By Adam Garcia
The 1-4-0: Rob Lowe’s natural charisma can’t save this lackluster sitcom.
The Gist: After years as TV’s most popular lawyer, Dean (Rob Lowe) moves back to his hometown to work at the family law firm alongside his younger brother, Stewart (Fred Savage).
What Works: ‘The Grinder’ comes alive in the final courtroom scene, with Lowe’s comic chops on full display. Dean treats the proceedings as a bombastic continuation of his cancelled TV show, leaving judge and jury star stuck. The sequence plays up the clichés and tropes of legal dramas, becoming the only laugh out moment in the entire episode, but it’s ultimately too little, too late.
What Doesn’t Work: This is one of those pilots that from start to finish feels like it’s been noted to death by network executives or, at the very least, been edited into oblivion. It’s a disjointed mess, with a cast that never amounts to anything beyond broad character sketches and a story that is wholly unoriginal. And despite being only a scant 22-minutes, the episode feels incredibly long and excruciatingly boring. Dean’s decision to leave Hollywood feels forced, as if the real reason he chose to practice law ended up on the cutting room floor. What’s worse is that every member of his family, save Stewart—from his lawyer father (William Devane) to Stewart’s own wife (Mary Elizabeth Ellis)—all instantly supports his decision, ignoring anything approaching logic.
Fred Savage’s Stewart is nebbish and nervous. He’s introduced as a career lawyer, frustrated by the lack of realism in his brother’s show. And while we are told that Stewart is a skilled attorney, when we do see him in the courtroom he shown blandly reading his arguments off note cards. Perhaps this was meant to highlight the differences between the two brothers, but all it does is undermine the very concept of the show. If Stewart had been shown to be a talented lawyer in his own right, the interplay between him and his overconfident, but dimwitted brother would have been a great source of laughs. Instead, we’re left with characters that feel lifted from the very worst 70s sitcoms.
Watch, Binge, or Skip: Skip. Rob Lowe continues to prove he’s a talented comic actor, but the rest of the show, from storytelling to cast, fall flat.
The Grinder premieres on FOX September 29th, 8:30pm.