Monday, May 23, 2016

Grandfathered Reviewed: The Biter (S1E15)

You know, you remind me of my stepbrother.
Oh, is he awesome?
No, no, he's in jail for stalking Oprah. Anyway let's get inside so you guys can buy me dinner!

What is this? single-cam(!) adult-ish/family-ish sitcom, half-hour (24 minute) length
Where did it air? FOX, though not anymore, sad emoji :'(
Who stars in it? Josh Peck, the Josh of Drake & Josh, and John Stamos pulling double-duty while he's doing Fuller House at the exact same time (to the point where on interviews they ask him more about Fuller House than this show, even when he's doing the late night circuit specifically to promote this show, no wonder it failed, another sad emoji :'( ). Some other people too whom I do not know. The Drake part of Drake & Josh was also in this one!
Why are we reviewing it? Because Drake & Josh are in it! No, really. 

Well, here we go, the final part in our trilogy reviews of "Where are they now?" seeing where some Nickelodeon and Disney Channel stars have gone off to now that their series have ended. Today we're watching Grandfathered, a single-cam! sitcom on FOX of all places, starring Drake & Josh's Josh Peck as one of two lead characters on the show. This particular episode also has a special guest star, as it turns out. This is also the only one of the trio I've managed to see before-hand, which means I know it's going to go much better than straight to F minus territory, necessitate an LVP and that this episode in fact deserves to be quoted. 

Yeah NBC pretty much sucks right now. 

Sadly - and like Undateable, Crowded and Mysteries of Laura - Grandfathered also got the axe during the great Mid May Massacre of 2016 when all four major broadcast networks shoveled heaps of programming straight into the garbage (including a bevy of veteran shows virtually every industry expert predicted would come back) becoming yet another one-season wonder. Anyway....

I guess the best way to describe Grandfathered is maybe a reverse-Crowded? Or would that make Crowded a reverse-Grandfathered? John Stamos' character (yes he was doing this and Fuller House at roughly the same time, although the shooting schedules were pretty much on opposite sides of the year, I understand), a successful mogul of some type or another, just found out that he had a kid (Josh Peck) - and that kid not only has a kid of his own (hence the show title), but it turns out he's quite the entrepreneur himself, taking the reigns of a software startup and is able to send his daughter/John Stamos' granddaughter to what amounts to kindergarten prep school. So John decides he wants to be a bigger part of not only his son's life but his granddaughter's as the show's high concept explained, while the plot of this specific episode concerns John trying to deal with said granddaughter's social problems at said school while Josh is busy trying to attract more investment dollars from a local high-roller. 

I suppose it's only natural John Stamos tends to be highly attractive for this type of role, both figuratively and literally. While he's certainly noticeably aged, it's very much in the same way George Clooney has - you can call his wrinkles and lines distinctive, rugged or what have you but if anything it's only complimented the dark features and looks that made him a household name from Full House's original run. But good looks can't carry you this far, and Stamos has...maybe not the acting chops per se, but perhaps the awareness of what casting directors are looking for when they look to him (again, not unlike Clooney). His Grandfathered character is vain, but playfully vain. While both Undateable and Crowded were trying to aim for their demos by copy-pasting what their creators imagine actual Millennials and empty-nesters to be (and only proving themselves extremely out of touch in the process), Stamos' character is more of an aspirational avatar, something both like-aged Baby Boomers and even younger Millennials wish they could be now, or wish to be when they get that age. The aspirational avatar verses the empathetic avatar is a pretty interesting battle of dichotomous approaches, but based on my own observations the former tends to be a lot more successful at actually attracting escapist-seeking viewers while the latter just tends to be mishandled into unintentional (or perhaps even fully intentional) viewer insults. Or if nothing else, Stamos just plays his role in a very entertaining way.

Josh Peck also manages to have fun, with his Drake & Josh days a distant memory - here he's playing off being more of an early Full House John Stamos ripoff, but again he does it well, showing that in this show he is indeed his father's son. His daughter's school reaches out to his dad because he himself has his phone off because he's busy with his wife programming a parenting app on his phone that will let him be a better parent - and the vain playfulness of I can't help but be awesome at this nicely compliments the previous scene of Stamos trying to see what eyewear makes him look the most youthful. It's also both a more realistic and more entertaining (and much less insulting) look at Millennials than either Undateable or Crowded. While trying to fund his startup, Peck's working at a restaurant, and he's conferring with the chef when said chef starts suggesting he hook up with a certain tech venture capitalist known for being both a playboy and for turning money and startups into cash-making magic (turns out they're fraternity bros and Adam Sandler aficionados). 

Meanwhile the reason why Stamos has been called to his granddaughter's school is because she was bitten by another child (hence the title of the episode), resulting in two-grandparent hysteria as Stamos and his officially-ex-wife but really not-so-ex-wife panic as to whether or not Edie has been infected into becoming a pint-sized preschool zombie and how dare the faculty allow such a monster roam around the playground feasting off the flesh of innocent children. Again, Stamos proves that a scene description and direction are just that, and it's the execution that makes the difference between having the scene come off as ridiculous garbage and be actually entertaining and even relatable.

That's not to say the scene is perfect, especially as, umm...what's her face takes over. Apparently it's an unwritten role that every show with a toddler or pre-pre-teen (>9 years) or even pre-teen or actual teen (ref. The Goldbergs) has to have at least one episode with one scene where a parent complains about modern school administration being both overly-sensitive to kids who do their own children wrong and not sensitive enough to said own children (and keeping in mind that The Goldbergs takes place in the 80s, yeah this thing has been happening for quite some time). And usually its pulled off with all the tour de force of an image macro taken from Gran Torino with the block letter caption Get Off My Lawn! Nope, this show's not going to be an exception. 

Meanwhile Josh and wife are getting lost in their parenting app, so much so that their friend complains about the four bucks spent sending so many texts (seriously, what kind of carrier plan doesn't include unlimited text nowadays? Sheesh even I have that!) I'll say, it actually seems like most of the players, and Stamos and Peck especially, seem to be getting into their roles and enjoying the playful vanity these roles call for, as opposed to say Bridgit's Candace and all the jackasses surrounding her who just stand there and act like gee I hope this improv scene is working! (seriously, now that I think about it, when Christian and Sean reviewed Jessie "Green-Eyed Monsters" and were complaining about the improv, yeah, that's pretty much what Undateable as a show is like) or Miranda's Shea who stands there, all dead-eyed as she recites Millennial girly-nerd stereotypes and you can tell behind her eyes she's thinking I used to be the highest-paid sitcom actress in all of Hollywood. Or Debby's Lucy Diamond who...umm...is like in all of 6 minutes out of a 44 minute drama, including when she shows up in the episode as a still photograph.

And here we have more Millennial-Baby Boomer conflict as Peck and wife and Stamos' ex disagree on how the school should run things - but the difference here is, again, they play the hell out of it, with Stamos even pointing out how ludicrous even having this argument is. 

And then shit hits the fan and all hell breaks loose when they get another notification that Edie has been bitten again. Everybody's upset and ready to go to war with the school - except Stamos, who not only still doesn't see what the big deal is but is disappointed that he's still not on Edie' emergency contacts list. Cue commercial break, and then it's everybody so desperate to find out who the biter is they interrogate their own grand/daughter as to the identity, a little girl who can barely even speak coherent words. 

She ain't no rat.

Stamos and ex volunteer at the playground to, as Stamos himself puts it, shake down toddlers. Unfortunately for them the kids are either already smart enough to outsmart their lame efforts, or just too dumb to play along. It certainly has moments but again, is it perfect/ No. Is it entertaining? ...it's not perfectly entertaining but I'd say it's serviceable for what it is. It does feel like it's got one or two moments trying to reach for legitimate charm and coming up short, with everything else really feeling like filler. Then again it's like a 45 second scene.

Finally they run into a reddish-hair (there we go again!) girl who seems far too articulate and, well, far too tall to be hanging around in a preschool playground like this. Not to mention far too versed in the art of the shakedown as her knowledge of the biter comes at an obvious price. Even Stamos has to, yet again, lampshade it - oh my God, she's the same age as the rest of them and yet she speaks like us! This is really cool!

Oh, and her name is Clementine, a name that hasn't been used since the great Alaska gold rush of 1879 and a name so archaic my spellcheck doesn't even recognize it, and her price is for the two to help her build a sandcastle. Stamos and ex are transported back to when they were kids and the romanticism of having no other responsibility than to play in the sandbox - a romanticism that's broken when playing in said sandbox results in used band-aids being entangled in their hair. Their sandcastle is beautiful, just perfect for Clementine to do her DRAGOOOON ATAAAAACK! on it. The bell rings, they demand the biter's name from her and Clementine yells out Alex-synn! Yes it's intentionally ambiguous as to what she actually said, that's a plot point.

And after a brief interlude involving Peck's pitch rehearsal, we come straight to that plot point as Stamos and ex invite Alex's grandparents over only to find out that Alex has been gone from school all week. Because both the show's been rather poor on showing how much time has passed and because Viewers are Morons ex turns to Stamos to remind the audience that, yes, Edie was bitten only yesterday and there's no way it could've been Alex. They decide they're in too deep anyway even as Alex's grandparents threaten to shame him through Mickey Mouse as punishment. 

And now we get to the real reason why I chose this episode specifically - Peck finally meets this venture capitalist frat bro of his chef friend, played none other by - yup, Drake Bell himself. As he steps out of his Mercedes AMG Gullwing I can't help but think, yup, at this point if this were multi-cam all of Drake's words would be drowned out by a cheering crowd - you know, if there's one thing I learned from 100 Things To Do Before High School if nothing else it's that there is an automatic bump in quality going to single-cam format. Anyway, turns out Bell is a total jerkwad and he openly insults his frat bro right in front of Peck and wife. And, oh yeah, tells them that they're paying for his dinner. And we get a nice Drake & Josh referential joke (see top quote). Meanwhile Stamos figures that Alex-synn could really be Alexis, and it's clear Peck is far more passionate about his "co-parenting" app than Bell is. Instead Bell's more concerned about Peck's lack of experience and everything else and is much more interested in simply insulting him and his wife and about how they're so nerdy they have to "go at it" wearing Darth Vader masks. Stamos calls his ex to tell her the exciting news of the biter's identity in his restaurant, and before he knows it his assistant is telling him he's preparing a date meal - obviously getting back with the ex is an underlying theme on this show. Naturally their stakeout of Alexis' parents turns out to exactly be a date, even as the ex will be going out on a date with another guy (on a boat no less) right after. Back at the other dinner Peck finally tells off Bell for being a douchebag (just the way Peck's face contorts almost makes it feel like it's as much Josh Nichols telling him off as his Grandfathered character Gerald, and it's probably exactly set up that way) and it makes Bell's character realize that he isn't nearly as cool as how he both thinks he is or how his money suggests. He makes it clear he thinks the parenting app is a winner, but Peck's wife still tells him off. Doubling the offer changes her mind even as the frat bro chef joins in on the telling off, Peck and wife agree to the offer and we get yet another Drake & Josh reference - hug me brother!

Finally while Stamos' ex leaves to go to her date Stamos' assistant joins in and it turns out his hunch is right, Alexis is the biter - but it turns out she only bit in self-defense as Edie spit in her face, and Alex's parents are pissed off as they had been trying to find out who the spitter is but the school won't tell them. Demanding that Stamos tell them himself, he gives up Clementine - who hangs out at the sandbox - and the snitch had it comin'.

I'll have to admit that last scene was kinda funny.

So, again, Grandfathered isn't perfect, and given both fierce competition and FOX's general state it's extremely tough for a sitcom to get the audience it needs to survive its freshman year. Then again, if nothing else, it's just more fun and entertaining to watch than either Undateable or Crowded, both of which were grinding, excruciating chores to watch (and offensive on top of that), and the players involved seemed to actually have fun, or again at least more fun than the shoulder-shrug performances on Undateabale or the dead-eyed stares at the camera provided by Crowded. 

Episode Grade: I'm wavering between a B- or a C+. I'd maybe say C++ but then people will think I'm making a lame programming joke (fun fact: I actually know a little bit about how to do that language so maybe the temptation to make a joke is not too far off). Or B--? Either way, it's not enough to declare it the greatest sitcom ever made or even be sad about its cancellation but it's well above both the double-F scores of Undateable and Crowded, and the dreaded AV Club "Gentleman's F."
Episode MVP: Josh Peck certainly gave a fighting effort for episode MVP; Drake Bell...came off a bit strong even if he was playing a douchebag. Hell, I'm very tempted to give it to Shiloh Nelson aka Clementine but at the end of the day there's a reason why John Stamos remains, uh, I guess relatively in-demand for a celebrity fondly remembered from early-mid 90s television and even if nowadays its mostly for a sequel to that same TV show. Yeah, John's getting MVP for this one.




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