“The Grinder”: The Best That Never Really Was

The 2015 – 2016 Fox TV lineup included a show called The Grinder. In case you have no idea what this show was, here is a brief summary:

Rob Lowe plays actor Dean Sanderson, Jr., who moves back to Boise after his long-running tv show (which in true show-within-a-show fashion is called The Grinder) comes to an end. In the fictional The Grinder, Dean Sanderson played a lawyer and as such believes he is prepared to actually practice law, which he kinda-sorta tries to do at his brother’s law firm in Boise. Meanwhile his brother Stewart Sanderson, played by Fred Savage, is an actual lawyer practicing in Boise. Stewart and an associate attorney named Claire seem to be the ones who can see that Dean is incompetent while everyone else, including judges and litigants, is just star struck. Add to this the fact that Dean lives with Stewart and some serious father/son drama with Dean and Stewart’s dad, and it was a great comedy about the less glamorous sides of practicing law.

Before I get into really making my case (bah-dum-tss), I want to disclose that I am a lawyer and this show came out while I was in law school, so perhaps I have some rose colored glasses about it. But in my defense, the show was critically acclaimed but had poor ratings, which is why it was canceled after one season.

So here is my pitch. The Grinder stars Fred Savage, and while he did not direct this show, he definitely had some influence in the humor. For those of you who only know Fred Savage as Kevin Arnold from The Wonder Years, you may be surprised to learn that not only is Fred still involved in show business, but he is in fact a highly accomplished director. He directed episodes of Boy Meets World, Even Stevens, and That’s So Raven, but has also directed shows aimed at adults such as It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Ugly Betty, Party Down, Happy Endings, Modern Family, and my personal off-the-beaten path favorite, Garfunkel and Oates. He is hilarious and has a real knack for making a situation funny without being in your face about it.

That sort of subtle humor that one might find in It’s Always Sunny or Party Down is rampant in The Grinder. The audience has the privilege of seeing things from Fred Savage’s point-of-view, which makes the ridiculousness of Rob Lowe’s character that much more pointed. He is the straight man to Rob Lowe’s unintentionally-but-intentionally hilarious funnyman routine, and the chemistry between the two is palpable.

There is also the realistic absurdity of Rob Lowe. His character honestly believes that years of playing a lawyer on television qualify him to practice law in real life. Now, I have a very negative view of law school, having suffered through it myself, and I know that law school does very little to prepare people to be real lawyers, but it is still better prep than just acting. That said, as a practicing attorney I have run across dozens of people who believe they know the law better than me, more senior attorneys, and judges simply because they watch a lot of legal procedure shows like the Law & Order series or even The People’s Court. Weirdly, no one ever thought they could be a great emergency physician just because they watched ER and Grey’s Anatomy, but then again the stupidity of people knows no bounds.

But I digress. The point is that it’s ridiculous for Rob Lowe to think he can be a lawyer just because he played one on TV, but he is such an accomplished star that the people in Boise just let him do it. (One of my female law school classmates had the hypothesis that the townspeople of Boise let Rob Lowe’s character be a real lawyer because they were so taken aback by how handsome he is. While I don’t think that was ever the “official” reason, it wouldn’t surprise me because Rob Lowe is an objectively good-looking dude.)

The show does a wonderful job of contrasting Fred Savage’s Abbot to Rob Lowe’s Costello, and really has quite a few scenes reminiscent of classic vaudeville comedy duos. I have no idea if it’s available to stream anywhere, but check it out if you can and maybe you, too, will see why I think this show was the best that never really was.

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