Written by Matt Taylor
From ’80s heartthrob to star of The West Wing, Rob Lowe is no stranger to reinvention. Over the last few years, Lowe has reinvented himself for a third time, becoming a successful comedic star thanks to his work in Parks & Recreation, where he was literally the funniest member of a hugely talented cast. Now, Lowe moves from a supporting part to the center stage, fronting Fox’s newest sitcom, The Grinder. The result: a competent pilot that will, hopefully, improve in the coming weeks.
Interestingly enough, The Grinder is also about a reinvention of sorts, with Lowe starring as Dean Sanderson, an actor famous for his role as a lawyer on a once popular TV show that has been cancelled. Dean, who is a bit self-absorbed and not all that bright, decides to use the “knowledge” he gained from his time on the show and become a (real) lawyer like his dad and younger brother (Fred Savage). But, as he quickly learns, playing a lawyer on TV is not the same as playing one in a real courtroom.
While the plot is absolutely ludicrous and requires you to accept that many of the characters are complete idiots, The Grinder, wisely, gives its cast plenty of chances to show off their comedic talents. Rob Lowe is, unsurprisingly, quite funny, depicting his character’s annoying qualities without making his character unlikable. His role is a bit one-note but, hopefully, he’ll be able to develop his character in the coming weeks. Mary Elizabeth Ellis (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) also has some nice moments as Dean’s sister-in-law, but her character is ridiculously underwritten, reducing her to nothing more than the supportive wife archetype. And, in what amounts to nothing more than an extended cameo, Kumail Nanjiani, from HBO’s brilliant Silicon Valley, delivers most, if not all, of the episode’s best lines.
The true MVP of the cast, however, isn’t Rob Lowe, but Fred Savage. The former child star is all grown up and a comedic gold mine, blending physical humor with some solid one-liners as Dean’s nerdy, but successful brother. The actor is the perfect foil to his onscreen sibling, appearing believably awkward without ever becoming a caricature. Watching him nervously walk around the courtroom or fumble his way through a brotherly hug are some of the pilot’s best moments, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Savage continues to steal the show in the coming weeks.
Unfortunately, The Grinder ends up becoming relatively clichéd as the episode goes on, with some clunky “family bonding” moments that don’t feel earned. If the upcoming episodes continue to have the two brothers fight, only to make up just before the credits roll, the show will become quickly become a bore. Additionally, it really needs to start developing its characters. While it is somewhat unreasonable to expect a sitcom to offer complex characters in its first thirty minutes, all the supporting actors are basically playing cardboard cutouts, barely influencing the story and doing very little to actually make an impression on the viewer. And, it must be said: the title of this series is almost comically bad. Does no one at Fox know that, to my generation, “Grinder” isn’t a well-known legal term but a dating app?
It’s hard to judge a show by its pilot, and The Grinder definitely has some potential. Its two leads are both very good, and the supporting cast is stacked with actors that will (ideally) be given more to do in the coming weeks. That being said, the series could stand to lose its forced family drama. During his time on Parks & Recreation, Rob Lowe was one of the best actors on television, making an already great show even better. Hopefully The Grinder will, eventually, live up to his potential.
Rating: 6 out of 10
The Grinder airs Tuesday nights on FOX