Rob Lowe wants “The Grinder” Season 2 to happen. But will it? He’s split — literally, as Lowe’s “Parks and Recreation” character would say — putting the renewal odds at “50/50.” But Lowe is quite keen on improving its chances.
The six-time Golden Globe nominee, veteran TV actor and scene stealer of the silver screen isn’t sitting back, waiting to see if his half-hour comedy gets picked up, or courting new offers in the process. He’s been campaigning for a renewal not only in the media and with Fox execs, but directly to fans on Twitter — retweeting, subtweeting and traditionally tweeting reasons why the show deserves more episodes. Along with the creators and producers, Lowe made the Season 2 pitch to the network a few weeks back, relying on the series’ acclaim to win loyalty from executives and promising to broaden the fan base if another season happens.
How would he deliver such a promise for a series where ratings are the only thing holding it back? With a “tremendous additional piece of casting,” Lowe said, and a fresh, “political” theme for the Grinder to satirize. Considering Lowe’s background on “The West Wing,” that’s a pitch that could prove hard to resist.
Here’s hoping, anyway. After a dynamite finale proved to be the perfect capper for a stellar freshman season, we can’t wait to see more of “The Grinder.” Lowe sat down at the Indiewire offices in Los Angeles — a week before the Season 1 finale aired — to discuss just that. Fitting with his mission of late, he was in the middle of a very busy day, filled with a photoshoot, NPR interview and guest spot on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” And he’s doing it all for one reason: “The Grinder” is special to him. Below, Lowe describes what makes the show so important, how that killer twist came together, his favorite episode and more of what’s hopefully to come for “The Grinder.”
Over the course of the season, it really started to feel like the show wanted to change the way people watched television. There’s so much information in there. Were you trying to make people appreciate the way TV is constructed?
What sort of drew me to the show in the first place was the time was right for a show that used television and all of its tropes to be a lens for how we actually live. Right? So for those who like the meta look at television cliches, it works, but it also works as a family comedy and — really more than anything — a sibling comedy. But I think for a show as silly and fun and absurd as “The Grinder,” I also think there’s a sneaky observational quality to it that I really like.
Some of the stuff feels like known knowledge. Like, people know about focus groups.
The focus group episode is my favorite episode.
It worked so well, and I think that’s why it worked so well — because you added those sneaky little layers to it that people who really appreciate the inner workings of TV can get into, but it didn’t go over the head of anyone within the story.
That’s right, and I think that everybody — with social media and the proliferation of the way people consume media and our obsession with media — people are aware of things like focus groups that maybe they wouldn’t have been five or six years ago, and it peeled back the layer to see how things are made. And, by the way, that’s exactly how it is. When The Grinder goes, “So, these people, they know…” and she goes, “Oh, nothing. About anything.” It’s so good. It just makes me laugh.
It felt so important to get that kind of information out there, which contributed to how this meta narrative doesn’t feel like any other out there.
It remains to be seen if a show that is accomplishing what we’re accomplishing can survive on a network. I like to think that there’s still a place on a network for a show like “The Grinder.” The sort of notion that if you want your smart, cutting edge, original comedy, you have to go to streaming — that seems to be the narrative. And I think “The Grinder” is a great canary in the coal mine to see how true that is, and we will find out very, very quickly.
To dig into the finale specifically, you had that line at the very end of the episode — and I’m paraphrasing — “We’ve proven this is sustainable, and now it’s totally up to us if it keeps going.” And obviously that last beat, emphasizes it may not be. What if that’s the last scene in the show?
Listen, it very well could be. I think it’s 50/50. We were very aware that while we’ve been embraced beyond our wildest dreams by the sort-of intelligencia and the critics and the media and our cult audience, at the moment, it’s not a broad appeal, and yet it’s on broadcast. So we will see. I just hope it doesn’t end up being Fox’s third version of “Family Guy” — cancelled. “Arrested Development” — cancelled. “Grinder” — cancelled. I mean, there’s a history of it, and we’ll see how it goes.
So how did the finale’s construction start to come into play? The season sort of shifted as it went along–
They — [creators] Jarrad [Paul] and Andy [Mogul] — always, from Day 1, wanted to end the show like this.
With Kumail’s character?
No. When we went in to pitch the back nine episodes, it was always leading to this. We always wanted Kumail to come back and to do this story from Day 1. We had to fight to get him — because he’s on “Silicon Valley” — and we love him so much, we’d have him in all the time. He loves being a part of “The Grinder,” but we could only get him for one episode. So we started thinking about, “Well, how can we make the most of it?” And that was the genesis of this really creative version; going back to the pilot and not just following the Grinder, but following Kumail.
He plays a big role in how the finale resolves, but he’s also set up as one of the Grinder’s main nemeses now. Is it a possibility he comes back in the future?
Absolutely. We have a couple of showdown moments, and the theme they play underneath it is kind of like– It’s literally “The Dark Knight,” which always makes me laugh. When the inspirational music plays, and the Grinder says the most ridiculous, preposterous things, or Kumail and I have the most petty conversation, and the music is so important. […] The other thing I love about it: Even “The West Wing,” if people were to have not seen it, I kinda struggle with– I never really know which episode to [use to] introduce somebody to [the show] — the same for “Parks and Recreation.” “The Grinder” is one of those shows where I’m confidant that any episode somebody watches, you’ll know what you’re watching. Anybody can come in at any time because they’re all so constructed in a way that is…the essence of Grinding. [laughs]
The last time we spoke, you were getting ready to go into Fox to fight for Season 2. How did that go?
My message was that it’s very rare to have this group of people all together. From Nick Stoller, to Jake Kasden, to Fred and I, to Devane to Jarrad and Andy, to Natalie Morales, to Mary [Elizabeth Ellis], to tertiary players like Kumail and Timothy Olyphant — it just doesn’t happen. There will never be another lineup like this again. And to have a show that is so original and so legitimately funny, so our pitch was, “Let Fox be the place where good, smart comedy can have a home; where the creative people that you want to be in business with can have a home.” And there’s a case for it. On the other side of it, it’s very hard in today’s climate to launch, on a network, a show that is as idiosyncratic and original as “The Grinder,” and we have a great idea for Season 2.
I was curious if that was part of your pitch.
Absolutely. It’s how to open the show up — to broaden it, without running away from the very things that make it great.
That’s exactly what I imagine they need to hear and what the fans want to hear.
It’s interesting because the very things that make it interesting — and very good — are the very things that make it difficult.
The broadening part would be the challenge.
The broadening part, but we all mutually came up with a really great storyline that could only be told at this moment in time. I won’t reveal the details other than to say, it’s political.
Ah, that’s a good tease.
And with a tremendous additional piece of casting. So I’m really bullish on Season 2.
In the sense that it could happen or, if it did, it would be great?
In the sense that if it happens, I think– From the very first reviews, it was, “We love the show, but how can they sustain it?” From Day 1, that was it. Then we did 22 episodes, and they’re still asking. I think we’ve come up with not only a way to sustain it, but a way to break it wide open — if we get the chance.
I would think at this point it would be hard to question the sustainability.
With keeping all the ingredients that we love, it would be a tremendously big pivot — which is really exciting.
Well, you’ve certainly made big pivots before.
Right, and we take big swings. You know, because the Grinder is sort of a dilettante with things. He’s sort of interested in everything. He feels like he has a way into everything. There was a thought that I could imagine the Grinder deciding he’d take some time off and teach a semester of school, and in his mind, he’s sort of living “Stand and Deliver.”
The first season was sort of legal-centric. The second season would be something else. The brand would be that every year the Grinder would be doing something different.
So, digging into this season’s character arc, if you had to define where he was at the beginning of the season and then where he’s at now, at the season’s end, what would that be?
I really do think that he went from looking at the family and looking at the most mundane things like trick or treating and car pools, and to him it was like being on Mars. He was so fascinated with it. Now, he’s owned it. To the extent that he’ll ever be able to assimilate, I think he’s assimilated. I think this has been a year of assimilation for the Grinder. He’s reentered from the non-reality of network television star, Hollywood, to Boise, Idaho, and yet what remains is his boundless, good-natured, self-centered narcissism.
Good-natured is key there. That’s a huge part of what makes that character work.
Oh, huge. Because I always say there’s the very easy version of [“The Grinder”], and I’ve read hundreds of versions of “The Grinder” where he’s the dick. To the credit of the writing and, I like to think, some of what I bring to it, he’s relatable. On paper, it’s the most unrelatable lead character on a network television comedy. And yet the experience of watching it is that he’s really relatable, and even kind of lovable. And that’s what we were definitely trying for.