Who's Rob Lowe's 'Unstable' Netflix tech titan based on? 'The easy answer is Elon Musk'
The names of comedy duo legends trip off the tongue: Abbott and Costello. Laurel and Hardy. Nichols and May.
How about Lowe and Lowe?
OK, so maybe Rob Lowe, 59, and his son John Owen, 28, aren't quite in that vaunted pantheon. But their funny real-life repartee enlivens "Unstable," an eight-episode Netflix comedy series (streaming Thursday). The duo created and star in the show, about a widowed and wayward tech genius and his ambivalent son.
One example, which boils down to Annoyed Son correcting Serious Dad, Rob Lowe is asked if this series grew out of the popular Instagram ribbing he's taken at the hands of John Owen and his brother, Matthew, 30.
More: John Owen on his dad's sex tape
"Yes, the online heckling had gotten to the point where I could not do an interview, whether it was CNN or Jimmy Fallon, without being asked about it," Rob says. "So we thought if people are so interested in this, is there a there there?"
"Were you doing CNN a lot back then?" deadpans John Owen.
Rob leans closer to his son. "Look, I chose CNN to give it some gravitas. I just don’t want people to think that the only thing I talk to is the E! channel. If I had said Bloomberg, would that have been OK? So, 'When I was talking to the Wall Street Journal ...'"
Elon Musk was one inspiration for Lowe's biotech founder
That kind of riffing is a staple of "Unstable," which features Rob Lowe as Ellis Dragon, the brainy biotech titan who has lost his mojo (and maybe also his marbles) after the death of his wife. The show also stars Fred Armisen as Ellis' live-in psychologist.
John Owen Lowe plays Ellis' son Jackson, who has a knack for science but in an act of rebellion has moved away to teach flute. The show pivots on Jackson's decision to return to the lab, allowing father and son to regain their footing in life.
Many of the laughs in early episodes come at the expense of Ellis, Lowe's impossibly wacky founder, whose idea of bliss is walking around his office nude. For inspiration, the Lowes simply read newspaper headlines.
"We cherry-picked funny character traits from a whole bandwidth of people," says Rob. "It's a comedy of manners about our modern obsession with brilliant and possibly crazy billionaire innovators."
John Owen gets more specific: "The easy answer here is Elon Musk. When his tweeting out of things (related to taking his automaker Tesla public) helped tank (its) stock at one point, this was clearly a human being who's been given too much power and influence and doesn't know what to do with it."
Are they suggesting Musk is, like the show's title character, unstable?
"Might be, might be," Rob hedges. "Or, is he someone who's seeing the world in a way that we mere mortals don't have an ability to see?"
John Owen Lowe: Show is about getting 'out of (a) father's shadow'
Ultimately "Unstable" is less about tech rule-breakers and more about familial bonds.
Given that John Owen has a big hand in the scripts (along with co-creator Victor Fresco, "Santa Clarita Diet"), many themes revolve around growing up in the shadow of a famous father: Cue Rob's early Brat Pack days and scandals, followed by comedic turns in the "Austin Powers" series and now his hunky firefighter phase in Fox's "9-1-1: Lone Star."
"The show is partly about the humor and the misery of a child who wants to get out of his father’s shadow and can’t escape it," says John Owen.
"Yes," adds Rob dryly, "and John Owen’s solution for that was, 'Hey, let’s do a show with Dad.'"
John Owen: "And that’s why I’m in therapy."
Lowe says some of the scenes in 'Unstable' play a bit more like reality
Rob says his scenes sometimes hit a bit too close to home.
"I got a script the other day where I’m heckling John Owen's character when he is trying to play a serious game of tennis," he says. "And I thought, wow, that’s really what you thought I did when you were in high school tennis? You thought I heckled from the sidelines?"
"Unfortunately yes, these scripts do reflect an accurate depiction of my childhood," says John Owen, stifling a smile. "And I’m sorry this is difficult for you."
Says Rob: "He calls it a documentary. I call it revisionist history."
"Sure," says John Owen.
John Owen says making "Unstable" with his father, a TV reunion after they and Matthew anchored A&E's 2017 unsolved mysteries series "The Lowe Files," has strengthened their bond. "Getting to spend time with him is a bonus, as much as I hate to admit it," he says.
Asked if he has learned any showbiz wisdom from his father, John Owen pauses. "I have learned a lot about his work ethic, and I've tried to mirror that in moments when I was being pushed, creatively or scheduling-wise."
Rob Lowe blinks, looks over at his son, then smiles. "Hey I'll take that," he says. "That's about as good a compliment as I'm ever going to get. I'm taking my winnings and leaving the casino."
More TV news:
Jonathan Majors facing charges: Actor faces assault, harassment charges after alleged altercation: All the details
Kiefer Sutherland on Jack Bauer: Plus his singing career and going down the 'Rabbit Hole'
HBO's epic 'Succession': Shock and tears, but which Roy family member is triumphant?
Lance Reddick tributes: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry salute their friend and co-star who died at age 60
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Rob Lowe, John Owen Lowe explore family ties in Netflix's 'Unstable'