The problem with episodic TV reviews — yeah I’m biting the hand that feeds me, it happens — is that it’s often difficult to get out of thinking about the episode as its own singular entry and to look at the big picture. This isn’t a new concept and has been around just as long as this kind of criticism has. But I’ve never felt its shortcomings so acutely as I have while writing about The Grinder. Episodically, this show can be good to quite wonderful, which is nothing to sneeze at for a freshman sitcom, especially one with such a high concept. But the benefit of having a couple weeks off from weekly reviewing (stupid cable outtage! Thanks Allison for stepping in) is that I get to see the big picture more clearly. I’ve talked about the development of The Grinder’s unexpected serial turn. Look, it doesn’t always work, but, it needs to be said as many times as I can how impressive and ambitious it is that a show in only its eighteenth episode is creating a storyline on this scale and in a way that’s this interconnected. So interconnected, in fact, that “From The Ashes” mentions flashbacks as a way to break a story. Even if those flashbacks were in reference to Timothy Olyphant’s New Grinder, that’s still an impressive callback joke.

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And, hey, ya know what? It’s pretty good! “Genesis” was more in service of the gag — that backstory is key and getting Dean back into the game — than the overall story. Whether Dean Sr. was negligible or not in the handling of Cory Manler’s (Kenny Lucas) case is barely touched on, although I laughed so hard when Cory opened up the envelope and it said, “Grinder rests.” That’s where this episode falters in that I keep waiting for some kind of conclusion, or even movement, in this larger story that they’ve constructed. There hasn’t been much since “Delusions Of Grinder.” But focusing on Dean’s backslide into Grinderhood, rather than what’s up with the future of the firm, is also in line with the rest of the show. The case matters so much less than the dynamic between Stewart and Dean and the rest of the cast, much in the same way that these types of procedurals live or die based on how much we as an audience are invested in the characters and their personal lives rather than we are in the actual stories that they’re working on. Scandal, for instance, is a show that started out as an extension of the legal procedural became so much more when Shonda Rhimes figured that out, or at least gave into her more serial instincts.

The revelation that it was Stewart who coerced Todd into destroying the office was less about what he did and the state of the office — which is why it feels like such a stall for the bigger story arc — than it was an excuse to go back to Dean’s origin story story in Los Angeles with his controlling fiancée Kelly (Jenna Fischer, who also happens to co-star with Lowe in You, Me And The Apocalypse), who doesn’t see Dean’s inherent star power and believes he should be selling freezer door with her dad back in Indiana. These callbacks were the best parts of the episodes — from Dean’s creation of Chip the mechanic from Lubbbock (he created a seven page character diary!) to his interactions with Benjy (Chris Klein!) to that awesomely terrible wig (so Goo Goo Dolls). Every time the story turned to 2005, I was so much more invested in the episode than when Dean was in search of who destroyed the office. But, why those scenes work goes back to the same idea as to why the larger idea about Dean Sr.’s potential negligence matters less than Dean’s journey: This is a show about people, and family and how it interacts, and less about the overall story or even the concept. Perhaps that’s why it’s so impressive The Grinder is carrying on such a story to begin with.

Stray observation

  • I legit thought my DVR recording had screwed up when I saw I saw Caroline Rhea.
  • “If anything, I didn’t go big enough.” “You burned photos of my children, Todd.”
  • “Is there are story?” “Well, Kelly gave me an ultimatum and time ran out.”
  • “Look here, man: Mitch’s chiseled features are handsome, almost beautiful. That’s you dog.”
  • “Damnit, what is wrong with this business? Every good part goes to a woman.”
  • “You are awesome and you deserve a man who is incapable of making decisions for himself.”
  • “Do you know who takes his shoes off at the airport? Brian Austin Green. Is he a terrorist? No, but he does it to send a message that no is above suspicion.”
  • “It’s these details that build character.”

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