The most recent three episodes of The Grinder have played off of a joke that essentially blows up the premise of the series: Dean is trying to divorce himself from his character Mitchard Grinder, and in the process he is becoming more Stewart-esque, while Stewart is conversely becoming more Dean-like. It’s a pretty bold episodic arc for a new comedy to attempt. The show itself has dealt with its refusal to open itself up to new viewers who haven’t bothered to catch up or those who refuse to keep up. But it’s still pretty ballsy for a show this young to craft a joke as elaborate and long-running as this. It’s a show of early maturity for The Grinder that it can sustain this kind of storytelling so early in its lifespan. There’s the argument that this kind of writing closes a show off to new viewers and can be off-putting to casual ones who don’t find it necessary to watch every single episode of a sitcom, but there’s no use in stifling such a bold move.

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“Delusions Of Grinder,” which is possibly the best episode title of all (if not all time), still felt largely like a continued set up for the a punch line that has yet to come. Dean Sr. has been sued for legal malpractice just as Dean has an emotional breakthrough and decides he is Mitchard no longer. Instead of pretending to be a lawyer, he’s decided to do menial office work because that’s essentially all he’s qualified to do (“All those plants are plastic”). One of the great things about this plotline is that it involves every character in the cast. There’s no one who feels entirely left out of the the arc in general, therefore giving every character something to do episodically as well. The Grinder has spent so much time building up Dean and Stewart that other characters tend to get shafted when it comes to plot time. This is the most of we’ve seen of Dean Sr. in the show’s entire run. But everyone had something to do here, particularly Stewart, who gets to work on his stakeout skills.

And those skills were quite wonderful. It’s rare that Fred Savage gets to play Stewart physically or even big. Rob Lowe has built an entire character that plays everything big, and Savage is his direct contrast. And even as the brothers swap personality traits for the episode, Savage still doesn’t go nearly as big as Lowe does. While his actions are ridiculous, Stewart is still playing a character that could exist in the same world we live in, while Dean is not and does no want. If that cold open proved anything—other than Rob Lowe appearing in dubious brownface, which was dubious to say the least—was that you can take a person out of their element and out of their identity, but they’re the same person at heart. Even for Mitchard Grinder. And even for Stewart Sanderson, who may be acting out of character, but he’s doing it in service of the law and his family.

The B-plot involving Dean and Jillian (Maya Rudolph) sleeping together despite the gross ethical implications only worked about the half the time. I love Maya Rudolph and think she can do no wrong, but her character does not work for me, vacillating between the two worlds of this show—the one that Dean exists in and the one that Stewart does. The Grinder’s characters tend to stay in one of the two camps. Even Christina Applegate’s secret superfan appeared to be on the side of the “real,” while in truth she was obsessed with her former high school boyfriend. I can see the writers are pushing Jillian in to the former realm, where she can be as much of a lunatic as Dean is. But this not Peak Rudolph and it’s hard to ignore that they are not fully letting Rudolph’s crazy out. Still the final interaction between Jillian, Debbie, Dean and Stewart was so wonderfully written and played. While it may be ballsy for The Grinder to try what will be at least a four-episode arc in its essential infancy, they do have one basic down: a fantastic ensemble cast.

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Stray observation

  • “Let’s start with your recurring dream where Dean carries you around in his suit pocket.”
  • “What kind of agency am I with? Is it a small boutique agency where I know everyone or is it a big corporate agency where I’m trying to work my way up?” “What difference does it make?” “Well Dean would have this backstory worked out for me.”
  • “Now excuse me, I’m going to make love to my therapist.”

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