Patrick Fischler, John Stamos

“If things were that hard for you, why didn’t you come to me? And why didn’t you tell me you were pregnant?”

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With a show like Grandfathered, it’s not usually the little doses of reality that work. Bits and one-liners and charming casts with great comic timing are usually all that’s required to make something successful. Grandfathered has its share of those, as well—some of them even work—but what’s really made it memorable thus far are the moments, however fleeting, where it gets grounded. And for nearly all those moments, the reason is obvious: Paget Brewster.

That’s not entirely fair. Jeremy Bronson, who wrote “Deadbeat,” and the rest of the show’s writing staff (including creator Daniel Chun) deserve quite a lot of credit as well. Not every moment feels that above average—for every unexpected moment, there’s a joke one can see coming a mile away—but I continue to be surprised by how surprised I am by Grandfathered. The pilot’s tidy and efficient handling of the premise feels like it happened ages ago, and yet “Deadbeat” spends most of its time dealing with a big question that seemed like it was destined to go unanswered. And in answering it, Paget Brewster got another chance to shine.

First, the premise: after a morning spent writing his own restaurant’s glowing reviews, the “age-defiant owner” misses Edie’s second birthday party, and can’t even be bothered to lie about it convincingly (”What’s the address of the park that I’m at?”). So he throws another party at his restaurant, invites Sara’s apparently addled brother (Patrick Fischler!) without her permission, and up to the surface floats a whole bunch of baggage. It’s a solid setup for the episode, clearing the way for jokes both expected—inappropriately adult magician, rum-drenched cake, caviar as fingerpaint—and not. But what really makes “Deadbeat” worth watching is what sits at the center of it.

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Jimmy and Sara haven’t really talked about why she kept the fact that he had a son from him for more than 20 years. It’s been addressed quickly here and there, particularly in the pilot, but the particulars have never been addressed, and it’s gratifying to see the show take the time to treat these characters as more than mere sketches. John Stamos may not be much of a heavyweight, acting-wise, but Paget Brewster is, and the grace with which she walks the fine line between broad humor and real stakes is quite something to see. It’s a tough sell, making an audience believe that two people can process two decades of baggage in the course of one incredibly awkward party, but for the most part, she had me. The apologetic traded speeches on Richie Sambora’s microphone may be pushing it, but even that couldn’t take the wind out of the sails of that quiet, simple kitchen scene.

I wish that Grandfathered was content to let all that good acting and solid storytelling do the work on its own. It may sound like nit-picking, but the sentimental music dial was turned all the way up to 11, and it really lessened the impact of some of the episode’s big scenes—the awkward speeches, which contained not only “feelings” music but also “oh boy here comes trouble” music, and the last two minutes of the episode, which are underscored by The Cure’s “Pictures of You,” a great song that’s totally abused here. Add a home movie of Gerald’s second birthday and it’s all too, too much. When you’ve got a performer of Brewster’s caliber, an actor as naturally charismatic as Stamos—and yes, he’s outgunned here, but still, this is an eminently watchable dude—and scenes that work on an honest level and elevate what might otherwise be ordinary above mere sketch, you don’t need to hit the sentimental button quite so hard.

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While they may have overdone it on the ending, the central storyline works here, and while I’m mostly bored by Josh’s quest to win Vanessa’s love at this point, that subplot also mostly succeeded. The less effective elements—namely Ravi’s inexplicable “I’m so threatened by Josh” story and Annelise’s stint as bathroom monitor—fall flat because they lack any of the honesty, however fleeting, found elsewhere in the episode. There’s no law that says that every element of a sitcom needs to be impactful, but when you’re capable of more, that little bit that’s false or forced sticks out all the more.

Long story short: more Paget Brewster, please.

Stray Observations

  • “Why are you talking about this in front of us? It seems real private.” “Hey! He gave you Richie Sambora and a magician that pulled a string out of his eye. He can do whatever he wants.”
  • Speaking of Richie Sambora: this show really has an addiction to completely unnecessary celebrity cameos.
  • I didn’t love the Annelise subplot, but the tiny little twist on the end—“I think you just potty-trained my sons”—gave me quite the kick. Not something I saw coming at all.
  • Hey-it’s-that-guy watch: Patrick Fischler has been in all kinds of things, but to me, he’ll always be Mad Men’s Jimmy Barrett, destroyer of car interiors and Betty Draper’s fragile psyche. Look on his works, ye mighty, and despair.
  • The dead beets song was pretty terrific. Someone get it up on iTunes in a hurry.

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