means, if a little overly simplistic—man is threatened/challenged/disconcerted by powerful woman isn’t the most groundbreaking of storylines—but as fun as it is watching Jimmy squirm a bit, there’s just not much of a spark. Catherine has a great line that feels unfortunately applicable to the episode’s trouble: “I don’t play games. They bore me, and I win them too easily.”

That’s not the issue with Sara’s dating adventure, which includes the welcome return of Battlestar Galacticas Michael Trucco. While also a little simplistic, their story is at least a reversal of the familiar trope (woman pushes man away when he wants to get serious), but more importantly, Trucco and Brewster are terrific together, nimbly moving from sincerity to one-liners, particularly in Sara’s tasting menu mea culpa. No, in the case of Sara, the issue isn’t a lack of chemistry, but of implausibility. Sara suggests that the reason she tried to keep Craig at arm’s length is that she’s used to dating men who don’t feel like plausible partners. That’s all very well and good, but it doesn’t square at all with what else we know of Sara. It doesn’t line up with her relationship with Bruce (Andy Daly), it doesn’t reflect her reasons for keeping Gerald from Jimmy for decades or her objections to Jimmy as a love interest in general, and most importantly, it doesn’t even line up with what she said about Craig in just last week’s episode. In a series that has, to date, done a great job of making sure that actions and desires grow and change gradually, it’s odd to see something that seems so out of character.

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Still, everyone concerned is charming (though no one’s as charming as Edie—how insanely cute was that opening scene?) and a good-not-great episode of a great show isn’t a huge concern. “Catherine Sanders” took the time to let its ensemble do some real acting—something Grandfathered does as well as any other sitcom on television—and that means that, hiccups aside, it’s just really good business as usual.

Stray observations

  • “This signing really is all about Jerry Martini having fun, isn’t it?”
  • “It’s got charm, luggage, Christmas spirit, Grandpa.”
  • “Not that much to know. Love pizza, hate racism, yadda yadda.”
  • “You know how I love light and stupid. I’m an idiot!”
  • “Thanks for hooking us up with the office space, Papa. Now we’re even for when you took Edie to see The Hateful Eight.”
  • “I have an MMA superfan card. Spend $20K in a year and you get to take a picture in the Octagon.”
  • “I’m honestly not trying to be difficult, but I’m in a tank top?”
  • “I once braided my hair with little seashells to be funny, then I kept it for five years.”
  • “For me it’s almost easier dating someone with a lot of flaws, like a bigot, or a klepto, or a standup comedian.”

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