Seldom do two new programs arrive looking as compatible as “Grandfathered” and “The Grinder,” for good and ill. John Stamos and Rob Lowe both play image-spoofing versions of their red-hot-in-the-’80s personas, the former as a Lothario who suddenly meets a son and granddaughter he didn’t know he had, the latter as a TV star who, with his show over, decides to go back home, much to the chagrin of his down-to-Earth brother. Each series possesses modest charms, although it’s not clear either is going to age particularly well — even if its stars have — once the novelty wears off.
Beyond casting Lowe, “The Grinder” is primarily built around that familiar joke that he’s not a lawyer but plays one on TV. In this case, he’s Dean Sanderson, who starred as an attorney in a long-running show, so much so that he can (or at least believes he can) BS his way through a courtroom summation.
With the show over, Dean comes back home to Boise, where he’s treated like a conquering hero by practically everyone except his brother Stewart (Fred Savage). That includes their dad (William Devane, without much to do, but still classing up the joint), Stewart’s wife (Mary Elizabeth Ellis), who tells her hubby that having Dean around “makes you feel like a side character;” and naturally their kids.
The cliche, of course, is that everyone else is so starry eyed about Dean’s celebrity that only Stewart can see through his facade, while Dean has been rooted in fantasy for so long that he can’t always differentiate fiction from reality. And to make matters worse, Stewart really is a lawyer, albeit one who tends to stumble over his tongue in court.
It’s a clever enough idea — or at least a serviceable one — primarily to give the leads an excuse to play off each other. Lowe also has the mix of casual egomania and well-trained earnestness down to a science.
That said, you wonder how many times Dean can saunter into court (or anywhere else, for that matter), as he inevitably does, and knock ’em dead, relying on the principle that folks in the fly-over states lose all of their cool when exposed to someone who’s been on television.
The flaws notwithstanding — and despite the summer departure of producer Greg Malins — “The Grinder” feels like it has more potential than “Grandfathered,” which is yet another series (“About a Boy” being a recent example) about a grown-up Peter Pan forced to deal with the better angels in his nature thanks to exposure to a child. Stamos is Jimmy, a restaurant owner and dedicated bachelor, who has his rather awkward progeny (Josh Peck) show up at his door, complete with a little bundle of joy.
In the premiere, Jimmy has to juggle watching the kid (a task that falls largely to his harried staff) while managing things in order to give his son a night out. And inevitably, something happens that causes the paternal instinct to kick in, yielding the first of what will likely be many “Aww” moments.
Stamos has had various series stabs since “Full House,” including his ABC comedy “Jake in Progress,” in which he played largely the same character. That said, after one episode of “Grandfathered,” it’s easy to feel like you’ve seen the first three seasons, especially if Jimmy is going to constantly be presented choices between bedding desirable women and looking after the moppet who has fallen into his lap.
Those misgivings haven’t stopped Fox from throwing its marketing machinery behind the show, including “GILF” T-shirts (figure it out) that the network clearly hopes will be this year’s “Adorkable.” Still, the fast-fade trajectory of “New Girl” is probably a pretty fair appraisal — or perhaps warning — of the pitfalls that face these older boys, even if their ageless charisma can still achieve the hoped-for liftoff.