Rob Lowe, Fred Savage Court Laughter as Brotherly Lawyers

25 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Rob Lowe and Fred Savage talk new comedy ‘The Grinder’.

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. Imagine if Sam Waterston, after playing a prosecutor for years on “Law & Order,” had gone on to have a second career in the law, using the strategies and legal mumbo-jumbo he absorbed on various episodes of the show. John Stamos and Rob Lowe both play image-spoofing versions of their red-hot-in-the-’80s personas, the former as a Lothario who suddenly meets a son and granddaughter he didn’t know he had, the latter as a TV star who, with his show over, decides to go back home, much to the chagrin of his down-to-Earth brother.

Each series possesses modest charms, although it’s not clear either is going to age particularly well — even if its stars have — once the novelty wears off. In this case, he’s Dean Sanderson, who starred as an attorney in a long-running show, so much so that he can (or at least believes he can) BS his way through a courtroom summation. With the show over, Dean comes back home to Boise, where he’s treated like a conquering hero by practically everyone except his brother Stewart (Fred Savage). Premiering Tuesday on Fox, “The Grinder” finds big-time TV star Dean Sander (Lowe) reaching the end of his successful run on a legal drama called “The Grinder,” which he headlined as the winningest fake lawyer since Perry Mason.

That includes their dad (William Devane, without much to do, but still classing up the joint), Stewart’s wife (Mary Elizabeth Ellis), who tells her hubby that having Dean around “makes you feel like a side character;” and naturally their kids. But, hey, the Grinder never settled—and to his younger brother’s dismay, Dean throws himself into the case with the never-say-die grit and legal moves he remembers from his show.

With his series now canceled, Dean decides to pay his family a visit in their all-American hometown of Boise, Idaho, where his dweebish younger brother Stewart (played by Savage) is a real-life lawyer who actually practices law — though not so heroically. The cliche, of course, is that everyone else is so starry eyed about Dean’s celebrity that only Stewart can see through his facade, while Dean has been rooted in fantasy for so long that he can’t always differentiate fiction from reality.

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?” Needless to say (since it IS a comedy), the brothers will support and learn from each other. That said, you wonder how many times Dean can saunter into court (or anywhere else, for that matter), as he inevitably does, and knock ’em dead, relying on the principal that folks in the fly-over states lose all of their cool when exposed to someone who’s been on television. Rowe and Savage, and the naturalness with which they play off each other, can make the “The Grinder” feel as organically airy as “Two and a Half Men,” but sweetish instead of sleazy.

The flaws notwithstanding — and despite the summer departure of producer Greg Malins — “The Grinder” feels like it has more potential than “Grandfathered,” which is yet another series (“About a Boy” being a recent example) about a grown-up Peter Pan forced to deal with the better angels in his nature thanks to exposure to a child. Stamos is Jimmy, a restaurant owner and dedicated bachelor, who has his rather awkward progeny (Josh Peck) show up at his door, complete with a little bundle of joy. 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”).

In the premiere, Jimmy has to juggle watching the kid (a task that falls largely to his harried staff) while managing things in order to give his son a night out. 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. Stamos has had various series stabs since “Full House,” including his ABC comedy “Jake in Progress,” in which he played largely the same character.

Those misgivings haven’t stopped Fox from throwing its marketing machinery behind the show, including “GILF” T-shirts (figure it out) that the network clearly hopes will be this year’s “Adorkable.” Still, the fast-fade trajectory of “New Girl” is probably a pretty fair appraisal — or perhaps warning — of the pitfalls that face these older boys, even if their ageless charisma can still achieve the hoped-for liftoff. 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. Executive producers, Daniel Chun, Chris Koch; director, Koch; writer, Chun. 30 MIN. /// Executive producers, Andrew Mogel, Jarrad Paul, Nicholas Stoller, Greg Malins, Rob Lowe, Jake Kasdan, Melvin Mar; co-executive producer, Erin O’Malley; director, Kasdan; writers, Paul, Mogel; camera, Rhet Bear; production designer, Ethan Tobman; editor, Jeremy Cohen; music, Michael Andrews; casting, Jeanne McCarthy, Nicole Abellara. 30 MIN.

Co-stars on “The Grinder” include the truly veteran star William Devane (who at 78 plays their dad), as well as Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Hana Hayes, Connor Kalopsis and Natalie Morales. “Long ago, I was diagnosed as terminally handsome,” he jokes in an “Elephant Man” tone. “And I have had to live with it.

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