“The Retooling of Dean Sanderson” was solid episode that I hoped would be funnier. The Grinder has been suffering under the weight of my expectations. But when something can be truly great, I don’t think it’s unfair to hold it to that standard, but it just makes even everyday good episodes of feel a little disappointing. But all in all, “The Retooling of Dean Sanderson” was a fine entry that was clearly meant to set up something larger next week.

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The episode felt underwhelming, in part, because it had two excellent guest stars to play with — Maya Rudolph and Oscar winner Jim Rash. Each one at different points showed these moments of what exactly they could do or be capable of — Jillian’s refusal to say what happens in other sessions even though it’s quite clear to everyone what has happened, and Foosley buying into Dean’s introspective shtick — but neither of them were given the time to truly shine as characters. But, as I said before, this felt like a setup episode. Rudolph is due back on the show, she’s signed on for a multi-episode arc, so there’s clearly more of her to come, and Rash’s character was certainly left open-ended. I do have to say it was nice that neither of these actors played Characters with a capital C. They were both relatively subdued, yet still worked without going so big or over the top. Rash is best known onscreen for his work in Community, and Dean Pelton did was anything but subdued. Rudolph clearly spent her Saturday Night Live years playing these big broad characters, something she took a bit of a break from in Bridesmaids, but returned to for Sisters. She’s great at those big moments, but her real talent lies in making the relatively sedate characters work.

It’s perhaps apt that neither guest star was written big, because the entire episode was about grounding Dean in the real. After eight seasons of The Grinder, Dean can’t turn off the “But if it weren’t’s” and the like, because he’s not aware of the line between Dean and Mitchard. Then again, this blurred line is what the entire show is predicated upon. I tend to like the episodes where Dean’s delusion is the punchline, but this was less about Dean and his identity and more about what Dean evangelizes from what he gleans from his therapy sessions. It’s not the character that Dean can’t stop playing that bothers Stewart so much. But, to take a metaphor from Dean, it’s that Stewart feels he’s not in control of his own wheel. This was a lot of set up to watch Stewart get more and more flustered, especially as Debbie joined the group of people who were grabbing their own wheel. “The Retooling of Dean Sanderson” was less about Dean shaking off this character, and more about Stewart’s own issues of ceding control (and the spotlight) to his brother, something he’s been upset about since Dean came back to Idaho in the first place (hence: Jillian). Stewart is not upset with Debbie for leaving her job, it’s that he wasn’t consulted at all during the process. Dean pretty much nailed the problem with Debbie’s storyline: It was boring, but we were still forced to pay attention to it. Once again, this is all set up, but Debbie’s professional life has been such a non-entity since “Buckingham Malice” that it’s difficult for me to care what she does with her job.

But just as Dean and Stewart both agree to hold off on the histrionics and drama, drama is thrust upon them: Dean Sr. is being sued and he’s going after the whole firm. Suddenly, Dean’s big, sweeping dramatics are at a pitch that is appropriate for the action onscreen. “The Retooling of Dean Sanderson” was a fine setup, but I’m looking for the real pay off next week.

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Stray observations

  • It’s not a new thing to say but, man, I love those cold opens so much. That gag has not gotten old for me.
  • That was Arrow’s Colton Haynes in the The Grinder-within-The Grinder.
  • Okay, but also the gong sound, which I now appreciate for its comedic possibilities.
  • Nat Faxon has also guest-starred on The Grinder, which means that in the world of The Grinder, only Alexander Payne won the Oscar for The Descendants, and we never got to have this:

  • “Not if it’s boring.” “No! Because it’s boring.”
  • “That’s great! But with all due respect to us, why?”

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