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Television enthusiast and author of Everyday Absurdities: Insights from the World's Most Trivial Man. tylerstanton.com

TVA Debates: Rob Lowe

Email is the best medium for an argument, isn’t it? That’s why Knox and I have chosen it as the vehicle to engage in our first of many wars. First up? Rob Lowe.

Tyler: Hey man. Would you say Rob Lowe is a great actor, or the best actor?

Knox: You mean the achilles heel of Parks and Rec, Rob Lowe? That guy is the embarassing third nipple on an otherwise perfect show. If I hear him say “Literally” or “Ann Perkins” again, I’m going to commit sepuku with a spork. I know I mentioned this, but wasn’t he in the Drew Peterson Lifetime movie? That’s the actor equivalent of eating out of the trash at a bowling alley. You can’t respect someone who does stuff like that. You can like  them, but you can’t take  them serious. I feel like there’s no telling what’s going on in that guy’s head. He could be brilliant or he could legitimately think that Sarah Palin and Tina Fey are the same person. The sky is the limit with him but in the worst way possible.

I’m totally serious and open-minded right now: what good work has he done lately? I ask because I *literally* cannot think of anything.

Tyler: Look, it’s not Rob’s fault that the (brilliant) writers of Parks and Rec have laced his every sentence with the word “literally” (a decision that I fully support, by the way). He’s just bringing the douchiness of Chris Traeger to life in the most perfect way possible. And a wise man once said, “For every Cosby Show, there’s a Ghost Dad.” Or maybe it was “For every Growing Pains, there’s a whatever-it-is-that-Kirk-Cameron-is-doing-now.” Point is, everyone has their Drew Peterson movie. But passing judgement on Rob Lowe before you’ve seen him play Sam Seaborn in The West Wing is borderline criminal.

Knox: Ok that’s true. I haven’t seen him in West Wing. But beyond West Wing, is there anything? Go look at his IMDB page. I looked at it for a few minutes and woke up with a splitting headache. It’s a treasure trove of obscure movies / TV shows and it’s a TON of them. Like things I’ve never even heard of. It’s so confusing. Did you know he was in the Perfect Strangers movie? Did you know there WAS a Perfect Strangers movie? Is the Perfect Strangers movie about the TV show or just coincidentally named? I’M ASKING BECAUSE I’M SO CONFUSED.

Here’s what I think happened: Rob Lowe is more a caricature than he is an accomplished thespian and Parks and Rec is just using this carciature of him as a beautiful man and physical marvel. Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy works because Baldwin is a force of nature and is very aware of himself. I mean go watch the Glengarry Glen Ross scene and just bathe yourself in the warm waters of his acting dominance (COFFEE’S FOR CLOSERS.) 

Rob Lowe on the other hand, is a bit of a mystery. Baldwin is that steak dinner that works any night you want it to and Rob Lowe is the Chinese food place that may serve you a really awesome meal with the free crunchy noodles before your meal. Or it could could just serve you a stray dog with Geneal Tso sauce on it. You never know.

Tyler: Listen Knox. I know you well enough to know that one of your all-time favorite characters is Ron Swanson (as it should be). But a mere 6 years ago, he played “Cop” in Wristcutters: A Love Story. And just last year he played (no lie) a Scooby Doo Philosopher in Slacker 2011. Point is, the IMDB argument needs to be off the table.

And Parks and Rec is ASKING HIM to be a caricature of himself. Which he is doing…and doing well, I might add (so well that you hate him for it). You know, I’ve never hated a character more than I hated President Palmer’s wife on 24. She was the worst. And you know what made her the worst? The fact that…wait, let me look up her name…okay…the fact that Penny Johnson Jerald is a brilliant thespian.

And YOU KNOW you’d watch the Perfect Strangers movie if it came on this afternoon.

Knox: LISTEN. The IMDB arguments matters because this is a referendum on Lowe NOT Swanson and how dare you question the value of Scooby Doo Philosopher. To that end, I just want to know the genesis of Rob Lowe being generally thought of as a good actor? We know why 30 Rock is asking Baldwin to a caricature of himself to a certain degree. He has a track record. But what is Lowe’s track record? Is it him being Sodapop from The Outsiders? Is it from his work on The West Wing? I’m asking at this point. 

If he’s being a caricature that’s fine. I’ll allow it even though I think it’s an awful caricature that has no real relationship or value to the dynamic of the show. But why are we interested in his caricature? What makes Rob Lowe a commodity

Also, do you realize that he put in his name as lead actor on Park and Rec for Emmy consideration last season? Lead actor. As in more relevant than Adam Scott, Aziz, Chris Pratt AND Nick Offerman. Is that the guy you want to be defending right now? Food for thought, Tyler. FOOD FOR THOUGHT.

Tyler: Just watch a season of The West Wing. I’ll even let you watch mine (Dropbox?). I think you’ll be able to make a more informed decision after just a few episodes and quit basing everything on his forgettable roles in Tommy Boy and Austin Powers 2.

And I’m going to need to see some paperwork before I blindly accept your Emmy accusations as gospel truth. You know what? Never mind. I don’t want to see this paperwork…ever. I’m afraid it will ruin our friendship and single-handedly dismantle TV Asylum as we know it.

End conversation.

Whose side are you on?

  • http://www.theisleofman.net/ Kevin Haggerty

    I’m with Tyler on this one. Sorry Knox. I thought adding Lowe pushed P&R from “good” to “amazing.” Yes, his character is a douchebag, but I felt like that was the intention. I find him to be a mixture of Michael Scott and Jack Donaghy, because he has some things so figured out, but from an inter-personal standpoint, he has no clue. I can’t speak for much of anything else he’s done. West Wing wasn’t my cup of tea. I think he’s great in P&R. 

  • http://meetthebuttrams.com/ Jessica Buttram

    Rob Lowe is the pedestal upon which Ron Swanson can stand. Remember the episode when he made Ron Swanson portobello burgers? I might have fallen of the couch laughing at Ron Swanson’s horrified rampage.

    And Rob Lowe is so, so pretty.

    I’m stuck in the middle here. On one hand, Knox’s imdb argument is profound. On the other, he discriminates against Dennis Quaid using the same reasoning.

    • http://www.knoxmccoy.com Knox McCoy

       HE HAS ONE GO TO: THE WORD “LITERALLY”. Otherwise HE IS USELESS. Jerry is a better character. Orin is a better character. Champion is a better character. Dead Lil Sebastian is a better character. OPEN YOUR EYES, AMERICA.

    • http://www.theisleofman.net/ Kevin Haggerty

      I think you nailed it. How angry he makes Ron cements his status as necessary. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Abby-Johnson/524700860 Abby Johnson

    Let me get this straight, Knox has never seen The West Wing?? I’m with Tyler on this one, how can you even engage in an argument about Rob Lowe without seeing any of his work as Sam Seaborn? His ability to blend so well with an ensemble cast is what made him great of The West Wing and what currently makes him great on Parks and Rec. He’s certainly not the star on either of the shows, but without him, something would certainly be lacking. Also, his autobiography, Stories I Only Tell My Friends is fascinating.

  • http://twitter.com/thejaredclifton Jared Clifton

    I agree with Tyler, but it may be because the last time I actually watched TV was when the West Wing was on… You guys remember that one episode where they all talked fast and then one of them made a profound self-discovery at the end of the episode? That was good one. But I digress. Knox’s points basically revolve around Rob’s (we’re on a first name basis) role in P&R. This debate should be re-examined after you’ve watched several episodes of the West Wing.


  • http://calebmcnary.com/ Caleb McNary

    This may open a new can of worms, but saying that RL’s character on Tommy Boy was forgettable? He had a couple of the most memorable lines in the movie, which is saying something considering who he was 3rd in line behind. “These shoes cost more than your life,” and “Did you eat paint chips as a kid?” are greatness. 

    • http://www.knoxmccoy.com Knox McCoy

       A great point. A genius performance in an iconic movie.

  • http://middletree.blogspot.com James Williams

    In 1987, a professor asked me what was my favorite movie. I told him “St. Elmo’s Fire”. It was so profound. So meaningful. The pinnacle was, unquestionably, Mare Winningham’s peanut butter speech, but a close 2nd is Rob Lowe as Billy Hicks, talking Demi Moore out of suicide with a completely nonsensical story about the title of the movie:

    “Jules, y’know, honey… this isn’t real. You know what it is? It’s St. Elmo’s Fire. Electric flashes of light that appear in dark skies out of nowhere. Sailors would guide entire journeys by it, but the joke was on them… there was no fire. There wasn’t even a St. Elmo. They made it up. They made it up because they thought they needed it to keep them going when times got tough, just like you’re making up all of this. We’re all going through this. It’s our time at the edge”

    When I think of Rob Lowe, that’s what I think of. Well, that and the time he got caught messing with an underage girl and, as punishment, had to go speak to high school girls.

  • Jtaylor527

    Read his book before you allow this to continue. Then come back and settle the score.
    If you hate the book, track me down and I will pay you back.
    Its actually really good.

  • http://iamjakz.com/ Jaklyn Larsen

    This is literally one of the best debates I’ve witnessed in ages. Literally.

    Rob Lowe belongs on Parks & Rec. His charming character is memorable &  flat-out quirky in a way that completes the cast.

    Just accept it Knox, just accept it.

    • http://www.knoxmccoy.com Knox McCoy


  • http://www.haleybragg.com/ haleybragg

    Dear Knox,

    I hope that by sharing my personal testimony of my relationship with Rob Lowe will help you see the light. I’ll admit, I wasn’t a fan a mere 24 months ago when the largest body of work I had seen him in was as a major J-hole in Brothers & Sisters. “How is this person a cultural icon?!”, I pondered endlessly. This was a major struggle in my life and honestly, a giant Rob Lowe stumbling block.
    Then two things happened:

    1. Brothers & Sisters killed off his character, which freed him up for a recurring role on one of my favorite shows, Parks and Rec. A decision that I considered to be a major shark-jumper (getting rid of Mark Brendanawicz for this guy? Are you kidding me?!) And then…

    2. My friend Jennifer forced 7 seasons of The West Wing on me. And from then on, I was hooked. The Lowe brother that won all of the attractive genes, also won my heart. As it’s been noted many times here, you can’t judge Rob Lowe until you see his portrayal of Sam Seaborn. In just 4 short seasons, he accomplished being one of the best characters in all 7 seasons of the show.

    • http://www.knoxmccoy.com Knox McCoy

       So ONE role in a kajillion years of acting and he’s untouchable? What happens on West Wing? Does he give birth to a unicorn that defecates miracles and Reese Eggs? I’M ASKING.

      • http://www.haleybragg.com/ haleybragg

        No, I suppose not. But as you pointed out his IMDB page is long and I highly doubt that either of us are going to catch up on over 30 years of his acting credits to find something else substantial. (Although 1981′s Mean Jeans DOES sound promising.)

        I just want to point out that you also hated Schmidt. And remember how you feel about him now?

        • http://www.knoxmccoy.com Knox McCoy

           WHOA WHOA WHOA. We’re not here to talk about the past (and for the record, I hadn’t given Schmidt enough time. Chris Traeger has had more than enough time.).

      • http://www.coolpeoplecare.org Sam Davidson

        What color is a defecated miracle?

  • http://katiemaesdailies.blogspot.com/ Katie Alicea

    I’m with Knox.  I literally want to shave my head and become a Hari Krishna when I see him appear on the screen…probably running in place.  I wanted to name my child Ann Perkins until he completely ruined the name for me by repeating it until it didn’t make sense anymore.

    Whatever happened to Paul Schneider’s charactor?  Can’t we go back to a time when Ron Swanson’s hernia was the star of the show?  Please, for the love of breakfast food, can we please undig ‘the pit’ and throw Chris Traeger in it?

    In full disclosure I feel that it would only be fair to add that I’ve never seen the West Wing, so as far as saying that Rob Lowe is the worst ever forever and ever, I don’t feel I can go there.  But as far as the best show ever, Parks and Rec, he needs to ride his hell hound back to the place from wence he came so that Ron Swanson can reign supreme.

    • http://www.knoxmccoy.com Knox McCoy

       FINALLY! A reasonable person.

      • http://katiemaesdailies.blogspot.com/ Katie Alicea

        Everyone is totally Shatner-ing all over Rob Lowe right now! 

        William Shatner will forever be El Capitan Kirk.  The way..he….talks…so…haltingly….will…go down…in….history.  We love him for that.  We all know that every other attempt The Shat has made at acting, aside from his Expedia commericals, have fallen way short of his Captain James Tiberius Kirk portrayal.  Just because Shatner was an awesome Kirk doesn’t mean that he can play opposite just anyone.  Remember that one show he was on with James Spader?  ME EITHER! 

        My point is, if Parks and Rec had to dig through stars from the past to try and boost rating, they would have faired better with the brothers from Pete and Pete or Phil Donahue than what’s happening with Rob Lowe right now. 

  • http://takingbacktiffany.wordpress.com DTDorrin

    I wanted to leave a thoughtful and witty response, but any time someone criticizes an actor from The West Wing, I start hearing The West Wing theme song in my head and it drowns out all other thoughts and their nonsense. The same thing happened when Allison Janney was on Lost.

  • Erin Moon

    Knox, I’m sorry.  You have NO CREDENTIALS here because you haven’t watched a minute of West Wing.  ALL YOUR ARGUMENTS are invalid.

    Sam Seaborn is a great American patriot and you will NOT SPEAK OF HIM in such a derogatory manner.  I will arm wrestle you on this point and the spirit of President Bartlet will lead me to victory.

    (HOW have you never seen the West Wing?!)

    • http://www.coolpeoplecare.org Sam Davidson

      My thoughts exactly. Knox should take his name off this site until he watches West Wing. What’s next? Him admitting he’s never seen Lost, California Dreams, or Weeds?

      • http://www.knoxmccoy.com Knox McCoy

        Wait. When did West Wing become the greatest show western civilization has to offer? ALL of you are guilty of applying a little too much Bill Brasky to West Wing.

        “I remember when West Wing brought knocked down the Berlin Wall.”

        “I remember when West Wing found Carmen San Diego.”

        All of you are victims of convenience. Chris Traeger is as compelling as used toilet paper.

        • http://www.coolpeoplecare.org Sam Davidson

          One point for Knox for Bill Brasky reference.

        • Erin Moon

          All you’re doing is making me want to watch the West Wing.

        • http://www.haleybragg.com/ haleybragg

          It’s an Aaron Sorkin show! Why wouldn’t it be considered for Top 10 Best Shows Ever status?!

          • http://www.knoxmccoy.com Knox McCoy

            Probably because his comedy writing on Studio 60 was so atrocious that we were deprived seeing more of that show.

          • http://www.haleybragg.com/ haleybragg

            Wait. I can’t tell if this means you liked or disliked Studio 60. But I feel like it maybe means you disliked it. In which case, whaaaat?!

          • http://www.knoxmccoy.com Knox McCoy

            Loved it. LOVED IT. Which is why I resent him for ruining it with sketch scenes in the show that were supposed to be hilarious, but were actually awful.

            I so wish they would spin something off with Matt and Danny.

          • http://www.haleybragg.com/ haleybragg

            Okay, whew! I thought we were about to enter into a really bad place, where I could not be held responsible for the things that I said.

            I agree – Aaron Sorkin was made to write for Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford.

          • http://tylerstanton.com Tyler Stanton

            I’m glad you said that about Bradley Whitford. I’m only 2 seasons through West Wing, but he’s my favorite on an incredibly stacked cast.

          • http://www.haleybragg.com/ haleybragg

            He’s SO great – and I do feel that, as an actor, he is so suited for Aaron Sorkin’s writing.

            But it’s interesting how my favorite characters shifted so often. There’s no one like Josh Lyman, but then there’s no one like Toby Ziegler, CJ Cregg, Sam Seaborn or Charlie Young either.

  • http://www.coolpeoplecare.org Sam Davidson

    Wow. Tyler landed a knock out blow in the first round. Knox was stumbling around, blindsided. Too bad there weren’t any refs around to call the fight then. Knox ended up looking foolish the rest of the way. People who agree with him do so out of pity.

    Rob Lowe is the sizzle to Parks’ steak. The cherry on top of its sundae. The mustache on its Swanson. 

    The trip to Indy is one of the best episodes in the series and it LITERALLY doesn’t happen without Rob Lowe’s perfect portrayal. See also the trip to the Whole Foods-type place and the arc of his relationship with Jerry’s daughter.

    Memorable TV. 

    This fight goes to Tyler what what really was no contest.

    • http://katiemaesdailies.blogspot.com/ Katie Alicea

      The mustache on its Swanson!!??  Blasphemy.

  • Adele

    Good to see TV Asylum tackling the tough and necessary issues. Very valid points from both parties but I will just add my voice to the choir of commenters and say that to know Sam Seaborn is to love Rob Lowe. His memoir ‘Stories I only tell my friends’ was pure gold. Also, ahem, Wayne’s World anyone?

  • tylertarver

    I liked him in Austin Powers 1 Deleted Scenes.

    He can also run like an idiot, so you know he’s down for looking stupid, so he gets three golden tickets and a banana peal. Or is it peel? Both!

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  • M. Lee Taft

    Rob Lowe is the TV equivalent of a great point guard — not going to win in a one-on-one setting, but he will be one of the first people picked for the team.

    Here’s the thing with Rob Lowe — he is a fantastic actor. However, his fantastic acting only comes out in an ensemble setting. He is quite incapable of carrying a show. But, Rob Lowe’s ego is gigantic, and he thinks he is too good for the ensemble show, goes out on his own and flops. (Let’s call this David Caruso syndrome.)
    Look at his TV career: AMAZING as Sam Seaborn in The West Wing. RL gets the big head, thinks he’s too good for the ensemble, leaves, NBC gives him his own show (“The Lyon’s Den”) . . . and it lasts 13 episodes. What happens? He goes back for the end of the West Wing.

    Next, he lands on Brothers and Sisters (another ensemble show), and is a great character. What happens? He gets “too big” for the show, and he gets written off.

    Now he has made it to Parks and Recreation, which is. . . wait for it. . . an ensemble cast.

  • http://amuseorbemused.com/ JT Adamson

    OK, so when I was like, 11 years old, I’m pretty sure I went to a birthday party and “Robbie Lowe” was there.  Literally.  (we are the same age, he and I, but I’ve managed to look much older)
    So are you impressed?
    As for his acting, I can only comment by harkening back to my birthday party experience.  He takes the cake. 

  • http://bryanallain.com/ Bryan Allain

    I am 100% with Knox on this one.

    When Rob comes on screen during Parks and Rec my first thought is, “please tell me Ron is nearby cleaning a gun and this show is about to go all ‘Gun Safety’ PSA on us”. My second thought is, please go back to the A plot.

    Blame it on the writing, blame it on the delivery, or blame it on the way the character has developed, but it’s an abomination. He’s annoying and I don’t want to waste any of the seconds God has given me on this earth watching this character.

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