John Stamos, Andrew Daly, Josh Peck (FOX)

There’s a formula to sitcoms, particularly holiday episodes. Someone gets in a snit, or wants everything to be perfect, or decides to do something really special for themselves, and then things go wrong. Too many guests. Failed turkeys. Small fires. But ultimately things come together in the end and everyone Learns a Lesson. It’s neat, tidy, and roughly 23 minutes long. Perfect.

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One of the things that’s been interesting about Grandfathered is how content it is to check all the typical sitcom boxes, without ever resorting to laziness. It’s comfortable and familiar, sometimes predictable, but almost always well done. In “Gerald’s Two Dads,” Daniel Chun and company find the perfect metaphor for what they’ve created: Jimmy’s apology meal. Grandfathered is Benny Loco’s.

To be clear, that’s meant as praise. We’ve had more well over half a century of half-hour comedies. Some were daring, some blissfully foul-mouthed, some surprisingly progressive and others that weren’t. Grandfathered isn’t reinventing the wheel. It’s just making a really good wheel using a really solid formula, and—to torture this analogy past the point of mercy—“Gerald’s Two Dads” is a very enjoyable spoke in that wheel.

As soon as the set-up of the episode is clear—Jimmy was invited to family Thanksgiving, but he’s planning on merely dropping in, faking some memories, and then heading to Malibu with Instagram’s third most popular stomach model—it’s easy to guess how things might play out. Jimmy will do something selfish, someone will smack some sense or guilt into him, he’ll learn something, and he’ll find a way to make things better. Once Bruce (Andy Daly!) enters the picture, the overall arc becomes even more predictable. Again, that’s not a complaint, and it’s not damning with faint praise. Formulas work for a reason.

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So, back to Benny Loco’s. There’s good Mexican takeout, and bad Mexican takeout. The things that make it special are the ingredients, the skill involved in making it, and—in the case of Gerald, Bruce, and Sara’s Benny Loco Thanksgivings past—any positive feelings or memories associated with that particular takeout. Grandfathered is like the meal Jimmy cooks at the end of the episode, made with care and thought and really good ingredients, created to evoke the memories of all the great Benny Loco’s meals that came before.

It looks great. It sounds great. It’s tightly directed and efficient, but makes plenty of time to be playful (Vanessa putting out the canoe fire with that giant champagne bottle and letting out some aggression in the process; the wood-sniffing sequence). And above everything else, it’s got a great, dependable cast, getting surprisingly thoughtful performances from actors not known for their nuance (Stamos, Peck, and even Milano, who’s really improved week to week) and unsurprisingly great ones from others (Brewster, Daly, Patrick Fischler).

It would be easy to throw some sappy music in some scenes and wacky in others and just call it good, but Grandfathered doesn‘t settle. Peck’s best work in the series thus far pops up when he confronts Jimmy about his lawn-fire-starting jealousy, and Stamos is pretty great too. And it would be just as simple to make Bruce kind of lame, but he’s not (obviously, it’s Andy Daly). He and Sara have real chemistry, and while he also behaved like an idiot, his performance was infused with genuine warmth. A lesser show would have made him an obnoxious, hate-worthy square. Instead, we get a guy who was a good “fill-in Dad” and a thoughtful partner. People in life are far more complex than those in sitcoms, and Grandfathered sometimes manages to bridge that gap.

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Nowhere is that more true than in the character of Jimmy. Stamos doesn’t shine as brightly as Brewster does, but he’s doing right by the show—that apology scene was great—and the show does right by him. Part of what makes Grandfathered so effective is that they make something comforting and familiar while still finding ways to surprise. Jimmy’s not a bad guy, but most sitcoms would have him kick all Ravi’s friends out of his restaurant. They’d have him buy takeout, or force Ravi to make a fancy Thanksgiving dinner. Instead, Grandfathered made a Grandfather who’s flawed and shallow and silly, but also kind, and patient, and willing to admit when he’s wrong. He’s a real guy in a world that’s as comfortable and filling as a big, gooey quesadilla. It’s not fine dining, but it sure is delicious.

Stray observations

  • “Wordplay!” “Barely.”
  • “I like sniffin’ logs as much as the next guy.”
  • “I’m mad, I’m starving, and I have nothing to canoe in!”
  • “The only thing more boring than white-person food is the whole holiday about white person food.”
  • “It’s not time for Oprah.”
  • That gobble gobble train does look like fun, I’ve got to admit.
  • Big thanks to Will for covering last week, and have a great holiday, everyone!

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