For better or worse, John Stamos will always be Uncle Jesse. It could be because the man sold his soul to the devil and doesn’t look a day over 35, but Stamos’ association with Full House and the rest of the ’90s will never be broken. That said, I’m not sure that anyone could pull off 50-year-old bachelor Jimmy Martino with as much aplomb. Jimmy’s smile is a little too wide and his hair a little too coiffed, betraying an emptiness lurking beneath the surface. Jimmy lays it on pretty thick, but with Stamos, it works. As he flits around his restaurant, hobnobbing with guests and using his so-called desire for a family as a pick-up line, Grandfathered paints the image of a superficial social climber in broad strokes.
With his well-tailored suits and Wilson Fisk-esque breakfast routine, Jimmy is clearly not a man who welcomes curveballs into his life. However, after all his vacant pontificating about the importance of family, fate comes to collect in the form of Josh Peck’s Gerald, the 20-something son who Jimmy never knew he had. With an adorable baby in tow, Gerald has decided that now’s the time to enter his father’s life, despite Jimmy’s protestation that middle-aged bachelors are “society’s most worthless people.” As it turns out, Gerald isn’t really looking for a meaningful connection with his newfound father: Gerald wants to get laid. Jimmy can barely choke out the word “grandfather,” but Gerald has heard tales of his father’s swaggering bravado from his mother, and hopes that he could help him woo the mother of his child (Christina Milian). Turns out Edie was the product of a one-night stand between otherwise platonic friends, and Gerald would like to make it something more.
When Jimmy mentions that there was only one woman he ever loved, “the Sushi to his Ponyboy,” anyone who has ever seen a sitcom before knows that woman is going to be Gerald’s mother, Sara, played by the always refreshing Paget Brewster. She and Stamos have decent chemistry, and it seems like the show will take the well-trod path of reconciling lovers. Even though Sara threatens to choke him to death with his own “overly moisturized hands” upon their first meeting, she’s softened a bit by the end of the episode. I mean, who can say no to a man running through traffic to get a feverish baby to the hospital, in a nod to Kramer vs. Kramer?
Grandfathered is nothing new. Jimmy’s predictably terrible at babysitting, and it looks likely the message that family is the most important thing will probably be driven home at the end of every episode. The beats are all too familiar, and the show tries a little too hard to garner the millennial vote (BuzzFeed! Portlandia! Zuckerberg! That’s what the kids like, right?). Anyone expecting something more akin to Community than Modern Family may want to adjust expectations.
Some legitimately funny moments and a game cast keep the show afloat, however. Stamos’ one-on-one scenes with the baby are particularly funny, as is his exasperated “People are meat!” reply when questioned about why he placed a meat thermometer up a feverish baby’s bottom. In other contexts, Stamos’ smarmy mugging can feel like a bit too much, but here, it works. Clearly, this is his story of redemption, of finding meaning in the second act of life. Pilots are always difficult to gauge, but Stamos and Brewster are charisma machines, so it is worth a watch while they iron out the kinks. Their show is pleasant now, and if Grandfathered can find ways to make this familiar story seem fresh further down the line, it should be worth sticking with.