'The Lowe Files': TV Review

Courtesy of Richard Knapp
Lowe should have kept this a strictly family affair.

This bizarre vanity project on A&E showcases Rob Lowe's charms, but offers little else in terms of entertainment.

Consider the Madonna-like reinventions Rob Lowe has undergone during his three-and-a-half decades in the spotlight: from teenage heartthrob to Brat Pack bro; incorrigible party monster to hyper-verbose dramatic actor to comedic scene-stealer; perpetually underestimated pretty boy to possible real-life vampire; beloved meme machine (especially as Parks and Recreation’s Chris Traeger) to occasionally controversial tweeter. With A&E’s The Lowe Files, the Code Black castmate adds a few more unexpected dimensions to his fame — as reality star, ghost hunter and public dad — while inadvertently confirming that a quantity of guises is no substitute for quality of the same.

The Lowe Files isn’t the strangest vanity project to have ever been attempted, but it is one of the more inexplicable ones. In fact, the mystery behind why a busy, successful and largely private actor like Lowe would sign up for a camera crew to accompany his family-bonding time instantly becomes the series’ most compelling case. In the first episode (the only installment made available to critics), Lowe cites his love of eerie “campfire stories” — and his desire to share that love with his two grown sons, 23-year-old Matthew and 21-year-old John Owen — as a partial justification for the series. And sure, road-tripping with his college-age children seems like a great remedy for Lowe’s empty-nest syndrome. But I’m not sure why the rest of us were invited.

In skin-tight tees, Lowe exudes enthusiasm and positivity from each one of his perfect pores. His chattiness — mostly about the supernatural phenomena he hopes to see — is the show's sole attraction. Sometimes, that eagerness betrays him. In the series’ opening hour, the Lowes visit Preston Castle, an abandoned boys’ reformatory 30 miles south of Sacramento and “one of the most haunted places in California.” (Future episodes will be dedicated to searches for a Bigfoot-like “wood ape” and an underwater extraterrestrial base.) An excitable Lowe peeks through a window at a room (that we don’t see) in the Castle, gleeful at its resemblance to a morgue. He’s quickly corrected; it’s the kitchen. Lowe appears to be a steady father. He takes his sons’ smart-ass comments in stride and delights that the men have “escaped [their significant others’] clutches.”

But the younger Lowes are difficult to tell apart, evince hardly any personality on camera and express little interest in the stories told about the Castle. Their mutedness may stem from an understandable desire not to be mocked by their peers at law school (for Matt) or at Stanford (for John Owen). In other words, they’re not very good reality-show characters, even when they freak out over a poltergeist-detecting doohickey that lights up or a ball that stirs on its own accord.

Father and sons wield an assortment of gizmos that illuminate or buzz suggestions of words as they walk around the crumbling Castle. At night, the infrared cameras shoot in green and black, and we watch Rob and John Owen watch a thingamajig flare up in different colors that, again, we cannot see. A man with a mustard-yellow beard who goes by “Shaman John” conjectures that Preston Castle is probably built on top of a Native American burial ground, and that hackneyed bit of 1980s white guilt is somehow not the silliest scrap of exposition that he provides. Lowe freely admits that he doesn’t know what any of Shaman John’s machines do or how they work.

The willful amateurism is, honestly, fine. The actor is enjoying an offbeat vacation with his children, whom he probably sees far less these days than he wishes. The arrogance that any of us would consider this entertainment, however, is patently insulting.

Premieres: Wednesday, 10 p.m. ET/PT (A&E)

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