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The Grinder - Pilot - Review

The Grinder, “Pilot,” was written by co-creators Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel and directed by Jake Kasdan. Paul may be best known to many as an actor in such shows as Monk and Home Improvement, while Mogel previously wrote for Allen Gregory. Kasdan’s credits include Fresh Off the Boat, New Girl, and Ben and Kate. Series stars Rob Lowe (Dean), Fred Savage (Stewart), and William Devane (Dean Sr) need no introductions, and all are fabulous in this episode. This single camera comedy really hits the ground running with excellent production values, acting, and writing. My only question is whether the premise will grind down too quickly.

Lowe plays Dean Sanderson a highly successful television actor whose long running series about a slick lawyer, The Grinder, has come to an end. Savage is his brother a real life lawyer who really knows his stuff but isn’t the most impressive in the court room. Devane plays their father, also a lawyer, and head of the family firm. The three immediately have the chemistry to pull of the family dynamic. Dean is the narcissistic Hollywood actor, who believes playing a lawyer has taught him everything he needs to know about the law, but he also clearly loves his family. Stewart can’t help but be annoyed with his brother but in the end also clearly loves him.

Rounding out the family, and make no mistake, at its heart this is another family comedy, are Mary Elizabeth Ellis as Debbie, Stewart’s wife, Hana Hayes as daughter Lizzie and Connor Kalopsis as son Ethan. All three give good solid performances. Ellis will be well-known to many from her roles on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and New Girl.

The episode begins with the entire family sitting around watching the series finale of The Grinder with Dean. It was a nice way to quickly introduce all the main characters and tell us everything we need to know about Dean’s show – which looked like every other police/lawyer kind of procedural you could name – Castle, The Good Wife, Law & Order, etc… We see that even Dean’s family – except Stewart – are just a little star struck by him. There’s definitely some issues of sibling rivalry that we’re going to see play out – and I’m betting hilariously.

The next scene cuts to Debbie and Stewart in bed. I love these two together as well, as they too have great chemistry. It’s pretty clear that Debbie is Stewart’s sounding board and possibly the only person he doesn’t need to write cue cards to. I’m looking forward to learning more about Debbie.

There’s a nice little almost sub-plot in which Ethan acts as a beard for Lizzie to get her boyfriend into the house. Dean ends up seeing what’s going on and being the cool uncle negotiates a very Hollywood kind of deal for the kids. However, when Stewart finds out about it, he points out why the whole thing is wrong. I loved them taking that scene and demonstrating that nobody was really in the right – Stewart should have been paying attention and Dean shouldn’t have been using Lizzie as a pawn. It was a nice instance of how the same facts can be spun in completely different ways – something I’m betting we’ll see more of on the show.

Dean doesn’t waste any time insinuating himself into almost every aspect of Stewart’s life. He tries to prove to Stewart that he doesn’t need his cue cards for court – clearly he sees something in his brother that Stewart doesn’t see in himself. I really liked that Dean knew – and pointed out to us – that Stewart knew his case and the precedents backwards and forwards. He knows his brother is a good lawyer. And it’s exactly that precedential knowledge – combined with Dean’s hilarious theatrics – that win the case in the end. It’s the brothers working together.

I loved the fishing scene. Dean’s argument that playing a lawyer has taught him all he needs to know about the law is based on the hilarious analogy with someone having a heart attack at a restaurant. Wouldn’t you rather have Noah Wylie sitting at the next table because he played a doctor on television? You get the feeling that Dean dresses for every part he’s playing. Here his Hollywood idea of leisure clothing is definitely at odds with those of his Dad and brother. I also love that his necklace is a tiny guillotine blade. Does he realize this? Is the Grinder pro-captial punishment? Somehow, I think its significance is lost on him. But it’s the kind of attention to details that impress me about the show.

I really liked the way they wove in all the little catch phrases and how everyone was familiar with the show – The Grinder never settles! Grinder rests. I’m always a little reluctant to like legal shows because I know the system, so at first I was rolling my eyes at Dean barging into court and shaking the Judge’s (Rose Abdoo) hand. I adored having Kumail Nanjiani as the defense attorney as I love him from Silicon Valley, and I also cheered just a little when he stood up to object – “Not a lawyer.” It was still terrific theater as Dean gets Krantz (Brian Huskey) to confess, and it’s hilarious when Krantz insists on a selfie with the Grinder and Dean makes sure it’s lit right. In the end, the Judge actually does the right thing to strike all the testimony – and the case is saved by actual(ish) law. Nicely done show! The show isn’t all about the intellectual humor, and I loved Savage’s pratfall into the jury box as he tries to imitate his brother.

In this first episode, it’s a little ironic that it’s Stewart who learns some valuable lessons from his brother who at first glance appears to simply be a shallow actor. I’m betting – and hoping! – that as the series progresses, Dean is going to learn some valuable lessons from Stewart. And I think that it’s the characters and their potential that will carry this show forward. What happens if Dean actually does pass the bar and start actually practicing law? How will he deal with the actual every day grind of the workaday world? And you know that at some point, Hollywood is going to come a’knocking again!

What did you think of the episode? Do you like Savage and Lowe together? I wouldn’t have imagined William Devane turning up in a sitcom, but I can’t wait to see more of him. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

About the Author - Lisa Macklem
I do interviews and write articles for the site in addition to reviewing a number of shows, including Supernatural, Arrow, Agents of Shield, Agent Carter, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, The X-Files, Defiance, Bitten, Killjoys, and a few others! I'm active on the Con scene when I have the time. When I'm not writing about television shows, I'm often writing about entertainment and media law in my capacity as a legal scholar. I also work in theatre when the opportunity arises. I'm an avid runner and rider, currently training in dressage.
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