Sitcoms shouldn’t start out great. It’s just basic TV science. Some start out good and become great, some even start out terrible and become great. But there are few that start out positively fantastically and stay that way throughout their run. Why? There’s a few reasons: Characters take time to take their true comedic form (Leslie Knope in season 1 vs. Leslie Knope in season 7 are fundamentally different characters, same could be said for Michael Scott) or it takes time for us as an audience to understand the tone and feel of the show (30 Rock had its own weird language and rhythms). But there are so many examples of turning point episodes that show this baby sitcom firing on all cylinders, proving what it can do and what it can eventually become. The “Pawnee Zoos” or the “The Dundies,” if you will. “Giving Thanks, Getting Justice” was this episode of The Grinder. This was just an all around fantastic episode. It was funny and sharp, using everyone in the cast, and expanding the story of the Sanderson family beyond what we normally we see. I laughed out loud more time in this episode than I had perhaps all season, and I’m so excited to see where The Grinder can go from here.
Sanderson family stopped celebrating Thanksgiving after Stuart caught his mother in an overly complicated sexual situation with Dean Sr.’s former partner, Yow (wow!). But Dean is having none of that. He insists the family rekindle their Thanksgiving tradition — ignorant of his situation with his mother — because he left Hollywood for moments of ‘the real’ that he missed while constantly being shirtless on set. “Giving Thanks, Getting Justice” took a lot of what I like about The Grinder and brought it together: the parodying of Dean’s celebrity status, Stuart and Dean getting along rather than working against each other, Debbie actually having a role in the plot and more importantly the comedy. But one of the better aspects of “Giving Thanks, Getting Justice,” was the ensemble. For the most part, The Grinder has heavily relied on the comedic pairing of Rob Lowe and Fred Savage. Their chemistry has worked well, but this episode, instead, brings both Debbie and Dean Sr. into the fold for their own jokes. The scene where Dean, Stuart, and Debbie describe Mrs. Sanderson’s Cross Fit-informed sexual dalliances with Yow was the exact moment where the ensemble clicked. The benefit of this was two-fold, not only did it give Savage, Lowe and Mary Elizabeth Ellis an excuse for some wonderful banter, but it also revealed that Ma Sanderson is still alive, opening up future storylines for her appearance.
“Giving Thanks, Getting Justice” was also the first time we got to go back to Dean’s life in Hollywood, and considering how complex they made Jason Alexander’s Cliff Beamus (that’s quite the Indiana Jones fetish), I figure that we will see him again. The way that the show has played with celebrity has largely been hit or miss. But the flashback to Dean’s Hollywood life was exceptional, and not just because of Timothy Olyphant, but because of the way it treated the Dean character. In LA, he craves “the real,” but back in Boise, he still lives in his own world of celebrity privilege. But “Giving Thanks, Getting Justice” reveals that that celebrity bubble extends even beyond Boise back to Hollywood where not everyone exists within the same overly-emoted world that Dean is a part of. “Erica, can you give me a spritz because I have also lost my shine,” Dean says to a very confused PA. As Dean rails against his shirtless scene, his co-star (Ballers’ Arielle Kebbel) looks at her phone, bored. There’s this great comedic rub between those who live in Dean’s bubble and those who live outside of it, and that was played to such great effect in this episode because it extends to Dean’s entire life, not just when he’s back in “real America.”
But the best part of “Giving Thanks, Getting Justice”? It was entirely sweet. Dean wants something real, even if he does not actually live in this intangible real. Episodes have attempted sweetness through family togetherness, but in “Giving Thanks, Getting Justice,” it landed.
- Look, I love Timothy Olyphant so much. Deadwood is my all time favorite show, Justified is up there. I never think Timothy Olyphant is funny when he cameos on sitcoms. This is the first time I’ve ever found him funny in a sitcom cameo.
- “Talking to Dean rarely makes me feel better.”
- “Tell me, how’s that prepubescent stuff going for you?” “Barreling through it.”
- Drew Peterson burn! “I know everything about the Thanksgiving spirit! I played Sacajawea for Lifetime!”
- “They used a shirtless take without consulting me.” “They always do.” “A little tip for next time: If they do a take you don’t want them to use just leave a tiny bit of your penis showing. They can’t use it.” “Beamus knows the trick. I tried it.” (I literally laughed out loud while transcribing this)