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October 1, 2015

Review: Grandfathered 1x1 (US: Fox)

Posted on October 1, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Grandfathered

In the US: Tuesdays, 8/7c, Fox

Last year's big trend in new shows was the romcom, with a blitz that included Undateable, Welcome To SwedenMarriageSelfieA to Z, Marry Me and Manhattan Love Story. Most of them deservedly died a fiery death, while others were better but have largely limped on or been put out of their misery this year.

The one deserved winner from the lot was FX/FXX's You're The Worst, a semi-realistic romcom about a narcissistic, awful couple, who somehow make you love them all the same. And it seems like it's had some influence on broadcast TV, because now we have Grandfathered, a semi-realistic romcom in which a terrible awful human being is somehow quite lovable.

It stars John Stamos of Full House fame as a 50-year-old, narcissistic restaurateur who's never settled down and spends all his time wooing 20-something models whose names he can never remember. The only woman he doesn't chase after is his lesbian assistant - her being a lesbian was a job requirement.  

So far, so the plot of anything involving Adam Sandler, David Spade et al.

Then one day, he gets two surprises. The first is the 26-year-old son he never knew about turning up on his doorstep; the second is Stamos' newborn granddaughter who he brings with him. Now Stamos has to learn how to be both a father and a grandfather as quickly as possible.

The plot, to a certain extent, should be setting off warning bells, if not a full-scale run for the hills. However, Grandfathered is surprisingly smart. For one thing, playing the mother/grandmother of the piece and 'the one who got away' is the fabulous Paget Brewster from Friends, Criminal Minds and Community - a woman whose IMDB profile photo is of her holding a fish.

Paget Brewster with a fish

Brewster has a great line in deadpan delivery, but she also gets some great lines. As soon as she starts delivering the standard clichés of "boy-men who are forced to grow up by events" comedies ("If you think one day looking after a baby makes you think you know what it's like to be a parent…"), she almost instantly gets to subvert them ("…hell, I can't believe you made me say that. I'm cool. I watch Portlandia. I almost went to Coachella last year until I decided not to.") and because it's Brewster, it feels real.

Stamos also gets some good lines ("I'm a 50-year-old bachelor. We're society's most worthless people") but alarm bells go off again when it's revealed that part of the show's ongoing plot is going to be Stamos' educating his newfound son (Josh Peck) in the ways of women so that he can woo the mother of his baby, who regards him as merely a friend and a good dad. Here again, though, rather than a neverending series of lessons in negging, 'treat them mean, keep them keen', etc, Stamos' messages to his son tend to be more along the lines of, 'Have you considered making an effort, wearing some nice clothes?' and the like.

The show makes references to and even includes a clip from Kramer vs Kramer, but does a much better job than that movie does of creating loving male parents/grandparents without creating antagonistic female characters for them to fight. Grandfathered has a heart and Stamos isn't incapable of change, he just has to learn.

Grandfathered's biggest issue for UK audiences is that a lot gets lost in translation. Even the title is a US pun that won't be obvious to most UK viewers (to 'grandfather' means to make someone exempt from something), and that's before you even start on the cultural significance of something like Coachella. 

The show also makes a big deal of Stamos, who was the star of the huge Full House during the 80s, something which also gets referenced a lot. His character is to some extent 'Jesse Katsopolis' all grown up and there are photographs in Grandfathered of him from that time just to emphasise the point; Full House star Bob Saget even makes the first of several series appearances in the pilot. 

And, of course, we never got Full House over here. To us, Stamos is one of the doctors off ER at best, but more likely a complete unknown. Full House references and parallels will be equally mysterious to most of us (heaven knows what we're all going to make of Netflix's sequel/updating Fuller House when it hits the Internet). 

So while Grandfathered is a surprisingly enjoyable, grown-up, unmisogynistic romcom that both male and female viewers can enjoy, it's probably not going to be as funny for UK viewers as for those in the US. It's definitely worth a watch, since it's got bags of charm and heart, as well as Paget Brewster, but you might spend your time wondering if you're missing out on something. 

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September 30, 2015

Review: The Grinder 1x1 (US: Fox)

Posted on September 30, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Rob Lowe and Fred Savage in Fox's The Grinder

In the US: Tuesdays, 8.30/7.30c, Fox

Stewart Sanderson (Fred Savage) has a problem. He's an attorney without pizazz. He knows law as well as any attorney, but he's got no gumption and can't deliver arguments without using cue cards.

Stewart's brother Dean Sanderson Jr (Rob Lowe) has a problem. A hugely famous actor from his days playing an attorney on The Grinder, he has charisma and fire but doesn't know what to do with his life now his TV show is over.

Can you see where this is going?

Yep, it's Pulaski and The World of Eddie Weary, except this time with attorneys, with Lowe and Savage joining forces to become one combined good attorney. As with those old UK shows, much of the humour relies on the show within a show, The Grinder, which sends up US dramatic conventions, giving us all the standard dramatic beats and excesses but played for laughs. It also sends up actors, with Lowe mocking himself and others by playing Dean as a self-centred brain donor who thinks that playing an attorney on TV makes him almost as good as the real thing.

Unfortunately, it's not exactly rapier-sharp in its wit here. In fact, the in-show The Grinder is quite poor, not mocking anything in particular beyond an idea of legal shows from the 1980s, rather than anything more recent. At times, it looks more like an old Perry Mason, in fact.

But where the real The Grinder actually is funny is everything else. It's quite fun when Lowe uses his 'legal skills' to negotiate increased popularity for his nephew at school. It does well when real life starts acting like a TV show, with Lowe learning a Very Important Lesson from some charged dialogue at a bar. It's also good when Savage tries to act like he's in a TV show and fails and when guest star Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) says more or less anything, but particularly when he challenges Lowe's antics in court.

In fact, despite all expectations, it's not either that central hook or Lowe and Savage you should be watching the show for but everything else. True, given how much airtime is devoted to Lowe, Savage and The Grinder, that's not much by the end of the episode, but there are at least some funny moments in there.

It's not exactly a huge recommendation from me, since I spent most of the episode wishing it was a whole lot funnier, but The Grinder doesn't fall completely flat on its face in this first outing. Give it a try, but don't have huge expectations.

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September 29, 2015

Review: Blood & Oil 1x1 (US: ABC)

Posted on September 29, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Blood & Oil

In the US: Sundays, 9/8c, ABC

'Rags to riches' stories have been a popular genre for centuries, with the (literally) poor audience getting to imagine what life would be like for them if they were suddenly rich, typically showing that they have some inner morality from years of abjection and hard work that makes them in some way better than those who had been born into wealth.

Think Cinderella, Aladdin, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist or anything by Catherine Cookson, just for starters.

It's a worthy genre, but one with rules. So to a certain extent you have to admire Blood & Oil for breaking possibly the most iron clad of them all. 

It stars Chase Crawford (Gossip Girl) and Rebecca Rittenhouse (Red Band Society) as a young working class couple who go to seek their fortune in the North Dakota oil rush, hoping to make it big with a laundromat for the no-doubt dirty workers. Unfortunately, their dream and most of their possessions soon evaporate into thin air.

More fortunately, just as things look their worst, an opportunity arises through which they might be able to make it really rich through oil tycoon Don Johnson (Miami Vice, Nash Bridges) and his wife Amber Valletta (Revenge).

Will they succeed? Will they make it big in life? Will their marriage be ripped asunder by all the temptations before them? 

I don't know and I largely don't care, because of Blood & Oil's horrific transgression. Because our heroes, the one's we're supposed to root for, are complete fucking idiots.

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