Josh Peck, Emelia/Layla Golfieri (FOX)

And thus it was, in the ninth episode of the FOX series Grandfathered, the Grandfather did some parenting.

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Somehow, so much of Grandfathered’s energy has been focused on Jimmy’s growth—making mistakes, making discoveries, making Mexican fast food—that it’s been easy to miss the impact that Jimmy has had on Gerald’s life, for better or worse. What was great about “Jimmy & Son” was that while Jimmy was still kind of an ass sometimes, he acted like a parent. He meddled. He condescended. He imposed his will. And he had the best interests of his kid (and grandkid) at heart. That’s a big, big development.

And go figure—put the focus on Gerald, and just like that, Josh Peck has his best episode to date. It’s been interesting watching Peck straddle the line between his own energy, which still often smacks of Nickelodeon, and the Grandfathered energy, which wanders into slapstick from time to time but most often has at least one foot planted in reality. There have been flashes of something a little more mature at work here and there, particularly in last week’s episode, but in ”Jimmy & Son,” Peck got to combine all that awkward, boyish charm with a storyline that gave him something to do besides blow up at Jimmy or fail to successfully flirt.

As always, Grandfathered hits some of the classic sitcom buttons—in this case, they push the “parental sex” button, among others—but instead of defaulting to what’s expected, they use the familiar tropes to push the story forward in unexpected ways. While Sara and Bruce’s loud condom chatter drives Gerald to accept Jimmy’s offer of a job, what happens once he arrives has absolutely nothing to do with that. Instead of being a bumbling fool, he’s overly attentive and odd, and then after Jimmy goes full Pygmalion and turns him into a little Jimmy Jr., he manages to do a decent job—for awhile, at least.

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Of course he hates it, and of course he quits. In a lesser show, this would come out of some sort of insecurity or fear of disapproval, but this is much simpler—he just hates it. Better still, their inevitable reunion doesn’t come out of either realizing they lost their temper, or realizing the other was right. Instead, it’s the one big thing they have in common—they’re both new parents, albeit in very different circumstances. It’s such a simple thing, realizing someone who was once a stranger loves you. Stranger still when that person is a parent. What a lovely little moment, and one that’s beautifully underplayed by Peck, who hadn’t shown that kind of subtletly previously. This may not have been the tightest episode of Grandfathered thus far, but that was easily one of its most affecting scenes.

The best part of that moment, though? The “awwwwww.” It’s difficult to summarize what makes Grandfathered such a treat—at least it is for me, even sometimes to myself. It’s such familiar territory, and ordinarily that can be a bit of a turn-off. But part of what makes watching (and writing about) it such a pleasurable experience is noticing all the little ways it leans into the cheesiest conventions associated with this type of television. Having the crowd react to Jimmy and Gerald’s Big Moment immediately brought to mind the live sitcoms of days past, when a supportive speech from Uncle Jesse to one of the daughters Tanner would have gotten exactly that sort of response from those watching. Like the best gag in the pilot—the band underscoring the end of Jimmy and Gerald’s first conversation—it serves to highlight that Grandfathered knows precisely what it’s serving, and just because it’s full of warm fuzzies doesn’t mean it can’t be smart and occasionally a little subversive to boot.

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Speaking of smart: cheers to the Grandfathered team for letting a grown woman with an adult child have a sex life. That shouldn’t be significant, but it is. Again, the familiar buttons were pushed—Sara sent a topless photo to Jimmy by mistake, something that was obviously going to happen from the moment that the subject was broached—but any show willing to have one character say to another that she’s a hardworking professional woman who deserves to feel sexy in her own body gets a big thumbs up from me. Paget Brewster’s always spot-on delivery kept an otherwise predictable B-plot from going a little brown around the edges, but even if it had, the fact that such a plot was included at all seems worthy of celebration.

Not everything here worked—Annelise and Ravi can be a lot of fun when paired with the other characters, but often feel like filler on their own, despite the winning performers behind them—but what did was great. This episode, like the series itself, seems charming and harmless at first glance, but when one begins to really look at how it all fits together, the whole becomes much greater than the sum of its parts. Grandfathered knows exactly what it’s doing, and it does it very well.

Stray observations

  • “You and some guy at the NSA are going to be very happy.”
  • “Harmless, pale, apparently has a weak stream.”
  • “It hit me like a… well, like a champagne cork.”
  • “Hey, uh… black tie. I like how bald you are.”
  • Websites that auto-play music come straight from hell, and that was a terrific little bit.
  • Christina Milian? Really growing on me. She and Brewster are great together, and some of the little details we’re learning about Vanessa—aggressive, often intense, terrible liar—make her a great addition to almost any scene.

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