Paget Brewster, Emelia/Layla Golfieri (FOX)
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In the course of its first season, Grandfathered has managed a neat trick: it doles out the little lessons and hits the beats that so many sitcoms do, while managing to steer away from the more hackneyed elements of the format. It’s a smart choice that makes Grandfathered not unlike a really well-made bowl of chicken noodle soup: it’s familiar and comforting, but a far cry from your average nondescript can of something. The more time you spend thinking about it, the smarter it gets.

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That’s not exactly untrue of “Baby Model,” but the ideas that fuel the familiar narrative don’t connect as they do in many of the best entries to date. This is particularly disappointing given that the show has often used some of the broader cultural connections of the series—John Stamos’s career history, the predictable elements of the format, themes famously explored by other sitcoms, preconceptions the audience might bring with them—and used them to its advantage. Here, however, we’ve got 30 minutes focused largely on a potential child modeling career for Edie, and while there are moments here and there that feel at least a little substantive, the episode largely ignores what should be its greatest asset: the Josh in Drake & Josh.

It’s easy to enjoy the most familiar elements of Grandfathered, and that’s true here as well. We get more of Paget Brewster than we have in recent weeks (spend five minutes in the comment section and you’ll see how welcome a development that is), and that’s great. There are jokes that work. There’s a funny little tag (also one of the smartest moments of the episode). There’s the solid cast we see every week, and a good guest-star (Popular’s Leslie Grossman). And there’s that unbelievably cute kid, who gets quite a lot of screen time this week.

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But what makes Grandfathered stand out isn’t the stuff that’s familiar, its the stuff running below the surface, and that’s where “Baby Model” drops the ball. A disappointing main story is one thing. A disappointing sub-plot is another. But add them together, and lace through some crap that girls and women have to deal with throughout their lives, and it goes down pretty sour. This isn’t to say that the episode is in any way anti-progressive, nor does it mean that every moment of Grandfathered needs to be overtly feminist. It’s a sitcom, not a treatise. But when so much of what the show does is thoughtful, it’s off-putting to have an episode that feels a little tone-deaf—particularly when the episode stars a young man who became a kid star before he turned 15 (and whose body has, understandably, changed a lot since then).

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What are we to take from “Baby Model,” exactly? Vanity and ego drive so much of what happens in Edie’s story, what essentially ends it is insecurity (that’s if we’re being generous—some might call it a temper tantrum), and the moment with which they leave us is the whole family watching Bachelor in Paradise, which is many things, but none of them are great for women. The idea seems to be that the whole world is going to tell people (and girls in particular) that they need to look and act a certain way to be valued, and (presumably) that that’s bad. OK, that makes sense. So why does the time it takes to get there feel so off-base? Is it the pushy stage mom coaching her daughter on pushing her stomach in and out? Is it the completely useless Brad Goreski cameo? Is it Josh Peck’s monologue about life as a chubby kid, which is essentially rendered null and void as soon as he sees his kid on a billboard?

Personally, I think it’s the latter—though that Annelise storyline certainly doesn’t help matters. Kelly Jenrette is charming as always, but after two episodes in a row that put Jenrette, Ravi Patel, and the rest of ] Jimmy’s staff to excellent use, it‘s disappointing to regress to something that does nothing to bolster the episode. It’s not that the trope of the person who goes on one date and “hates drama” promptly loses his or her mind is exclusively reserved for women. This plot would be a bummer if it were Ravi’s, too. But pair it with Sara, Jimmy, Vanessa, and (eventually) Gerald losing their shit over Edie being a kid model, and Annelise’s freak-out becomes even more of a let-down (not to mention an HR nightmare.)

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It’s a minor thing when considered with the larger questions about “Baby Model,” but this is also the first episode in quite some time that looks like it was shot on a soundstage. Grandfathered is shot so beautifully most of the time that it’s easy to ignore, and that’s absolutely a compliment. There’s very little of the overly lit, overly green, overly manicured world seen so much throughout the rest of television-land. But compare Vanessa’s video chat with Gerald in front of the park background (“Is that lightning?”) with the scene a few minutes later that shows Vanessa, Sara, and Jimmy leaving the studio. Fake park, “real” street, no difference. Perhaps more attention should be paid to Grandfathered when it looks as good as it typically does. Perhaps pointing out one of the only times that it falls flat wouldn’t feel quite so nitpicky.

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Still, Grandfathered is entertaining even when it’s off, and “Baby Model” showcases one of the most endearing strengths of the series: the way Edie’s camera-time is handled. So much of what happens with Edie (as played by Emelia and Layla Golfieri) feels natural that it seems impossible such things could be achieved. The key has to be in the comfort the Golfieri girls feel on set, and with their fellow cast members. With every episode in which Edie has a significant amount of screen time, there’s at least one moment that feels totally unrehearsed, and those moments often end up among the best in the series. However they manage it, the work gives the impression that these little girls get to spend some time hanging out with their cool big kid friends occasionally saying a scripted line, but more often than not just happily saying and doing whatever comes to mind. In that way, Grandfathered itself is the opposite of “Baby Model.” Perhaps that’s the point they were trying to make all along. If so, they needed to work a little harder.

Stray observations

  • “I once saw a mom bite another mom in the face.”
  • “I’m just going to… Jimmy’s Restaurant! Dammit!
  • “Josh! Call me! I’m waiting! And I’m a model!”
  • Are tape wallets still a thing? Really?
  • I maintain that Jimmy seems like a fundamentally decent guy, but his restaurant seems like more and more of a nightmare to work. Imagine a recent date and your boss showed up outside your house to call you a slut and fire you… unless it’s illegal, in which case see you at nine. Imagine working for someone maddening enough that it causes you to drop a safe off on a parking garage even though you might kill someone. It’s all funny until you really start to think about it. What the hell is this place?

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