Rob Lowe’s Isn’t Enough to Carry Netflix Workplace Comedy

Mar 30, 2023

Actors starring alongside their children in different projects is nothing new, but it is a concept that has proven to be successful time and time again. Take, for example, Will and Jaden Smith in the 2006 drama The Pursuit of Happyness, where their onscreen dynamic helps the film pack an extra effective emotional punch. Andie MacDowell and Margaret Qualley shared the screen together to rapturous reviews in the Netflix limited series Maid, with the former receiving some of the highest praises of her career. Then, of course, there’s Eugene and Dan Levy in the Emmy-winning comedy Schitt’s Creek, which not only introduced the world to the younger Levy but also reignited his father’s career. The list goes on and on and with the new Netflix workplace comedy Unstable, Rob Lowe and John Owen Lowe are the latest father and son to team up on-screen. They’ve starred together in projects before, but not in this capacity, where the entire series is built around their relationship.

Unstable finds the elder Lowe playing Ellis Dragon, the world-renowned billionaire entrepreneur of the biotech company Dragon. He’s something of a celebrity — not just in the workplace, but in the streets as well. After the sudden death of his wife, Ellis has found himself spiraling to a new low. He’s become estranged from his son Jackson (John Owen Lowe), his assistant Anna (Sian Clifford) is becoming tired of having to cover his tracks, his employee Malcolm (Aaron Branch) still won’t leave him alone, and the therapist who was hired by corporate has mysteriously disappeared. Hoping to bring a brighter outlook to the company, Anna has Jackson, who works as a flute teacher in New York, fly out to California to try to put Ellis on the right track again — and hopefully, make him a more stable boss. Naturally, Jackson is reluctant, and while there is a clear familial love between him and his father, there’s also a lot of tension and snark.

Image via Netflix

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The series is co-created by Victor Fresco, who was behind the criminally underrated Netflix zom-com Santa Clarita Diet, and has an impressive cast supporting both of the Lowes with a concept that has the promise to breathe some new air into the tried and true workplace comedy. Both of the Lowe men turn in some strong work as Ellis and Jackson. Their chemistry and their snarky back-and-forth are where this new series shines the brightest. Rob Lowe channels a lot of Parks & Recreation energy into the character of Ellis; at times he really does feel like Chris Traeger as a scientist, just somehow even more neurotic. Meanwhile, John Owen Lowe takes on the role of the uptight every-man quite well. It would’ve been easy to make Jackson bratty and unlikeable, but he has a lot of charisma that elevates the character. Clifford is another bright spot in the role of Anna, with a particular storyline involving her “office fanfiction” bringing the biggest laughs of the series. Much like Rob Lowe, the series has Clifford playing to the strengths of her previous roles, as she brings along the dry humor that she did so well in Fleabag. Unstable also knows not to overstay its welcome; with all eight episodes each clocking in at under 30 minutes, it does make for a quick and breezy binge.

Unfortunately, as for the rest of Unstable, Netflix’s newest sitcom is a misfire. Fresco has proven to be incredibly creative with his other projects, like Andy Richter Controls the Universe and the aforementioned Santa Clarita Diet, but alas, his latest series seems uninspired and surprisingly lazy in its writing. Setting the series at a biotech company has the potential to give Unstable a greater sense of style and creativity, but instead, the show seems more focused on providing storylines that have been done far better before. The love triangle between Jackson and Luna and Ruby (Rachel Marsh and Emma Ferreira) lacks any chemistry and is the series at its most predictable. Most of all it’s just repetitive, as every single episode plays into the will-they-won’t-they angle between the three characters. The other storylines, including Anna having to put up with the obnoxious tech-bros Chaz and TJ (JT Parr and Tom Allen), lack any sort of bite, and when the series attempts to set up high-stakes scenarios, the result is underwhelming and even brushed off by the beginning of the next episode.

Image via Netflix

Branch is entertaining to watch as Malcolm, but the writing for his character feels built entirely around stereotypes and character archetypes. He’s not just the office kiss-up, he’s also the wise-cracking sidekick and the constantly bullied and undermined social reject. The jokes miss more often than they hit and despite the talent in front of and behind the camera, Unstable seems woefully ignorant of some of its greatest assets. The usually reliable Fred Armisen makes a recurring appearance on the show, but his character is almost too over-the-top and cartoonish as a loony therapist, which is weird to say for a series that’s called Unstable. The series tries to set up Ellis as some unpredictable wild card while also trying to establish his grief, but for the most part, he almost seems too grounded, becoming more uptight as it heads into the finale. Rob Lowe will never not be an entertaining actor to watch on-screen, but Unstable never fully lives up to its title.

With some of Netflix’s biggest shows coming to a close, Unstable had the potential to be the streamer’s next big comedy hit, but instead, it’s just another cliche-riddled workplace comedy featuring all the tropes that have been done far better before. It’s not without some merit — the series truly comes to life whenever it has the Lowes bouncing off each other, hurdling insults, passive aggressiveness, and compassion. In the end, though, it’s hard to even see who the target audience is for Unstable. With plenty of great workplace sitcoms currently on the air, this series seems destined to be forgotten in a month’s time.

Rating: C-

All eight episodes of Unstable are now available to stream on Netflix.

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