I’ve read a couple of pieces recently about the greatness of The Grinder, decrying its low ratings and praising its form. And I agree with those pieces — I like The Grinder and it’s a shame more people don’t watch it, especially as it becomes more complex and in-jokes start to pile up because it means that fewer people will probably find their way into watching the series. One of things about these pieces, though, was just as much as they praised The Grinder, they spent more time praising the shows that came before it that heavily influenced The Grinder, like Arrested Development and Community, these self-aware comedies that created intricate rules and worlds that at least some of their characters adhered to. The pieces were written with a wistful tone, more hopeful that The Grinder could follow the legacy of these shows, but it’s premature to stay that it’s fulfilling those legacies.
But episodes like “Grinder V. Grinder” make the show worthy of those pieces. I’ve said it before when The Grinder has categorically great episodes, like “Giving Thanks, Getting Justice” that this show is becoming truly great, but it’s the reason I find episodes like “Blood Is Thicker Than Justice” so disappointing. “Grinder V. Grinder” worked with in the same milieu as previous Grinder episodes — using a fictional Grinder-related plot point to elucidate what’s happening in our version of The Grinder (you follow me here?). Todd even goes ahead and spells it out for us in the end if we didn’t get it. But what works about this episode is that it’s not so much about Dean’s fame, it’s about his delusion. He believes that he’s more qualified to be an attorney than Timothy Olyphant because he played one for longer. And he has the E.R. metaphor to prove it. The fame angle can only be played so many ways, but his delusion has so many layers to explore. The success of this conceit is only magnified by Olyphant’s equal delusion, and, more importantly, because that collective delusion tends to win out in the end. The Grinder hasn’t lost case (until now), after all. Stuart fancies himself the smarter, more grounded brother, and yet, he’s still beat at every turn by Dean. It works so well.
The rhythm of this episode was entirely perfect, and that’s important for a comedy like The Grinder that has a deep bench of players to lean on. So far, the best bits have gone to Rob Lowe and Fred Savage (as they should), and those two are getting consistently better and more comfortable with each other. That opening back and forth — “I actually think you can see it coming because the Grinder never loses.” “But he can.” “But he doesn’t.” “But he could.” “But he won’t?” “Not on my watch.” — was lovely and almost had a Vaudevillian pitter-patter to its beats. But there were some other wonderful back and forths, namely the unspoken collusion between Stuart and Claire. They did not even have to finish each other’s sentences in order to understand how they would manipulate the thorns in their sides, and while neither may have been successful at their rouse, they were funny and that’s what matters. This doesn’t even get into the courtroom scene, which was less a back-and-forth than a perfectly edited series of one liners that delved farther and farther into Dean and Tim’s delusions (Dean is not lawyer, and to say he is one would go against the moral oath he took as an attorney). More of this please.
- Okay, bear with me here: Rob Lowe has the same cadence as Ilana Glazer on Broad City. I mean that as the deepest of compliments.
- Claire and Debbie meet! It didn’t occur to me that they hadn’t actually met yet, but their meeting not only points out one of the issues with the show — the female characters are underwritten — but also makes a meta joke out of it, wherein Claire says, “I can’t believe we haven’t met yet.” It was nice little move.
- “If acting were easy, we wouldn’t be doing it.”
- “I’m the Grinder, but he’s the Grinder’s brother so I should be teaching him everything I know about life, love and the law.” “Yeah, that’s nice of you to do for your brother.”
- “Uh, your honor, motion to hang on a second.”
- “Is what Tim Olyphant says true?” I love that they always call him Timothy Olyphant.
- “Trust me, there’s only one TV lawyer I want run a firm with … if that’s something I have to do.”