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It’s easy to compare Grandfathered and The Grinder on the surface, as the two new G-named Fox comedies (airing back-to-back) both star handsome aging actors (John Stamos and Rob Lowe respectively, in send-ups of their former real-life personas) whose characters have lost their way, and are looking to connect back with family. But the two series have vastly different tones, and only one emerges as having serious potential as a great new comedy.
In Grandfathered, the life of playboy bachelor Jimmy (Stamos) is turned around by the arrival of Gerald (Josh Peck) as Jimmy’s surprise son with a surprise daughter of his own. The pilot is sleek and stylish, packing in as many winking and referential jokes as Stamos can say between smiles, with Peck amiably along for the ride. Written and created by Danny Chun (The Simpsons), the show relies on Stamos’ charisma, and the tension that while Jimmy is a busy and popular restaurant owner who doesn’t have the time or inclination for a family, Gerald coming into his life begins to create a sea change.
From there, Grandfather’s pilot sets up a breezy but ultimately tepid-seeming family comedy. Instead of presenting a “new normal” where both Jimmy and Gerald are bachelors raising Gerald’s daughter, the show introduces romantic tension with Jimmy’s former paramour, Gerald’s mother Sara (Paget Brewster), as well as Gerald’s hope that his daughter’s mother Vanessa (Christina Millian) will see him as more than just a friend. (The fact that Vanessa eyes Jimmy up as a “Clooney type” hopefully will not set up an “I am my own grandmother”-type scenario down the road).
Grandfathered’s single-camera approach tries to hide its clear multi-camera beats, and to some degree it works. But despite Brewster’s character saying, “I don’t want to be the scolding mother stereotype …” she is, and Grandfathered seems ultimately tethered to the age-old moralistic sitcom desire for its characters to learn lessons and to grow in heartwarming ways. Still, where Grandfathered goes from here is potentially worth investigating, at least for another episode or two. But if the jokes continue to revolve around a screaming toddler, it may be best to say goodbye.
Grandfathered is followed-up by The Grinder, which is also about unexpectedly connecting with family, but this show explores that in a way that is devilishly funny. Jarred Paul and Andrew Mogel’s series stars Rob Lowe as Dean Sanderson, Jr of the recently-concluded TV series “Grinder,” where he gained national popularity as its lawyer star. Adrift, he returns to his family in Idaho, where he’s celebrated by everyone except his actual lawyer brother Stewart (Fred Savage). Like Grandfathered, Grinder is fast-moving and full of jokes, but each actor’s comedic timing here is exceptional (with special mention to Mary Elizabeth Ellis as Stewart’s wife, and William Devane as the family patriarch).
Lowe has excelled recently in comedic roles, and he uses his abilities to full effect here. Savage, too, is extremely funny in his Michael Bluth-esque position, at first being exasperated by his older brother, but eventually embracing him. Unlike Grandfathered though, these “heartwarming” moments are presented as cynical send-ups, with the show being extremely aware of the tropes its subverting. But that leads to a precision-cut pilot that delivers genuine laughs and even a few worthy surprises (as well as a great cameo by Silicon Valley’s Kumail Nanjiani).
More so than with Grandfathered, it will be worth seeing how The Grinder plans to sustain its comedic premise, and if it can stick with its satirical tone. Savage and Lowe play off of each other incredibly naturally, and the premise (of two brothers teaming up, with each providing what the other lacks) could yield plenty of story. Pilots can be low points for great comedies, but The Grinder‘s is so strong that there’s not much that needs fixing — instead, it needs to stick as close to its pilot premise as possible. That’s a novel enough reason to check out the series, which may be the most promising new comedy of the fall. As the catchphrase that Dean is fond of repeating from his former show goes, “the Grinder rests.”
Grandfathered: ★★ Fair — Only for the dedicated
The Grinder: ★★★★ Very good — A strong start
Grandfathered premieres Tuesday, September 29th at 8 p.m., followed by The Grinder at 8:30 p.m. on Fox.