Review: Fox's pairs 'Grandfathered' and 'The Grinder,' CBS flatlines with 'Code Black'

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"The Grinder" stars (from left) Rob Lowe, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Fred Savage, Connor Kalopsis, and William Devane. It premiers at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday on Fox29. (Photo: Ray Mickshaw / FOX)

Two of television's best-looking, perpetually tanned fiftysomething leading men return Tuesday in a pair of nicely matched new comedies on Fox about dysfunctional families. John Stamos plays a playboy who finds out he has a son and, subsequently, a granddaughter on Grandfathered at 8 p.m., and Rob Lowe plays an actor playing a lawyer who joins his family's law firm on The Grinder at 8:30 p.m..

And on Wednesday, CBS rolls out network TV's latest derivative medical drama, Code Black, at 10 p.m.

Stamos, the family man

Stamos (Full House) stars in Grandfathered as Jimmy Martino, a successful Los Angeles restaurateur and lifelong bachelor who boasts that he's terrible at relationships.

A slick operator whose personality is part of his restaurant's appeal - he hangs out with the celebs who patronize the joint - Jimmy still knows how to flash the pearlies and pick up women.

All that changes when awkward, nerdy twentysomething Gerald (Nickelodeon star Josh Peck) tells him he's Jimmy's son. What's more, Gerald has a baby of his own.

Jimmy and Gerald are a study in contrasts: Jimmy is well-groomed and manicured, but Gerald is a schlub who wears the same sweatshirt-jeans combo every day. It's so he can save his brain power for his work, Gerald explains, noting that Facebook gazillionaire Mark Zuckerberg does the same thing.

Yet, he's unemployed.

Jimmy is a consummate lady's man, but Gerald has no experience with women. (His baby was the result of a one-night stand.)

Costarring Kelly Jenrette as Jimmy's wise-cracking restaurant manager and Paget Brewster as Gerald's mom, Grandfathered is a nicely written and well-acted charmer - but it threatens to get old fast. The pilot, the only episode made available to critics, unfolds with by-the-numbers predictability: Jimmy is good at being a dad for a few days but can't handle the commitment. Then he learns a life lesson. I'm not sure how far one can take this story.

An actor's greatest role

The better of the two sitcoms, The Grinder features a magnetic performance by Lowe (Parks and Recreation) as Dean, a TV star plunged into an existential crisis - albeit a shallow, Hollywood one - when his successful courtroom drama, The Grinder, ends after a nine-year run.

He seeks solace with his family in Boise, Idaho.

"I'm driving on the highway of what the hell to do with my life, looking for an off-ramp," Dean tells his skeptical brother Stewart (The Wonder Years' Fred Savage, who has spent much of his adult career behind the camera as a sitcom director), a real-life lawyer who becomes even more awkward and tongue-tied when his famous brother is around. He can't wait until Dean goes back to Los Angeles.

But Dean does not.

Fact is, despite his fame, Dean is jealous of his brother's life - his stable job and his relationship with wife Debbie (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Mary Elizabeth Ellis) and their two sons. So Dean decides to play a lawyer as part of Stewart's law firm.

The Grinder, which features William Devane as Dean and Stewart's father, has great energy. The nicely executed courtroom scenes are balanced with mordant scenes at home with the family.

'ER' on speed

You may want to take Dramamine before tuning into CBS's new medical procedural, Code Black: It's the kind of drama that tries to generate excitement by subjecting viewers to a constantly shaking camera.

Created by Michael Seitzman (North Country), the derivative Code Black takes elements from every medical drama before it, puts those aspects into a blender, and throws the results at the audience at high speed.

Set at a busy Los Angeles hospital that's constantly slammed, Code Black sways uncomfortably from the twin extremes of action - there's case after case of doctors dealing with bleeding arteries, broken bones, and death - and pure sentimental schlock. The latter is provided by Luis Guzman as loving and lovable senior ER nurse Jesse Salander, who acts as the show's narrator and guide.

The pilot opens on Jesse as he gives four new residents a tour around the ER. Before they know it, the young doctors are elbow-deep in blood and guts.

I'm not sure what Code Black is supposed to be about. It's a collection of rapidly moving medical cases with no real center.

The drama costars Raza Jaffrey (Smash) and Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden (Pollack) as senior doctors always bickering about procedure. She takes risks; he's overly cautious.

Every few minutes, the action subsides and a burst of raw emotion comes through via closeups of a patient or doctor breaking into tears. Then the roller coaster starts up again.

The closing credits come as a welcome relief.

tirdad@phillynews.com

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TELEVISION

Grandfathered

Premieres at 8 p.m. Tuesday on Fox29.

The Grinder

Premieres at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday on Fox29.

Code Black

Premieres at 10 p.m. Wednesday on CBS3.