Review: The Grinder 1×1 (US: Fox)

Watch it for the little people


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.