Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Grandfathered tells a tale of two couples that aren’t couples

Paget Brewster, John Stamos (FOX)
Paget Brewster, John Stamos (FOX)
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Since the pilot, Grandfathered has been floating two pairings in the air, but batting them just far enough away to keep them from seeming imminent. One has mostly lingered, with little moments here and there to bait ‘shippers and entice fans (with mostly great results). The other got shut down in a thoughtful, surprisingly grown-up way. Both get examined through the lens of co-parenting (or grand-parenting) in “The Biter,” which is merely the latest episode of Grandfathered to zig when you think it’s going to zag, and to do exactly what you expect without actually doing it.

Does it work? Mostly. The problem with a will-they-or-won’t-they is that, in almost all cases, you know they will, and eventually the anticipation becomes nothing more than a waiting game. Dramatic tension can only build for so long. In exercising restraint—or, to put it more plainly, in creating relationships that could actually exist outside of a sitcom reality—Danny Chun and company are creating something far more interesting than what you’d find on the average sitcom. But that doesn’t stop it from being just a little unsatisfying.


That’s only an issue with one pairing, though. Grandfathered has done something really tremendous with Gerald and Vanessa, letting those characters develop a relationship that feels honest and hard-fought. They’re two parents who care about, respect, and defend each other. Each is firmly in the other’s corner, and they make a great team. In “The Biter,” they take that teamwork and attempt to apply it to something that would be great for their lives, their kid, and for other parents. It’s got more than a hint of, “oh, millenials” about it, but Co-Parent Pro does sound like something that could work, and more importantly, they build it together (more or less), pitch it together, get offended together, are prepared to walk away together, and then celebrate their big win together. They’re a hell of a pair, as are Josh Peck and Christina Milian, who have an easy chemistry together that serves the story very well indeed.

Whether or not they wind up together doesn’t really seem to matter when they can, in the space of just a few minutes, shut down a rich douchebag (Drake Bell, joining his former Drake & Josh co-star in the grown-up TV land) walk away from a lot of money, and then walk back toward that money when it doubles. Grandfathered handles their relationship with such ease that it’s easy to forget that this is an unmarried couple raising a child together in a companionable, thoughtful way. Not every show would make such a non-issue of this. Like its commitment to diverse casting and to putting a progressive spin on familiar tropes, Grandfathered simply puts the two of them out there as they are, without comment.

Their older counterparts aren’t handed with the same ease. That’s not to say that the storyline that Sara and Jimmy chase in “The Biter”—seeking out the titular biter—isn’t entertaining, or even subtle. It’s both. But as we inch closer to whatever is going to happen with Jimmy and Sara, it becomes increasingly difficult to feel comfortable in this in-between place. Dragging it out works just fine, even if that human part of usthat wants to see people be happy wishes they’d just hurry up already. But “The Biter” seems to want it both ways, oddly mirroring Jimmy’s own reaction when Annelise points out that their stake-out sounds a lot like a date. Just when we seem to be getting somewhere—to Jimmy and Sara working together for the good of their kid and grandkid, and acknowledging a connection that’s been building over 15 episodes at this point—Grandfathered pops the balloon.

Illustration for article titled iGrandfathered /itells a tale of two couples that aren’t couples

Why, exactly, after the wine-drinking and the late-night cooking and the obvious pining, does Jimmy send Sara off to her small boat guy? Old habits die hard, perhaps. Maybe this is just the Jimmy who Sara knew way back when, the guy she knew wasn’t up for having a kid. Maybe he’s worried it would complicate things. Maybe he thinks she deserves better. I don’t know, and neither the writing nor the performers give us a ton of information. Grandfathered’s unexpected subtlety is one of my favorite things about the show, but this feels like a case where it isn’t doing what one would hope. By spending an episode focusing on two pairings solving a problem, Grandfathered draws attention to those relationships, but in this particular case, doesn’t give us much more than yet more delay.

Part of the trouble with weekly reviews is that what’s true one week may not be true the next. It’s entirely possible that “The Biter” will feel different in a week’s time, once we know more about where Jimmy’s head is at and how things went with Dinghy Scott. But the drawback of delayed gratification is that the delay isn’t always much fun.


Stray observations

  • Almost all the meta TV jokes that Grandfathered has lobbed to date have been Stamos-centric, so it’s nice to see some love for the careers of Josh Peck and Paget Brewster. That Criminal Minds line was inspired.
  • I am not of an age where Drake & Josh was on my radar, so I didn’t have any sort of reaction to this mini-reunion outside of what existed in their scenes. But apparently the Oprah thing was an in-joke. (Any youngsters out there want to fill in an old fogey on anything else I missed?)
  • That administrator was awesomely awful.
  • “Yeah Sara, get with the times, even some accountants are women.”
  • “Oh that’s right, I forgot what kind of a sensitive creature you are.”
  • “This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no country club either.”

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