Fox is depending on formula on Tuesday nights, and that isn’t just a reference to John Stamos having to learn to feed his toddler granddaughter in the better of two new sitcoms starring middle-aged but ageless heartthrobs.
Stamos and Rob Lowe offer the immediate appeal of “Grandathered” and “The Grinder” respectively, but Stamos’ show has the writing, performance and concept chops to go the distance.
You’ve seen the set-up before, more or less. Scenes in “Grandfathered” will prompt you to search your dusty memory banks until you recall “Three Men and a Baby,” not to mention every other TV show and movie in which a male has to deal with an infant.
Stamos plays Jimmy Martino, the 50-year-old uber-bachelor who runs an eponymous restaurant where the rich and famous tend to graze. One day, a young guy named Gerald (Josh Peck) walks into the joint, hems and haws a bit and finally tells Stamos he’s his son, the product of a brief but passionate relationship 26 years earlier. Oh, and by the way, Gerald has a baby named Ivy.
Jimmy’s initial response is to try to put as much distance between his new family and himself as possible. Naturally, a guy who tweezes out single gray hairs has trouble even saying the word “grandfather.”
But at heart, Jimmy is a decent guy and knows better. He’ll make an effort, but only after confronting Gerald’s mom Sara Kingsley (Paget Brewster) about why she never told him she was pregnant all those years ago.
Jimmy fumbles a lot of plays as both a dad and a grandfather, but show creator Dan Chun is smart enough to know you can only milk that subject for so long. The show’s structure and concept may be somewhat familiar and even predictable, but Chun capitalizes on it well with deft characterizations and most of all, very funny dialogue.
The show pays tribute to the past in a few nice cameos. Early on, you’ll hear Stamos deliver the line, “Not now, Frank, I’m eating” while stopping to chat with some patrons. It’s the punch line to one of Don Rickles’ greatest stories. He and a young woman were in a restaurant and Frank Sinatra came in. Rickles went up to him and begged him to stop by his table because his date didn’t believe he knew Sinatra. Sinatra agreed, stopped by the table, and Rickles cut him dead with that punch line.
Later in the show, Mr. Warmth himself shows up at the restaurant, joining Deion Sanders and Lil Wayne. But he’s not the only cameo. Bob Saget is at another table, and judging by how many of the tables are occupied, Jimmy’s has a full house tonight.
The cast is perfect in every way. There’s solid polar-opposite chemistry between Stamos and Peck, and potently complicated chemistry between Stamos and Brewster. Christina Milian plays Gerald’s friend Vanessa, who is also the baby’s mother. Gerald would like to be more than friends who just had a one-night stand. Kelly Jenrette is also spot on as Jimmy’s no-BS assistant.
It’s funny, it’s warm and a deceptively good lead-in to the other new Fox comedy, “The Grinder,” which has nothing to do with a type of sandwich.
Fred Savage and Rob Lowe are pretty unbelievable as brothers. I suppose we’ll get used to that, but, really, who cast this thing?
Lowe plays Dean Sanderson, a handsome, not particularly bright TV star whose most recent role was playing a tough lawyer known as “the Grinder.” Now that the show has ended Dean is at loose ends so he comes back home to Boise, Idaho, to visit his family, including his younger brother Stewart (Fred Savage) who doesn’t just play a lawyer on TV: He’s a real lawyer, who isn’t all that happy to see his bro come back to town. In fact, Stewart’s attitude toward Dean mirrors that of Robert Barone toward his brother Ray in “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
Dean seems to get everything, including the attention of their dad, Dean Sr. (William Devane), who is also a real lawyer. Dean Sr. runs the law firm where Stewart works.
But what Stewart really resents is that things seem to come so easily for his brother while he’s had to work hard for everything he’s gotten in life, including winning the affection of his wife, Debbie (Mary Elizabeth Ellis), who used to date Dean in high school. He’s immediately resentful and wary on a number of fronts when Dean comes back to town.
He’s only supposed to stay a few days, but Dean figures he’s done so well playing a lawyer on TV, he should just join the family law firm as well.
The setup is forced and not entirely believable, but it can work well enough. Savage and Lowe may not convince anyone that they share a single gene, but as actors, they play well off each other. The writing needs a huge jolt, though, if “The Grinder” is going to share the hour with “Grandfathered.” As it stands, it’s a bit of a letdown.
WHERE TO WATCH
“Grandfathered” airs at 7 p.m. Tuesdays on Fox.
“The Grinder” airs at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays on Fox.