“Grandfathered” might be a single-camera comedy on FOX, but it has the feel of a CBS sitcom without the live studio audience. There are broad jokes occasionally based on race and sex, with simplistic characterizations and saccharine bonding moments. Based on the series premiere, it’s difficult to tell whether the show will go the way of “How I Met Your Mother” or “The McCarthys.” There are some promising elements, like the focus on family and age, but it’s also hard to see where the show can go past its pilot.
John Stamos (“Full House”) stars as Jimmy Martino, a restaurant owner who discovers that his ex-wife Sara (Paget Brewster, “Criminal Minds”) had a child years ago and never told him. Her son, Gerald (Josh Peck, “Drake and Josh”), visits Jimmy at work and introduces him to his own daughter. Not only is Jimmy suddenly a father, but he’s a grandfather.
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The pilot proceeds exactly as you’d expect. Jimmy’s world is rocked by the sudden realization that he has a family. He’s reluctant to get involved until he spends time with them, and then deciding to dedicate himself to his new family. His actions are completely predictable — from Jimmy’s initial hesitation to his eventual change of heart — but it’s cute in a fluffy heartwarming sitcom way. There’s nothing really complex about it, but it’s reliable for an “awww” or two.
Though the show has some charming moments, it’s low on laughs. The cast attempts nobly to succed in remedying this, especially Brewster, who showed her comedic chops on the last season of “Community” earlier this year. Her delivery is sharp, and her lines are reliably funny, like when she mentions that she accidentally burned her baby with a seatbelt and “I swear, he looked right at me and gave me the finger.” Stamos, to his credit, commits himself entirely to the role of Jimmy, playing his character as if Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark was suddenly given a new family. Stamos is suave, confident and vain, but the nuances in the writing just aren’t there beyond Jimmy’s predictable heart of gold. He’s like Barney Stinson of “How I Met Your Mother” without any of the fun character quirks.
The rest of the cast is similarly underdeveloped. Peck plays Gerald as an overeager man-child, thrilled to finally meet his dad and receive relationship advice from him, but any shades of resentment he might have are toned down in favor of their immediate bonding. Christina Milian (“Baggage Claim”) plays blank slate Vanessa, the mother of Gerald’s baby and the woman he hopes will be more than a friend. Kelly Jenrette (“Frisky Dingo”) and Ravi Patel (“Past Life”) play two employees at Jimmy’s restaurant who mostly just exist to make jokes about Jimmy as a womanizer, though there’s a fun aside where Jenrette’s character makes friends with Sara.
Most of the jokes in “Grandfathered” fail to elicit more than a vague smile, and every character’s role can be summed up in a sentence or less. Arguably the most important flaw to address, though, is how “Grandfathered” can continue past its pilot. Will it be possible to sustain a whole series of television based on its simple premise? Will the show find a comfortable groove as a hangout comedy like “New Girl,” or will it fall back on obvious subplots like a re-coupling of Jimmy and Sara? With its cast and its heart, “Grandfathered” could join the other high-concept sitcoms whose audiences have grown over the years. The real question is whether viewers will be willing to watch past the uninspired first episode.