Grind it Out

I owe myself an apology, because one of my New Year's resolutions for 2016 was to consume less "homework" entertainment. I found that I was watching and reading too many things that I didn't enjoy, simply because I wanted to be part of the cultural conversation. Once I accepted that I was just never going to like Breaking Bad as much as everyone else, or that maybe it's time to finally let House of Cards go, I felt like a weight had been lifted.

We're spoiled, in that there's a wealth of great entertainment out there right now, and there will never be enough time to get to it all, so why take up valuable brain space with things that don't appeal to us? Well, that's a question I should have kept in mind as I slogged through the first (and only) season of The Grinder. It will not survive to a second season, and to that I say... Okay.

That makes it sound like I hated it, which I didn't. I wouldn't watch a full season of an overtly bad show. It was just so thoroughly blah, and yet I kept on watching for no discernible reason. The Grinder is about Stewart Sanderson (Fred Savage), a lawyer who is struggling to connect with judges and juries, and his flashy brother Dean (Rob Lowe), who until recently, was a huge television star as a charismatic lawyer. The famous brother moves to town, wants to help out with actual law, and "hilarity" ensues.

I think I can pinpoint the show's major problems to two sources: Repetition and weak secondary family characters. I'm not sure how repetition can arise in a show that isn't even a season old, and yet here we are. Far too many plotlines recycled themselves right off the bat, with the beleaguered Stewart trying to talk sense into his egocentric brother, only for everyone else to be so star-struck that they side with Dean. It's cute as a throwaway joke, but it seemed to be the only big one in the show's arsenal.

The secondary family characters didn't help, either. Savage and Lowe were perfectly fine, as were their office colleagues Todd (Steve Little) and Claire (the always great Natalie Morales). Mary Elizabeth Ellis also provided a nice counter-point as Stewart's wife Deb. That leaves the kids and grandpa.

I really thought we were past the whole Inexplicably-Precocious-Worldly-Little-Kid era, and wasn't sorry to see the back of it. The trope is revived here with Stewart's son Ethan (Connor Kalopsis), who brings every scene he's in to a grinding halt, as does his milquetoast sister Lizzie (Hana Hayes). Neither actor is at fault, but the writing doesn't give either kid anything to do except spin their wheels and exhibit personalities that are either too bland (Lizzie) or too hammy (Ethan). William Devane doesn't do the older Sanderson generation any favors, either. He plays Stewart and Dean's father, and is played with a single note: Obnoxious Crank.

I don't want to sound overly harsh on the show. Like I said, it was somehow compelling enough to keep me engaged for the whole season. But when it comes time to start bemoaning one-season wonders that should have never gone away, save your tears for Trophy Wife. This one belongs on the cancellation pile.

The Grinder - Season 1: C+


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