Sitcom audiences can be among the most finicky and hard to please across the entirety of the TV spectrum. Netflix knows this as well as any provider of TV entertainment, as the streaming giant has produced some big-time misses when it comes to outright sitcom territory (Blockbuster and Space Force are two series that come to mind) while its biggest comedic hits arguably span multiple genres and aren’t pure comedies along the lines of something like The Office (see: Wednesday, Emily in Paris).
Then there’s the simple fact of the matter that comedy is inherently much more subjective than almost any other TV format, given that what I think is funny might otherwise offend or bore you — resulting in creators too often just dumbing down the whole thing into a milquetoast mess that satisfies no one. Comedy is hard, but Netflix is thankfully going to try again this week with Unstable — an 8-episode, half-hour show starring Rob Lowe and his real-life youngest son John Owen.
New Netflix comedy series Unstable
The younger Lowe, like his brother Matthew, has for a while now delighted the Internet by roasting his famous dad on Instagram (like the time his father posted a thirst trap after a workout, and John Owen couldn’t resist adding the following to the pile of adoring comments from fans: “The subtle art of taking a selfie in front of ur Emmy nominations”).
Unstable more or less brings that dynamic into the format of a Netflix series, where Lowe’s son will play a character doing a fictional version of the same thing. As for the elder Lowe, meanwhile, he’s always been able to quite effortlessly shine in a drama like the Netflix movie Dog Gone (which was the #1 movie in the world on the streamer a few weeks ago) and a show like The West Wing (me being a writer, Sam Seaborn was always my favorite character). The viewer who seeks out Lowe’s work in a comedy like The Grinder, Parks and Recreation, and now Unstable, however, will always be in for a particularly rewarding treat.
Lowe conveys a guileless charm when playing a character like Ellis Dragon in a comedy like Unstable, a show that Netflix officially summarizes thus:
“Ellis Dragon is a universally admired, eccentric, narcissist-adjacent biotech entrepreneur working to make the world a better place. He’s also in emotional free-fall. His son Jackson Dragon is… none of those things. Can Jackson save Ellis and his company and salvage their estranged relationship while also doing what may actually be impossible: escaping the shadow of his larger-than-life father?“
The series was co-created by the Lowes as well as Victor Fresco, the comedy veteran behind shows like Better Off Ted and Santa Clarita Diet.
‘Comedy is a young person’s game’
In an interview with Netflix ahead of the series debut, the elder Lowe agreed that not only is comedy inherently difficult to pull off well, for the reasons articulated above — he added that it’s also “a young person’s game.”
“To the extent that we have young points of view, those actors bring that to the show, and it’s really important,” Lowe explains. “It’s very similar to what John Owen brings sitting next to Victor. There’s no way Victor could write what John Owen writes, and vice versa. It’s chronologically, experientially, taste-wise, impossible. But it happens all the time. And that’s why you get shows where you don’t believe that the young kids are real. Or you get shows that are just sophomoric with no depth, and you need them both.”
The thing Lowe says he hopes the show leaves people with is a feeling that they “can’t believe it’s over already.”
“I want people to know this is a comedy with a capital C … This aspires to be in the vein of Arrested Development, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation. If you like those shows, this show’s for you.”
In addition to the Lowes, the cast of Unstable also includes:
- Sian Clifford: She plays Anna, the stern and brilliant chief financial officer for the Dragon company
- Aaron Branch: He portrays Malcolm, Jackson’s childhood friend who also works at the company and, while not a scientist, worships Ellis
- Emma Ferreira: She plays Ruby, a friendly scientist who works in Dragon’s experimental “Red Lab”
- Rachel Marsh: Another scientist, Marsh’s Luna works with Ruby on Ellis’ special carbon-to-concrete project
- Tom Allen and John Parr: They play a pair of tech bros on the Dragon board, who got there thanks to their father’s money, and who want to oust Ellis. They’re not too bright, however, and scoff at people by rolling their eyes while saying (what else?) “scoff.”