Sometimes all you need is 90% silly and 10% solid. In “Budget Spa,” Grandfathered doesn’t reinvent the wheel, and it doesn’t swing for the fences (as some previous episodes have). What it does do, though, it does very well, delivering a solid episode that centers on two big stories with little subplots built in—and because it’s Grandfathered and thus never misses a chance to be just a little bit thoughtful, it ends with a scene that’s equal parts sweet, sad, and ’shipper-bait.
But before we get to Jimmy and Sara’s tinfoil, let’s take some time to praise that ludicrous artichoke bit, and the smart set-up that allowed such a bit to exist. Jimmy dings Sara for not going out more (and in his defense, that’s one rough “Rock the Casbah” joke), she bats back about his constant need for validation from women, and we’re off to the races. While it doesn’t exactly seem that Sara’s storyline is a direct reaction to what Jimmy says—everyone’s occasionally insecure, but Sara seems pretty solid most of the time—the effect is the same: Sara jets off in one direction, with Vanessa and Annelise in tow, and Jimmy, who definitely feels he has something to prove, heads off with his son and employees (and their penises) to a Korean Spa.
Just like that, the episode becomes an efficient, confident affair that, because it’s not covering too much ground—nearly the whole episode is spent in either Vanessa’s “rich people bar Downton Abbey” find or Ravi and Gerald’s budget spa—makes plenty of time for two really simple, ridiculous arcs. Yes, the two big stories (Sara’s “catch and release” dude and Jimmy’s rock-bottom) certainly mean more, and they were great, too, but it was nice to see Grandfathered go back to the well that gave us Ravi and Annelise’s safe-busting quest and keep it simple and just a little bit stupid. The budget spa stuff works, but the artichoke thing? That sings.
Go with me, here: there’s a special kind of bliss in a joke that’s specific to the person telling (or performing) it, but is simultaneously just a little bit universal. Grandfathered’s been setting Vanessa up as this rough-and-tumble girl since she punctured those drumheads (“Shyamalan!”), throwing in dozens of little moments where she tries to get free stuff or doesn’t know her own physical strength or is ready to throw down (remember that baseball bat that came out of nowhere?), and that commitment treally pays off here. At this point, we know Vanessa to be many great things, but classy is not one of them, so the set-up alone does a lot of the work, and after a few on-the-nose jokes, writer Laura Chinn picks one thing and just keeps going. It could have easily missed (and probably for some of you, it did), but the marriage of the consistent characterization of Vanessa, Christina Milian’s winning performance, and Chinn’s willingness to dig in deep on something that’s really kind of silly really makes it work. She wants to be classy, but she just isn’t. She orders an artichoke and doesn’t know how to eat it, because they are a really weird food. She spends the rest of the episode dealing with artichokes. How simple, and stupid, and great. A+, would watch again.
Elsewhere in the bar, Annelise’s personal life gets tanked again because Jimmy has no boundaries—we’ve got to be headed for some sort of breaking point there, right?—in a plot that would be funnier if it didn’t seem so familiar. Both the tall blonde lesbian and artichoke-gate are adjacent to the main event of the girl’s-night plot: Sara’s disappointing evening of gentlemen. As it turns out, accountants who talk about whale-watching are bad, but rugged-looking dudes whose wives are totally cool with flirting are worse. It can’t be overstated how welcome it is to see Paget Brewster get more screen time after a few weeks where she’s been somewhat underused. “I’m all horned up!” is easily the most solid laugh of the episode, it’s a pleasure watching her use her own game (“pardon my reach,” indeed), and while it’s far from most substantive stuff Brewster’s been given, it all sets up that lovely little final scene, so it’s well worth the time.
The titular spa storyline doesn’t work quite as well, but it’s still fun. Grandfathered has a formula when it comes to its grandfather: Jimmy gets confronted with one hang-up or another (“If a man of your stature wanted to find true love, he’d have found it by now”), spends lots of time denying or avoiding said hangup, and eventually at least gains some self-awareness, if not real growth. It’s not something groundbreaking, but Grandfathered goes about it so honestly that it almost always works. It does here, as well, thanks in no small part to the welcome return of Noreen DeWulf’s loathsome Priya, though it doesn’t pack the subtle punch of some of its previous installments. Stamos has really gotten that charm-while-panicking thing down to a science at this point, and it’s in full force here. The story may feel a little overly familiar at this point, but when it works, it works.
The other half of the boy’s-night plot—the second artichoke, if you will—is Gerald and Ravi’s competition to see who can make the most of their all-you-can-eat-and-drink-but-not-really spa experience. There’s not much to say here. It’s funny, and does what you expect. The biggest surprise is how winning Josh Peck and Ravi Patel are when paired, a combination the show will hopefully return to in the future. Again, it works, and that’s enough.
So 90% of “Budget Spa” is sitcom-mostly by-the-numbers, albeit in the smart, confident way Grandfathered has mostly nailed throughout its first season. But in its final scene—soundtracked by Elliott Smith, no less—the show dips back into its very finest well, delivering a scene that wouldn’t be out of place on something like Casual or another dramatic comedy. Jimmy and Sara’s plan to get married when they’re old is simple, and sweet, and layered with years of experience and disappointment and comfort and respect. Brewster and Stamos don’t oversell it, and Grandfathered once again delays the reunion that seems all but inevitable—something that makes the relationship much more believable. It simply pops up at the end, elevating an otherwise familiar (though solid) episode to something special. The silly stuff is great—that artichoke especially—but it’s scenes like this that make Grandfathered special.
- It’s been called out in previous reviews, but it’s worth restating: Grandfathered’s commitment to a diverse cast is a terrific thing, and the fact that they’re so casual about it makes it even better.
- “You eat like a giant monster.”
- “This is a Korean song that describes how I’m feeling right now. It’s called ‘The Penniless Beggar of Gwanju.’”
- “What am I gonna get? Don’t say hot dogs, I had three for lunch.”
- “No seriously, this tour was unbelievable. They said we’d be lucky to see one whale. We saw two whales.”
- “Who was recording that video?”
- I demand more Victor. Victor is the best.