Josh Peck, John Stamos

Constant charm has got to be exhausting. Perhaps that explains why, in its lukewarm third episode, Grandfathered seems so sleepy.

There’s nothing wrong with a solid formula. A half-hour sitcom, like a two-minute pop song, doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel to entertain. Shows like Grandfathered won’t appeal to everyone—to be candid, they don’t often appeal to me—but good writing, smart acting, and yes, charm can make up for quite a lot. It’s easy to forgive the ending you see coming if the route there is a surprise. Even if it all feels familiar, simply being good can make all the difference.

“Guy’s Night” isn’t bad, exactly. It’s just not particularly good. It was easy to overlook the ways in which Grandfathered isn’t so unique in its first two episodes, because the whole was so much more fun than the sum of its parts, but in its third outing, the show seems to be spinning its wheels a bit. It all feels like ground that’s been covered already: Jimmy doesn’t get the whole parenting thing, Josh wants more from both Jimmy and Vanessa than they seem willing to give, Sara bristles about something, and the episode ends with Jimmy just one step closer to being a Whole New Man. It isn’t that those things can’t work—they worked last week—but no one seems to be trying very hard. Like Sara asking a telemarketer what time it is where they are, no one seems to be making any real effort to connect. Given that this episode was about connection, that’s pretty problematic.

One difficulty lies in the writing itself. Jimmy’s reluctance to talk about real things—and his use of pepper mills as a distraction technique—makes perfect sense for the character, and seems like a decent breeding ground for jokes. Something about it doesn’t quite click, however, and the result feels like constant smalltalk, rather than desperate avoidance. Gerald’s willingness to avoid the big conversations doesn’t help matters, either. It all combines to mire Peck and Stamos’s scenes in a lack of stakes that feels disappointingly flat. And that’s even with the tap-dancing.

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The episode centers on the anticlimactic guy’s night of the title, but it isn’t the only storyline running on fumes. Veteran character actor Jack McGee guest stars as a bartender who’d rather quit than work alongside Annelise’s newest hire, a vest-wearing mixologist. With Ravi in tow, she goes to win him back, succeeding by hiring his daughter, herself a talented bartender, to work at his side. But wait—Jimmy dated her once, and she’s crazy. It’s unclear what we were supposed to take from this, other than that Ravi Patel and Kelly Jenrette have great timing, because it was neither particularly funny nor important to the story. Add that to the non-conversations Gerald and Jimmy are having, then pile on Sara’s incredibly thin subplot—woman worries she’s boring, goes to bed early—and the whole isn’t greater than the sum of its parts. It’s just sort of fine.

That isn’t to say there aren’t moments that work. The episode’s final act, in which Gerald attempts to declare his love for Vanessa via a drone and a cute video, does some of the things that have made previous episodes of Grandfathered such a treat. Josh Peck doesn’t play drunk very well, but the line that Paget Brewster and John Stamos navigate, somewhere between concern and amusement, feels really honest. It’s too early in the season for Gerald and Vanessa’s relationship to come to any sort of crossroads, so it’s no surprise that his plans were thwarted, but it was still pretty fun. After all, not everybody’s parents would pull a U-turn to prevent a drunk declaration of love.

The best moments in “Guy’s Night,” however, arrive just when the credits are about to roll. Gerald spends some time in front of the toilet, finally connecting with his long-lost father, and the inevitable connection—topped with a simple ‘Dad’—packs more weight than the rest of this episode’s scenes combined. As the young man ralphs and his parents try not to do the same in sympathy, Grandfathered finally reaches the simple, charming peak it’s been scaling with ease for the last two weeks. It’s just too bad that getting there wasn’t much fun.

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Stray Observations

  • I don’t know why they were tap-dancing, but I’m here for it. More dancing, please.
  • “This will not be my chilled pork soup.”
  • “What do you think the emojis cucumber, cucumber, yogurt cup mean?”
  • We can file this episode under “misuse of the powers of Paget Brewster,” but her reaction to getting Ross—twice—was pretty spot-on.
  • I, too, would like to yank on Stamos’s hair. You know, just to see how real it feels.
  • Hey, it’s that guy alert: seriously, Jack McGee has been in everything.

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