One episode was provided prior to broadcast.
One of Fox’s new fall sitcoms is The Grinder, about a big-time fake lawyer who hoofs it back to his hometown after his ultra-popular series ends and he finds that he may be able to put the talent he learned in front of the camera to good use in shenanigan-izing his way into his family’s hearts. If nothing else, the show has a clever premise. Unfortunately, what it doesn’t have is any sense of will or care to, as The Grinder himself puts it, “push back.” In the show’s case, that’s pushing back against a lazy format, uninteresting characters and courtroom drama that’s so laughably “TV” in its inception and resolution you’d swear you were actually watching the cheesy show-within-a-show, instead of what Fox has given us.
The pilot kicks off as the fake Grinder series ends, with Dean Sanderson, Jr. (Rob Lowe) huddled around his brother’s family as the credits roll on the big finale episode. Their expressions are encouraging and jubilant, except for his brother, Stewart (Fred Savage), who sees his big bro’s high-flying, fake-lawyer TV career as a sort of slap in the face for the decades-worth of real work he put into becoming a somewhat bumbling, neuroses-fueled lawyer himself (and, wouldn’t ya know, their dad owns the family business).
So when Dean starts meddling in Stewart and his family’s lives, the hard-done-by brother has to learn to live with it or kick The Grinder to the curb. And this is a network sitcom with a projected 22-episode season, so you can just about guess where the third-act fight leads before the pilot winds down.
The Grinder is stacked with funny people in bit roles (Mary Elizabeth Ellis as Stewart’s wife gets maybe the most laughs in the pilot with only befuddled looks and blunt one-liners, and Kumail Nanjiani makes a one-note opposing lawyer role pop), but its two leads ring resoundingly dull off one another. Stewart is a nerd and Dean is a hot-shot – there’s just not much other than that to them, and you never for a second believe that these two grew up in the same house. The history isn’t there, and a lot of the pilot’s jokes fall even flatter because of that missing component.