THE SERIES "The Grinder"
WHEN | WHERE Tuesday night at 8:30 on Fox/5
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Dean (Rob Lowe) has starred as a lawyer on a hit legal drama, "The Grinder," now ending. What to do next? He returns to his hometown to visit his father, Dean Sr. (William Devane), and brother Stewart (Fred Savage), a father of two and husband of Debbie (Mary Elizabeth Ellis). Dad was once a lawyer, and Stewart is a practicing lawyer, too. Dean Jr. suddenly sees his future. The legal beagle of TV fame decides to become a real-life lawyer. The hitch -- he only played one on TV.
MY SAY Ever since his long, successful rides on "The West Wing" and "Brothers & Sisters," Rob Lowe has been working on a new career track -- making fun of Rob Lowe. It's predicated on the idea that an actor can actually be too handsome, and that the handsomeness itself can be a punchline. Jon Hamm defused his inner and outer Adonis on "30 Rock," while Lowe managed the feat over several seasons of "Parks and Recreation," as unbearably upbeat bureaucrat Chris Traeger.
The wonder of it all is that this has actually worked. Lowe does have comedic chops, and a talent for inverting expectations, like those DirecTV ads, or the gloriously odd Dr. Jack Startz on "Behind the Candelabra."
His Dean Sanderson is a direct extension of the tag for that '80s Vick's Formula 44 commercial: "I'm not a doctor -- I just play one on TV." But "The Grinder" is even a little more meta than that: a subtle send-up of Lowe's short-lived groaner from 2003, "The Lyon's Den," about a handsome idealistic lawyer played by you-know-who.
Meanwhile, Savage -- these days a successful sitcom director -- doesn't quite channel an adult version of Kevin Arnold, but you don't have to look hard for some atavistic tics: the insecurity, for example, or the sense that the world is a puzzling place, especially its human inhabitants.
The show they're in is amiable enough, but the premise is awfully thin and the pilot doesn't hint at much of anything beyond that. But if "The Grinder" somehow does succeed, all credit to a pair of pros who know how to make good TV, and have a record to prove it.