In the US: Tuesdays, 8/7c, Fox
Last year’s big trend in new shows was the romcom, with a blitz that included Undateable, Welcome To Sweden, Marriage, Selfie, A to Z, Marry Me and Manhattan Love Story. Most of them deservedly died a fiery death, while others were better but have largely limped on or been put out of their misery this year.
The one deserved winner from the lot was FX/FXX’s You’re The Worst, a semi-realistic romcom about a narcissistic, awful couple, who somehow make you love them all the same. And it seems like it’s had some influence on broadcast TV, because now we have Grandfathered, a semi-realistic romcom in which a terrible awful human being is somehow quite lovable.
It stars John Stamos of Full House fame as a 50-year-old, narcissistic restaurateur who’s never settled down and spends all his time wooing 20-something models whose names he can never remember. The only woman he doesn’t chase after is his lesbian assistant – her being a lesbian was a job requirement.
So far, so the plot of anything involving Adam Sandler, David Spade et al.
Then one day, he gets two surprises. The first is the 26-year-old son he never knew about turning up on his doorstep; the second is Stamos’ newborn granddaughter who he brings with him. Now Stamos has to learn how to be both a father and a grandfather as quickly as possible.
The plot, to a certain extent, should be setting off warning bells, if not a full-scale run for the hills. However, Grandfathered is surprisingly smart. For one thing, playing the mother/grandmother of the piece and ‘the one who got away’ is the fabulous Paget Brewster from Friends, Criminal Minds and Community – a woman whose IMDB profile photo is of her holding a fish.
Brewster has a great line in deadpan delivery, but she also gets some great lines. As soon as she starts delivering the standard clichés of “boy-men who are forced to grow up by events” comedies (“If you think one day looking after a baby makes you think you know what it’s like to be a parent…”), she almost instantly gets to subvert them (“…hell, I can’t believe you made me say that. I’m cool. I watch Portlandia. I almost went to Coachella last year until I decided not to.”) and because it’s Brewster, it feels real.
Stamos also gets some good lines (“I’m a 50-year-old bachelor. We’re society’s most worthless people”) but alarm bells go off again when it’s revealed that part of the show’s ongoing plot is going to be Stamos’ educating his newfound son (Josh Peck) in the ways of women so that he can woo the mother of his baby, who regards him as merely a friend and a good dad. Here again, though, rather than a neverending series of lessons in negging, ‘treat them mean, keep them keen’, etc, Stamos’ messages to his son tend to be more along the lines of, ‘Have you considered making an effort, wearing some nice clothes?’ and the like.
The show makes references to and even includes a clip from Kramer vs Kramer, but does a much better job than that movie does of creating loving male parents/grandparents without creating antagonistic female characters for them to fight. Grandfathered has a heart and Stamos isn’t incapable of change, he just has to learn.
Grandfathered‘s biggest issue for UK audiences is that a lot gets lost in translation. Even the title is a US pun that won’t be obvious to most UK viewers (to ‘grandfather’ means to make someone exempt from something), and that’s before you even start on the cultural significance of something like Coachella.
The show also makes a big deal of Stamos, who was the star of the huge Full House during the 80s, something which also gets referenced a lot. His character is to some extent ‘Jesse Katsopolis’ all grown up and there are photographs in Grandfathered of him from that time just to emphasise the point; Full House star Bob Saget even makes the first of several series appearances in the pilot.
And, of course, we never got Full House over here. To us, Stamos is one of the doctors off ER at best, but more likely a complete unknown. Full House references and parallels will be equally mysterious to most of us (heaven knows what we’re all going to make of Netflix’s sequel/updating Fuller House when it hits the Internet).
So while Grandfathered is a surprisingly enjoyable, grown-up, unmisogynistic romcom that both male and female viewers can enjoy, it’s probably not going to be as funny for UK viewers as for those in the US. It’s definitely worth a watch, since it’s got bags of charm and heart, as well as Paget Brewster, but you might spend your time wondering if you’re missing out on something.