Review: ‘Grandfathered’ and ‘The Grinder,’ Two New Fox Sitcoms

28 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Fall TV preview: Rob Lowe, Fred Savage court laughter as brotherly lawyers.

“I’m a 50-year-old bachelor,” says Jimmy Martino (John Stamos), the protagonist of “Grandfathered.” “We’re society’s most worthless people.” Buck up, Jimmy.It is probably a coincidence that Fox landed “The Grinder,” Rob Lowe’s post-“Parks and Recreation” starring vehicle, and “Grandfathered,” John Stamos’s first turn as a series regular since the end of “ER,” simultaneously.With his series now canceled, Dean decides to pay his family a visit in their all-American hometown of Boise, where his dweebish younger brother Stewart (played by Savage) actually practices law — though not so heroically. Both men play aging pretty boys who are spectacularly self-absorbed in a way that would seem monstrous if they weren’t so charming, and let’s face it, handsome. (These are men clearly benefiting from living in “The Bubble” of “30 Rock” fame.) More importantly, the actors and writers of both shows work hard to reveal the characters’ warmth and foibles as they each deal with major life curveballs.

This includes horning in on the family’s law firm as a self-styled partner despite his lack of a law degree, license or courtroom experience beyond a Hollywood soundstage. “Is he really in search of the authentic — or just taking on a new acting role?” poses Lowe, who is clearly eager for viewers not only to laugh at his new show, but also ponder its unfolding subtext. “The theater of the courtroom is a perfect place for him — or so he thinks,” says Lowe. “But the show raises the question: Is acting it as good as being it?” The show doesn’t mock ordinary life as much as the delusions of a celebrity trying to adapt to it. It’s as if we are stumbling upon his character from the ill-fated and underrated 2005 ABC series “Jake in Progress” a little farther down the road in his journey. The scenery is another plus; Utah fills in for North Dakota. “Grandfathered” and “The Grinder” seem more like movie plots than sitcoms, but both offer dashing leading men. NEW YORK — If you look for it, there’s a lot of stuff packed into “The Grinder,” a funny if — at first glance — lightweight comedy starring Rob Lowe and Fred Savage. But maybe thanks to his brother, Stewart will find new excitement in his humdrum world as Dean celebrates it for its normalcy. “Dean gets excited about breakfast!” says Lowe. “He gets excited about carpooling the kids to school!

He plays swinging bachelor and hot restaurateur Jimmy Martino, who learns in one startling encounter that not only is he a father — to the endearingly hapless Josh Peck of “Drake & Josh” fame — but also a grandfather, a word that, predictably, he has trouble saying aloud. That gag and several others feel a bit rote but the addition of Paget Brewster, typically great as the salty but smart long-ago ex-girlfriend who kept her pregnancy to herself, elevates everything around it. He wants what the people in this town have — or at least thinks he does.” This might lead the viewer to wonder if the novelty of normality will eventually wear off for Dean, prompting him to make a break for Tinseltown (and dooming “The Grinder”). But, funny thing, being the best new network comedy of the season hardly singles you out for greatness or even potential greatness in 2015. “Grandfathered” and “The Grinder” are decent shows, no more, no less.

You can take it. (Here’s a list of premiere dates for new and returning series.) And you’ll be happy to know that I’m sticking with my plan to summarize the new shows in just 10 words. Here he is Dean Sanderson, an actor who played a successful lawyer on TV — “The Grinder” of the title — who returns to his small town believing he now possesses enough knowledge to join the family law practice. The 39-year-old Savage first gained fame as a youngster in the beloved coming-of-age series “The Wonder Years,” then supplemented his acting career as a prolific TV comedy director. Dean Sanderson Jr. (Rob Lowe) has just finished a long run as the star of a TV legal drama, also called “The Grinder.” Visiting his family in Boise, Idaho, he declares that he’s at loose ends: “I’m just driving down the highway of ‘What the hell is my life?’ looking for an off-ramp,” he says. His argument that it would be better to have Noah Wyle from “ER” sitting at a table near you in a restaurant if you went into cardiac arrest as opposed to a person who hadn’t played a doctor on TV is delivered with hilarious persuasiveness, much to his lawyer brother Stewart’s chagrin.

But nobody will be confusing them with the lofty likes of “M*A*S*H,” “Cheers” and “Seinfeld.” The sad truth is that, these days, it just doesn’t take much to lead the half-hour comedy pack in the traditional world of the broadcast networks. That Stewart, a fastidious, color-coded-index-card type, is played with delicious frustration by Fred Savage — who has mainly worked behind the scenes as a director since his childhood days on “The Wonder Years” — is a bonus that looks to pay future dividends. Rob Lowe stamps his devilish wit on “The Grinder” as a TV actor, known for a TV lawyer series, who joins the very real law firm of his brother (Fred Savage).

He later found success on TV, including the respected drama “The West Wing.” Both actors readily admit to amazement at having crossed that youth-to-adulthood Rubicon in a business where young stars always grow up, then often flare out. Such is the aura of Dean’s stardom that only Stewart — a dutiful worker ant with public-speaking problems — points out the problem, namely, that Dean has never worked in a courtroom that didn’t have a craft services table. The premise begs credulity, but the combined star power of Lowe, Savage and William Devane (as their father) should bring viewers to this pleasant series. “Code Black,” premiering at 10 p.m. Each shares childhood recollections of hoping that more roles would await him as a teen, only to hope as a teen that he would find more work as a grown-up. The networks were the unquestioned masters of this form for almost 60 years, from the days of “I Love Lucy” to the fall of 2009, which saw the premieres of ABC’s “Modern Family” and NBC’s “Community.” Since then?

At heart, “The Grinder” is a battle between two essential, opposed American philosophies: “Work hard and play by the rules” versus “Fake it till you make it.” The pilot has fun with everyone’s star-struck willingness to buy into Dean’s playacting — family, media, even other lawyers — while Stewart finds himself, in the words of his wife, Debbie (Mary Elizabeth Ellis), a “side character” in his own life. Yet Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden is compelling as a haunted physician, and Luis Guzman excels in a change-of-pace role as a nurse with a tender side. “Dr.

Well, we’ve seen the departures of such acclaimed network comedies as “30 Rock,” “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” and not much has come along to replace them on the quality front. He’s as much a victim of his delusion as anyone else; like Buzz Lightyear in “Toy Story,” he’s an action figure who believes he really can fly.

Ken,” which stars Ken Jeong (“Community”) as a doctor with a lousy bedside manner (and lousier scripts), is typical of the abysmal freshman comedies the networks fielded last fall. We meet Jimmy, the restaurateur, working the floor of his successful nightspot, glad-handing and flirting to the sound of “Uptown Funk.” Quick as an elevator pitch, his sexy-single life is interrupted, as the show’s premise walks in: Gerald (Josh Peck), the adult son Jimmy never knew he fathered, with baby Edie, Jimmy’s granddaughter. And as always, you would do well to check my daily Watchers picks on the Montreal Gazette’s smartphone app in the iTunes and PLAY stores. (It’s the blue one — the app, not the store.) For only the second time since 1952, a non-network comedy, “Veep,” claimed the best-comedy honors (the other also was an HBO show, “Sex and the City”).

But I’m a HUMAN BEING — I just want to be treated like anybody else!” “And I have to work beside him,” Savage chimes in. “His handsomeness is like a solar eclipse — you must never look at him directly! Even more telling, most of the major comedy awards went to cable and streaming shows, including best actor to Jeffrey Tambor (for Amazon’s “Transparent”) and best actress to Julia Louis-Dreyfus for “Veep.” Most telling of all, for the last two years, the majority of the nominees for best comedy have come from the cable and streaming world. And when the workday is over, you have to wind down by gazing at something a little less beautiful, like a flower or a kitten.” EDITOR’S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. Wednesday on CBS, and “Chicago PD” is back for its third season at 10 on NBC. “Criminal Minds” draws the tough assignment of facing Fox’s booming “Empire.” NBC’s Thursday will depend heavily on “The Blacklist,” back for its third season, at 9 p.m.

And he meets Gerald’s mom, Sara (Paget Brewster), an old flame who doesn’t want Jimmy getting close to Gerald or to herself (which more or less guarantees that he will). “Grandfathered” is as winningly cast as “The Grinder” — Mr. You could say this is a case of how the mighty have fallen, but it’s more like how the mighty have stumbled, slipping on a succession of banana peels they dropped in their own path.

In their desperate chase after young viewers, the networks have, for the most part, turned their backs on comedies that tackle social issues, reflect middle-class concerns or aim for a level of wit that gives viewers credit for some intelligence and sophistication. Brewster enlivens any cast she’s in, but Sara is pushed into the role of scold. (In fairness, Sara acknowledges it. “I’m cool,” she protests. “I watch ‘Portlandia,’ ”) “The Grinder” also needs to give its female characters more to do. Witness the deals given “Arrested Development,” “Community” and “The Mindy Project.” In this environment, a show like “Hot in Cleveland” mimics the network sitcoms of the ’90s and becomes a cable hit. Ellis (the acerbic Waitress on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) has what amounts to an “Oh, honey” wife role in the pilot. (Maybe conscious of this weakness, the show will introduce Natalie Morales as Dean and Stewart’s co-worker in future episodes.) But any other person, man or woman, is bound to be a supporting player in the lives of Dean and Jimmy.

There are other banana peels, of course, including the destruction of the mentoring system, in which a young writer would spend years on an established hit, learning the craft, before producing his or her own new show. In these comedies, they’re both the stars and the joke, funny because it’s true: For man-children like them, of whatever age, there will always be a second act.

Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black,” for instance, received a best-comedy nomination for the 2013-14 season, but a best-drama nod for the 2014-15 season. A convincing argument could be made for each nomination. “Transparent” and the CW’s “Jane the Virgin” are two more shows blurring the line between comedy and drama.

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