There’s no point in beginning this review pretending as though the episode doesn’t end with the big, fat smooch that Grandfathered has been building to since the pilot. That this episode doesn’t showcase the chemistry between Jimmy and Sara (or John Stamos and Paget Brewster) as well as most doesn’t seem to matter much. It’s a long time coming, and clearly designed to be one of those mic-drop moments. It’s great that it’s driven by Sara. It’s great that it comes on the heels of a moment that shows exactly how much Jimmy’s life has changed in the last year. It’s great that the beat after is weird, and kind of sad, and far from simple.
But it all falls a bit flat. Not the episode itself—“The Memorial” is a slightly uneven but mostly strong affair—but the big finish, that moment that both the writing and a lifetime spent watching sitcoms teaches us is inevitable. Perhaps it’s not helpful to have that which already feels inevitable teased so directly, as all the hints that it’s coming seem to undermine the big moment itself. Maybe it’s just too abrupt. It’s hard to put a finger on what exactly feels a bit underwhelming, but underwhelm, it does.
It’s too bad, too, because unevenness and all, “The Memorial” has quite a lot going for it, not least of which is a solid performance of some complicated stuff from Stamos. Picking up moments after the previous installment ends, the episode dwells in that sort of hushed, shocked grief that defines an unexpected death for just a minute or two. Then Jimmy walks into the room, all manic and nutsy and with big dreams for aquariums and hair changes and all manner of things. He’s emotionally eating and walking on chairs and he can’t pronounce words and it is wonderful and awful and weird and honest. Central point of the episode made clear, right off the bat: Jimmy has no idea how to grieve, because grieving requires emotions, and as a whole season has shown us, Jimmy’s not so good with those.
Gerald, though? He’s great with feelings, and way better at understanding both his and others than he was at the season’s start. Josh Peck, too, has gotten better with the stuff that’s not broad comedy, which has always been his wheelhouse. His arc in this episode mostly concerns being as thoughtful as possible about the emotional lives of the people around him, from finding the best way to manipulate Ravi into keeping his secret to going out of his way to make sure that Jimmy’s train gets placed firmly back on its track. Outside of Jimmy’s storyline, it’s what goes on with Gerald that’s the easiest to understand, to track, and to invest in. They’re acting like father and son, honestly and genuinely, to the point where Gerald’s fine pushing back at Jimmy a bit here and there (“No, I do not think you should get that surgery,” etc.). He’s a supporting player, doing exactly what supporting players do. Simple, effective, and solid.
What’s the most unexpected inconsistent element in “The Memorial” is the one aspect of the show that’s always been rock solid. Let’s get this out there: there’s absolutely nothing Paget Brewster does in this episode that’s not good. She’s a damn national treasure, and sometimes seems physically incapable of being anything less than thoroughly entertaining. So yes, she’s totally entertaining here. But something about Sara’s arc, specifically, seems off-key. This utterly sensible, grounded woman, who has previously managed to be sensible even about the rare moments when she’s acting the fool, whose self-awareness (and awareness of others) has always been her defining characteristic, somehow loses all of that, and not in a way that feels organic.
Remember when Sara didn’t even entertain, for even the briefest moment, moving abroad with poor old Andy Daly? Where’s that Sara? Where’s the Sara who went out of her way to apologize to Jimmy in the form of a bunch of shitty desserts, when he seemed so content to let it slide, just because it was important to her to acknowledge that she was wrong about him? Grandfathered hasn’t had a flawless first season, but let’s all hope it gets a second, because its great strength has been in smart, subtle, and consistent character building. They’ve taken characters who might otherwise been one-note and made them much more (specifically thinking of Vanessa here, but it applies elsewhere, too. Hell, it applies to Jimmy.) So it’s disappointing that it’s most consistently excellent character wandered off the path a bit in such an important episode.
Still, that kiss. It’s a big moment, and treated as such, and it should be. It’s wonderful that it the show let the moment be something other than a typical big sitcom moment. It happened, and life went on. Those are the best Grandfathered moments. It’s just too bad the ramp-up to this one felt so rocky.
One more! (Season two, please!)
- “Like I always say, it’s the circle of life.” “Hakuna Matata.”
- “Was that your dad’s favorite drink?” “Not anymore.”
- “I used it to decide whether or not I was gonna have Edie… have Edie’s birthday at a park or the pizza place! Park won.”
- “Sex! Now that I’ve got your attention, my dad’s dead.”