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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A West Wing reunion hits The Grinder

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So let’s all take a moment to freak out about the fact that Toby Ziegler and Sam Seaborn got to hang out on a tropical beach for the time being. I’m a sucker for novelty casting and I would appreciate if Josh Lyman and CJ Craig could stop by when they get the chance. But aside from that, the cold opens on The Grinder, usually featuring a group watching The Grinder (so meta!) have become my favorite part of the show. In some cases, as in last week and this week, it was the funniest part of the show. The Grinder has a lost a touch of the insanely good momentum that it showcased before its winter hiatus. Still, this is a good show, and one of my favorites of the 2015-2016 season, but now I know the brilliance that it’s capable of and I want more of that, goddamnit.

In “Exodus (Pt. 1),” The Grinder addresses a question that had been heretofore unanswered: Why does Dean still live with Stewart if he has eight seasons worth of money (and probably syndication dough), not to mention that I figure the rents in Boise are considerably cheaper than they are in Los Angeles. Dean has sold the Malibu manse, and Stewart decides it’s time to have the talk with his older bro about his next step, leading Dean to eventually leave the firm. Throughout the episode, Stewart predicts what will happen: that Dean will blow things out of proportion and request a midnight rendezvous, which will eventually lead to his departure and eventual return. The plot, as it usually does, is supposed to reflect what was happening in the show-within-a-show, with Richard Schiff’s Gordon Stutz coming after him in his tropical hideaway. But there were no swerves or curveballs in this episode, it was essentially as Stewart predicted. It didn’t say anything about the genre that The Grinder lampoons, nor does it invert it. Once again, “Exodus (Pt. 1)” was funny but it almost felt as rote as the type of what Mitchard Grinder was guilty of doing.

Napoleon Dynamite’s Efren Ramirez shows up as Mitch’s body double, who suddenly finds himself homeless after Dean sells his Malibu home. Whereas Dean was a drain living in the Sanderson home, Andre is the opposite. He caulks the windows and makes arugula salad. Whereas they couldn’t get Dean to leave, Andre is actually chomping at the bit to get out of the house if only Debbie would let him. Ramirez is a sweet and charming Andre but this plot felt disconnected from the larger story. Debbie has not been given many opportunities to show funny she can be, and this didn’t really use her to the best of her ability. I’ve had similar issues with how Natalie Morales has been used, but I have warmed to Dean Sr.’s shtick as the show has gone on. Yeah, he’s still a rather one dimensional character on the level of Todd, but there’s this sweet charm underneath what William Devane does that makes me like him more. He just wants to please Dean, even if that means having a bootleg taco night. Still, this is a show about Dean and Stewart. Rob Lowe and Fred Savage already have such an easy chemistry with each other that let’s the more sentimental moments have just as much weight as the more cartoonish ones. They collectively take up so much room, that it’s hard for the supporting cast to find a way to break in. It’s a talented cast, though, and they should each get their chance to expand the premise of the show.

Considering this is Part One of an epic cliffhanger, I’m sure the likes of Gordon Stutz will be back to convince Dean to return to Sanderson & Yao. Hopefully, “Exodus (Pt. 1)” is the set up to a more interesting conclusion.

Stray observations

  • I LOL’d hard when Dean threw the fish.
  • “That was my merger! Those were my stock options.”
  • “Heckuva beard kid.” “Show had to take eight months off so I could grow it.” “Worth it.”
  • “I think you suck the perfect amount of air son.”
  • “Grindsight is 20/20”
  • “You know your car is here. He drove here just to walk away, that doesn’t make any sense.”