Last night was a good night for fans of Paget Brewster. After last week’s episode of Grandfathered, which contained decidedly not enough Sara, we got “My Amal,” which—no surprise, given the title—contained plenty. (She was also on Drunk History. It was quite a night.)
The Laws of Television all but guarantee that eventually Sara and Jimmy will actually reunite. To this point in the season, Grandfathered has barely teased it—after the big mention in the pilot, and a quick conversation with Gerald a few episodes later, it’s mostly steered away from the will-they-or-won’t-they inherent in the show’s structure. But, like Sara and her car, it looks like we’re getting ready to turn in about 40 miles.
Surprisingly, I find myself totally on board with this development. Early in the show’s run, the telegraphed inevitability was a little eye-roll inducing—the second Jimmy mentions that he was only in love once, it’s obvious that the object of his affection is the very woman with whom he unknowingly has a kid, and just as obvious that Grandfathered wants the audience to get on board the Jimmy-Sara train. Somehow, six episodes later, they’ve done it (insert the train metaphor of your choice here). By getting out of the way and letting two charming people spend some time being charming around (and to) each other, they did what no pair of cute nicknames could ever do. Bring on Sushi and Ponyboy.
What makes “My Amal” such a smart episode is that it does something totally expected without actually doing it. Nothing happens between Sara and Jimmy. The actual events of the episode (or of their storyline, at least) follow a pretty traditional romantic comedy arc without any of the actual romance. They’re still just two people who were once a couple, and who’ve now platonically reentered each other’s lives. Still, by the end of the episode, something has changed—that was a very charged fist-grab, after all—and the show has concretely tied Jimmy’s gradual ascent into maturity to the possibility of his rediscovering that one great love after all.
Jimmy has never seemed more childlike than he does in this episode—something Stamos does really well, from jamming the buttons on the air conditioner to gleefully watching Fruitville Friends—but what “My Amal” reveals is that the key to his immaturity is the shiny veneer of cool with which he shellacs his life. Stamos isn’t the actor that Brewster is, but he does solid work here, showing little flashes of the real person underneath all that slick nonsense. Like The Grinder does with Rob Lowe, Grandfathered does a great job of using Stamos’s well-established schtick to push him to a new level, and by making that well-practiced charm a negative character trait, rather than a positive one, they manage to make the familiar setup merely a platform for something new.
It helps that we’ve got someone handy with which to compare Jimmy. When setting the latter up with co-worker Heidi, Sara says that Gerald is ”a 25-year-old man,” while calling Jimmy a 50-year-old boy. To be clear, I’m not saying that Josh Peck’s Gerald comes across as an adult. There’s still something vaguely kid-show about his performance, and while that’s not completely out of place for a character who clearly has no idea how to date, it can be a detriment. But what makes Gerald a man isn’t his personality, it’s his actions. Yes, his storyline in this episode basically amounts to a series of shots of he and Vanessa flopping back into bed (completely sweat-free and tidy) after sex, but the decision at which they arrive is an adult one. It’s a lucky thing, too—Peck and Christina Milian don’t have anywhere near the chemistry that Brewster and Stamos do, and the well of jokes about Gerald pining away is perilously close to running dry.
Perhaps that’s what works best about “My Amal”—it focused not on a funny scenario, or some giant mistake Jimmy made, or some Big Lesson To Be Learned, but on the people and how they relate. It’s the only surefire way to make people care about the characters, and not just the jokes. Grandfathered has always had plenty of charm. It’s nice to see the occasional dose of substance, too.
- “It’s like there’s a whole level that’s just for adults. I wonder if they do that on purpose?”
- “I also used to drink Jagermeister for breakfast. The two may or may not be related.”
- “It’s locked. IT’S LOCKED!… It’s a push.”
- Cameo watch: Dave Coulier. Eh, it’s fine. We get it, John Stamos was on Full House.
- Don’t get mad at me, please, but I’ve got to say it: Paget Brewster has a weakness. She’s a terrible fake driver.