|Dean (Rob Lowe) with frenemy Timothy Olyphant (Timothy Olyphant).|
In the past, I’ve heaped praise on Lookwell, the brilliant pilot by Conan O’Brien and Robert Smigel that only got one episode in 1991. It starred Adam West as a wash-up actor who had played a detective on television, who now believed he had the skills to be an actual detective, with the help of his acting class. Spoiler: He did not have the skills, and hilarity ensued. (The full episode is available here on YouTube.)
It took 24 years, but a network has finally decided to run back that concept. The Grinder stars Rob Lowe as a successful actor, Dean Sanderson, finishing up his stint on an over-hyped, super sexualized show called… The Grinder. The show-within-a-show is awesome, and basically an over-the-top parody of things like CSI: Miami and NCIS. Each episode of The Grinder starts with a 30-second snippet of Dean’s acting, and the ridiculous situations of the show.
The actual show itself has Dean struggling to assimilate back to “real life,” with the main dynamic being the strained relationship between him and his brother, Stewart, played by Fred Savage. Stewart and his wife, The Waitress from Always Sunny (Mary Elizabeth Ellis), are seemingly the only ones not star-struck by Dean. Stewart is routinely exasperated by Dean attempting to practice law without a law degree, even more so when he manages to succeed (or at least, to succeed in his delusional mind).
Beyond the brothers, the main thing The Grinder has going for it is a deep and excellent ensemble cast. Dean and Stu’s dad, Dean Sr. (played by William Devane), is one of the standouts, as the small town lawyer partner of the firm they both work for. Natalie Morales from Parks and Recreation is another lawyer at the firm, who is annoyed and unimpressed by Dean. And Todd (Steve Little) gets laughs as being completely in the bag for everything Dean does. Even Stu’s kids are played by sharp, funny actors (Hana Hayes and Connor Halopsis) and have unique aspects, as opposed to being cloying and stereotypical.
The casting excellence extends to the guest stars. The show is only in its first season, but already, Maya Rudolph and Christina Applegate have stolen episodes as the therapist for the brothers and a single mother interested in Dean, respectively. Timothy Olyphant plays Timothy Olyphant on the show, a former friend of Dean who stabs him in the back by starring in The Grinder's New Orleans spin-off.
Applegate and Lowe had my favorite meta exchange of the show, which can be seen here on YouTube. “You look exactly the same.” “So do you! Almost in a scary way, exactly the same.” (The other great meta moment: The latest episode is a flashback one to the early 1990s, with Jenna Fischer as Dean’s former girlfriend, and Dean complaining about how women get all of the great roles in Hollywood.)
If you’re looking for a satisfying, 23-minute weekly sitcom, then The Grinder is what you need to check out, especially since Modern Family has fallen off a cliff into a deep ravine, never to return to quality. As a result, The Grinder is my favorite network sitcom by far, edging out Mom, which is more of a mixture of comedy and drama.