Dean Sanderson (Rob Lowe) is The Grinder, or at least he used to be. We meet Dean when he’s more of an out of work actor who used to play a smooth lawyer (The Grinder) on TV. At loose ends, Dean returns to Boise to stay with family, and quickly identifies a place for himself at his family’s law firm. Who needs a law degree when you’re already so good at pretending?! Dean’s brother, Stewart (Fred Savage), that’s who.
Stewart would be the first to point out that anyone practicing law most definitely needs a degree, and who can blame him? As the quiet, practical son who went to college, passed the bar exam, and took over the family law firm, Stewart is used to his hard work being ignored. He’s also used to worrying, overthinking things, and feeling insecure. How can his regular, drama-free life compete with the Hollywood glamour that follows Dean everywhere he goes? With Dean living in Stewart’s home and following him to work every morning, it’s almost impossible to escape his shadow.
Stewart’s frustration mounts as Dean ingratiates himself with his wife (Mary Elizabeth Ellis), children, and father (William Devane), offering thoughtless advice and charming everyone with his refreshing take on life. Work is just as bad, as starstruck colleagues clamor around Dean like he has any idea at all what he’s talking about. The thing is, a lot of Dean’s random out-of-the-box ideas wind up working. Is it possible that Stewart could learn a thing or two from The Grinder?
This quirky show is perfectly cast and deftly walks the line between absurdity and real life. Dean could easily come across as a joke (watching DVDs of his own show, generally treating life as though it’s an episode of said TV show, and using the word “grinded” with a perfectly straight face), but Rob Lowe imparts a sense of innocence and sincerity that makes the character work. Stewart is, in many ways, the adult version of Kevin Arnold, neurotic and frustrated, but ultimately astute and relatable. The only thing more fun than the banter between these fictional brothers is the easy repartee between Stewart and his wife. William Devane is also excellent as the devil-may-care patriarch who has somehow left both of his sons feeling as though the other is the favorite. Though The Grinder could have continued indefinitely, there is some solace in the fact that Season One wraps up tidily with solid character arcs and no loose ends.