'Unstable' Finds the Funny Side of Nepo Babies Created by Rob Lowe, John Owen Lowe and Victor Fresco
Starring Rob Lowe, John Owen Lowe, Sian Clifford, Fred Armisen, Rachel Marsh, Emma Ferreira, Aaron Branch
Published Mar 29, 2023The team at Unstable must have been cringing when nepo baby discourse took over in late 2022. The series is about an eccentric, self-involved CEO who gets his son involved in the family biotech business, with the lead roles played by Rob Lowe and his real-life son John Owen Lowe. It's both a commentary on nepotism and a product of it — the ultimate nepo baby ouroboros.
It would be totally insufferable if it weren't any good, but Unstable is thankfully saved by strong writing and solid comedic performances, especially from the undercard of actors whose last name isn't Lowe. The elder Lowe plays Ellis Dragon, a genius working on creating sustainable materials as the leader of the company that takes his own name. He's grieving after the recent death of his wife — a storyline that's way less emotional than one might expect from this synopsis — and his son Jackson reluctantly joins the company in an attempt to get his dad back on track.
The Lowes do a fine job, with Rob bringing slapstick highs and lows as the titular unstable one, and John Owen being the over-it son who rolls his eyes at his dad's antics and mostly just wants to play flute (arguably the silliest woodwind).
Unstable is funniest when it shifts away from its nepotistic leads and onto the supporting ensemble: Fred Armisen is at his bewildered best as a needy, buffoonish therapist, while Rachel Marsh and Emma Ferreira stand out as a quirky, likeable duo of young scientists, both of whom vibe with Jackson.
The clear highlight is Sian Clifford (of Fleabag renown) as Dragon's stone-faced second-in-command, conveying take-no-shits gruffness in a way that's funny rather than off-putting. Compared to the big performances around her, Clifford steals every scene she's in with an understated deadpan.
Despite the potential seriousness of some of these themes — nepotism, death of a spouse, the myth of billionaire geniuses, the ways corporate megalomania hinders progress — Unstable is pure wackiness, packing jokes into practically every line. And while not every joke lands, and a little bit more time could have been spent on writers' room punch-ups, it's quick-paced enough that any clunkers are quickly forgotten. Unstable is a welcome sitcom that prioritizes laughs over all else, making this 10-episode run absolutely breeze past. (Netflix)