Review: The Grinder 1×1 (US: Fox)

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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Review: Blood & Oil 1×1 (US: ABC)

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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Review: Quantico 1×1 (US: ABC; UK: Alibi)

In the US: Sundays, 10/9c, ABC
In the UK: Acquired by Alibi

The TV business can be risky, particularly the US broadcast TV business where a show can be cancelled after just a few episodes and lose millions of dollars in the process.

As a result, broadcast networks tend to want to play safe. If they find something that does well in the ratings, something that usually hasn’t strayed too far from the previous year’s not especially adventurous offerings, they’ll try to create something relatively similar the next year to capitalise upon it.

This isn’t a good idea, but if you’re a TV exec, you’re not likely to lose your job over it, since you can always say: “It was a safe bet. Hell, the last one did well and this was pretty similar. Who could have predicted it would tank?”

Last year’s “something quite close to lots of things you’ve already seen but which is a bit different” on ABC was How To Get Away With Murder, which was basically a remake of the 1970s law school show Paper Chase except with a more diverse cast and added murder. That was popular enough that it got renewed by the network. That, of course, means that this year we need something that’s quite close to How To Get Away With Murder but which is a bit different.

The setting and general structure of How To Get Away With Murder is this: a team of diverse recruits to a prestigious school, all competing with one another to be the best, with the action running in two timelines, one before, one after a crime. What Quantico stupidly does is think you can transfer that from a law school to Quantico and have more or less the same kinds of people and principles. 

You’ll probably have heard of Quantico: it trains the FBI, the DEA and the Marines. When you hear the name ‘Quantico’, you probably think of something like this:

What you probably don’t think of is Muslims in hijab climbing assault courses; people with lots of deep, dark, borderline felony secrets; mean girls picking on their teachers for not being sexy and marriagable enough; and an Indian superstar trying to make it big in the US as an FBI recruit accused of committing a 9/11-level atrocity and trying to prove it was actually one of her classmates.

Here’s a trailer. Be warned – the show’s single redeeming feature, Dougray Scott, has been replaced by Josh Hopkins from Cougar Town

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