Josh Peck, Emelia / Layla Golfieri, and John Stamos

Storytelling tropes are dangerous things. Mishandle them and an already stale idea just gets worse. Breathe new life into them and you’ve got a whole lot of cultural history backing you up. With “Edie’s Two Dads,” Grandfathered turns in an episode that’s mostly—but not entirely—in the latter category. For this episode, it’s both a sitcom and a meta-sitcom. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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The idea is a familiar one. Bad information or a misunderstanding (in this case, vanity leading to a completely selfish and ridiculous lie) leads two characters who are not, in fact, a couple to pretend that they’re a couple. Hilarity ensues. Perhaps most often, the humor arises out of the sexual orientation of one or both parties (though not always—see 30 Rock’s “Black Tie”). What’s smart about “Edie’s Two Dads” is that the joke isn’t “oh no, two straight guys are pretending to be gay.” It’s “oh, creepy.”

It’s a neat trick that Daniel Chun and company (this episode is credited to writers Dave Jester and Matt Silverstein) pull off here. It all seems so utterly familiar and comfortable. It’s basically throwback TV, a plot that, in its overall feel, wouldn’t seem out of place on almost any sitcom of the ‘80s or ‘90s. But when you break down what’s actually happening, it is, in its way, every bit as unexpectedly progressive as Seinfeld’s “The Outing”, a now-classic episode that won Larry David and team a GLAAD Media award.

“You’re not really doing this, are you? Trying to benefit from the gay struggle without the struggle… or the gay?” Yes, they really are. The lie is incredibly distasteful, and would be weird and inappropriate without the father-son thing. But there’s not so much of a hint of straight-guy panic about the thing. Gerald hates it because it’s his dad, and that’s weird. But Jimmy’s discomfort has nothing to do with others questioning his sexuality. It’s just that he doesn’t want his life to change. It isn’t straight-guy panic, it’s old-guy panic.

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In his scene in the restaurant with Sloane (Joanna Garcia Swisher), Jimmy eventually blows his cover with that completely ludicrous kiss, but it isn’t prompted by wanting to make sure she knows he’s straight. It’s by all the talk about how magical and domestic and settled his life must be now. I really appreciate the one-step-forward, two-steps-back approach that Grandfathered is taking to Jimmy’s journey, rather than rushing straight forward to the phase where he’s a totally devoted and doting guy. They’re letting Jimmy stay kind of a douchebag. The steps are there—he is doing preschool research, after all, and he wanted to hang on to the weird Photoshopped image of he and Gerald with a newborn Edie—but they’re the most baby-like of baby steps. It feels way more honest, and when we finally get there, I expect the payoff will also be much greater.

Though it’s that resistance to changing his life that gave this episode its smart pivot point, it’s also the thing that might just be weighing it down. Jimmy’s Big Realizations run the risk of getting stale—and admittedly, a lot of what happened plot-wise in this episode felt awfully familiar. He doesn’t want to seem old, or do boring things, or show off his legs, or put in a car seat. The show is only five episodes in, and it already feels like the wheels are spinning a bit.

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Still, “Edie’s Two Dads” even dodged that bullet for the most part. By pairing each of those moments with retro guitar riffs, director Rebecca Asher plays up the tension between the Jimmy of days gone by (a.k.a., the Jimmy who was once called Ponyboy) and the one who needs to get over his damn leather seats already. It’s a conceit that’s never used better than in the montage—all too brief, if you ask me—where Gerald and Annelise attempt to childproof Jimmy’s decidedly not kid-friendly apartment, accompanied by Billy Squier’s “The Stroke.” Shot mostly in slow-motion, the sequence plays with cognitive dissonance in a fresh and surprising way. The story may not be new, but that’s a new means of telling it.

So Grandfathered hits a bunch of classic buttons in an episode that’s way more original than most of what it’s aping. Still, there’s something not quite as exuberant here as one might hope for. This writer’s room has proved with each episode that they’ve got no shortage of smarts, and they clearly know what they’re doing. Let’s hope that they’ve got some tricks up their sleeves that don’t feel quite so familiar.

Stray Observations

  • Hey-it’s-that-guy watch: Matt Malloy, the headmaster of the Van Amburg Academy. He’s been in everything.
  • Whoever the extra was who got to sprint out of the dining room after Jimmy joked about whether or not all the girls got carded, take a bow. That was one of my favorite jokes of the week and I didn’t even see your face. Girl, you can run. And in heels.
  • Hands down, though, the best joke of the week was Sara pretending to hear someone calling for her in the hallway. I watched it twice. “WHAT? YES!” The interview as a whole was great, but that was the highlight.
  • Speaking of Sara, Paget Brewster remains the best part of this show. That her subplot was so removed from the rest of the episode was its single biggest disappointment.
  • “I changed my mind, I wanna be buried here instead of at Staples Center.”
  • “I’m their Kramer.” Kelly Jenrette killed it this episode.
  • Jimmy’s name for Gerald in his phone is “Gerald (Son).” How many times do you think Gerald called and had to remind Jimmy who he was before he added that last bit?
  • “Jail, time machine, other kind of jail.”
  • Speaking of throwbacks—everyone knows you don’t play in abandoned refrigerators! We learned that lesson in a very special episode of Punky Brewster and then had nightmares for a month! (Note: I’m talking about me. I had nightmares for a month. Thanks for stirring that up, Grandfathered.)

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