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'The Grinder' fan react: Rob Lowe and Fred Savage in a promising pilot

Season 1 | Episode 1 | “Pilot” | Aired Sep 29, 2015

Fans of Rob Lowe’s Chris Traeger won’t be disappointed by his transition to Dean Sanderson in The Grinder. Charm? Check. Quirky habit? Check. Awkward interpersonal skills? Check. Self-awareness of his timeless beauty? Double check. He “LIT-er-ally” even dropped a nod to his Parks and Recreation character.

So how do we meet Dean? Watching himself on TV in his brother Stewart’s (Fred Savage) living room as the entire family watches the series finale of his show, The Grinder. Stewart’s wife, Debbie (Mary Elizabeth Ellis), dad, Dean Sr. (William Devane), and kids, Lizzie (Hana Hayes) and Ethan (Connor Kalopsis), are all enthralled by Dean and his performance, but it’s obvious that Stewart feels jealous and inferior. It doesn’t help that he’s a mumbling, incoherent, note-card-carrying mess of a lawyer in the courtroom compared to the confident, magnetic, dynamo lawyer his brother plays on TV.

While Stewart both admires and resents his star sibling, Dean sees him as the truly successful brother. Beyond fame and fortune, he wants something that will lead to a meaningful life. After injecting himself into one of Stewart’s cases, he feels inspired to give up acting and join the family practice. His dad was a lawyer, Stewart’s a lawyer, and Dean has acted as one—what more could he need? Stewart suggests law school, but Dean thinks eight years on his show has given him the knowledge and skill he needs.

Stewart is in a high-pitched, note-card-writing panic at the idea of Dean taking over his life. He amps himself up to confront his brother, but can’t do it when Dean says how much he’s missed the family.

Even more confident after negotiating cool points for his gawky middle school nephew, Dean is excited about the Sanderson and Sons practice … until he finds Stewart’s dismissive tirade of note cards. In typical Stewart fashion, he’s unable to speak his mind, and Dean calls him out on never pushing back. In a fit of ire, Stewart finally gets the nerve to cut loose and tell Dean to take a hike.

When Stewart shows up to argue the case Dean set in motion, he finds the paparazzi and a courtroom full of fans wanting to witness the Grinder in real life. When Stewart admits he had a falling out with his brother and he won’t be coming, everyone, from the standing-room-only spectators to the judge, voice their disappointment. Stewart readies his closing argument with his usual nebbish incompetence. It’s going to be a slam dunk for the other team, until a voice rises from the back …

Dean adroitly tricks a confession out of the witness on the stand! The crowd and judge are in awe, but since he’s not an actual lawyer, and because evidence was introduced in the closing argument, it’s all inadmissible. Inspired by Dean’s bravado, Stewart decides to finally “push back”: Without relying on note cards, he recites case numbers to the judge that were won on evidence introduced in the closing argument. She finds in favor of the Sandersons. Who’s the grinder now?

Back at home, Dean reluctantly says goodbye to the family. He gives an emotional, TV-worthy parting monologue that, paired with his family’s pleading looks, prompts Stewart to invite him to stay. It could be his worst nightmare, or it could be the best thing that ever happened to him.

From its unique premise to the stellar cast, The Grinder promises to be a fresh sitcom full of laughs. Most of the time, the straight man is merely the foil, the setup for the joke. But as stammering, spineless Stewart, Savage is brilliant as he elicits the kind of uncomfortable, jittery laughs you’re almost afraid to let loose, but can’t quite help yourself from. At the same time, the chemistry and confidence we see in him with his adorable wife show us who this man can be—who he wants to be. Hopefully the show will highlight this charming pair, and the stronger Stewart we get to see at home. I, for one, am so glad this project persuaded Fred Savage to act again.

In comparison, Lowe is all dazzling teeth and practiced persuasion. He knows how to work a crowd, even if it’s a crowd of one. He edges toward total cheesiness, but doesn’t quite cross the line into caricature, which is a tough line to toe. That he can deliver genuine emotion with schmaltzy made-for-TV monologues is both laughable and laudable. Art imitating life imitating art is the bubble Dean lives in, and few actors could carry off that conceit without devolving into camp. Fortunately, Lowe makes it look good (really good), and although that preciousness could grow old fast if the creators aren’t careful, his playful braggadocio is just the inspiration Stewart needs. The real fun will be in seeing how the two brothers inspire change in one another—and the trouble they get into along the way.

The Grinder airs Tuesdays at 8:30/7:30C on Fox.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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