September 29, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “The Grinder”


THE GRINDER:  Tuesday 8:30PM on FOX – If Nothing Else Is On…

THE GRINDER has something no other network sitcom this fall can claim:  an original, promising premise.  (It’s the execution that needs some work.)  Jared Paul and Andrew Mogel’s comedy gives us Dean Sanderson, Jr (Rob Lowe), longtime star of the primetime courtroom series “The Grinder.”  His show has finally been canceled, and Dean, at a loss without his TV persona, comes back home to Boise to stay with his brother Stewart (Fred Savage), an actual practicing attorney in the family firm run by Dean Sr. (William Devane).

Dean is a deluded blockhead, but he’s got all the charisma, stage presence and self-confidence Stewart missed out on, and he decides that having played a lawyer on TV, he’s perfectly qualified to practice in court.  The Grinder‘s great joke is that whether or not Dean knows what he’s doing–mostly he doesn’t, although he has some useful shrewdness about human nature–he’s so beloved that everyone bends over backwards to make him the winner he already thinks he is.  Meanwhile, ordinary, tongue-tied Stewart is like Jon Lovitz in the old Dukakis SNL sketch, all but saying “Can you believe I’m losing to this guy?”  Even his wife Debbie (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) was Dean’s girlfriend first–Stewart just can’t catch a break.

Paul and Mogel were previously best known for high-concept movie comedies like Yes Man and The D Train, and The Grinder could have been a delicious 2 hours at the multiplex.  Extending the idea to a continuing series will be more of a challenge, and the original showrunner brought in to work with the pair, Friends veteran Greg Malins, has already been canned.  It’s hard to know what to make of the fact that he’s been replaced by Ben Wexler, late of the deservedly deceased FX flop The Comedians.

The assets of The Grinder are clear, and led by Rob Lowe.  It would be easy to imagine a version of this story where the lead was someone like Will Ferrell, but Lowe gives Dean a sweetness underneath the swagger that pays off, and should help the character and show in the long run.  Dean isn’t a bully, he’s just deluded, and he wants nothing but the best for Stewart.  (Lowe even gets in a brief salute to the late great Parks & Recreation.)  Stewart is going to be the bigger tonal issue, because having him boil with frustration as he watches Dean succeed against all logic can only go so far.  Devane’s role is very broad in the pilot (directed by Jake Kasdan), and Ellis’s is blandly supportive.

The Grinder has a lot of potential, making it unique this fall, but it’s far from a sure thing.  As noted in the Grandfathered review, the 8PM hour on Tuesdays is a heavily competitive one, and The Grinder is a poor fit with Scream Queens at 9PM.  Just as the people in Boise root for Dean, though, one roots for The Grinder to find its way to the comedy it can be.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."