On Fox's laugh-out-loud new comedy (premieres Tuesday at 8:30/7:30c), Lowe is Dean Sanderson, a famous actor coming off a hit eight-year-long legal series called "The Grinder." At a career crossroads, he returns home to Boise, Idaho, where his father Dean Sr. (William Devane) and exasperated brother Stewart (Fred Savage) run a family law firm. He suddenly gets the bright idea to help his dweeby lil' bro in the courtroom - you know, since he has a law background from his TV days.
"When I was done on The West Wing... [I had] to remind myself, 'You only played a political advisor, OK? You're not one. You're an actor,''' Lowe tells TVGuide.com. "I get the concept of an actor thinking they know more than they actually should."
Unlike Sam Seaborn, Dean Sanderson is so perfectly, hysterically Rob Lowe-esque: a smooth-talking, charismatic, ebullient star who's had everything work out for him so far — and he knows it. You can't help but like Dean despite his delusions and vanity, of which Lowe is keenly aware and plays to a gleeful T.
"They made a character who could've seemed douchey and sort of 'that guy,' which we've seen — the rich, celebrity douchey [type]," he says. "Instead, what they did was manage to make him really lovable and relatable and sort of sweet in a weird way and still get to do all that stuff that you roll your eyes about. That's a really delicate balance that they've pulled off in the writing and that hopefully I've pulled off in the portrayal."
What makes Dean really work — and where the show's magic ultimately lies — is Lowe's chemistry with Savage, who's equally excellent and hilarious as awkward, underappreciated straight man Stewart. Underneath it all, there's a brotherly love in their sibling rivalry, built on a grass-is-greener envy. Dean has it all: fame, money, fans and success. But so does Stewart: a wife (Mary Elizabeth Ellis), kids, a steady job and a home.
"I think if pressed they would both confess that they want what the other person has. Stewart sees Dean as a guy who is respected and admired and fawned over and listened to. That's something that he's never really had," Savage says. "[Dean's] great with people, I'm really not. And he sees me as somebody who's grounded, who has roots, is loved, has a family, which is something he's never had and something that he really wants. That's kind of what brings us together."
"What's sort of fun and what I related to when I read the script was how relatable it was in terms of family dynamic ... all that stuff that families deal with," Lowe adds. "Basically I am beloved by the world but what I really want is the love of my brother. And he is a solid citizen, family man, working guy, but has no real attention and people take it for granted, and he'd like that attention."
Of course, Stewart doesn't care for Dean encroaching on his life and job at first — but that's not out of spite. "He loves his brother. He wants his brother to be happy. He sees there's a lot of sizzle on the surface, but underneath there's not a whole lot there. And I think he sees that and it breaks his heart," Savage says. "I don't think he'll ever truly be happy he's there, but I think that if he is gonna be there, he wants his brother to be happy."
But is Dean's true happiness grinding it out in Boise? For the sake of The Grinder's longevity, let's hope so. The show wrings most of its laughs and wink-wink jokes from satirizing celebrity and Hollywood, without being too inside baseball. But perhaps the best part about it is that it also celebrates normalcy, never treating the mundanity of a regular life as something "less than" for Dean to aspire to or a mere phase before the next big acting gig comes along. He is genuinely searching for something real while continuing to fake it as a lawyer.
"I think the sense of someone looking for authenticity in their life is a really good theme," Lowe says. "It's one thing to want a real life and to want to be authentic, and it's another to recognize it when you see it. My character's a little bit like a martian who's landed in real world and he learns everything from his brother. ... It's that yin and yang, which could prevent people from seeing each other or loving each other, but in this case it doesn't. It's actually funny."
The Grinder premieres Tuesday at 8:30/7:30c on Fox.