In its third episode, The Grinder looks inward to find its plot in this episode, just as it did in the second episode. Its inherent metaness is less elegant than “A Hero Has Fallen,” wherein the plot of the show-within-a-show mirrored the state of The Grinder itself, although the dreaded sophomore slump was avoided in that case. In “The Disappearance Of Mr. Donovan,” the metaness derives from the lesson a specific episode of Dean’s show. (I’m going to have to come up with a better way of differentiating the Fake Grinder from the Real Grinder in these reviews.)

“The Disappearance Of Mr. Donovan” uses the immorality of lying to get a confession, whether it be for legal purposes or to see, say, whether one of the kids erased the most recent episode of Ray Donovan off of the DVR. It was an odd example, with even the kids saying that the erased episode was easily made available On Demand. But more importantly, it’s small potatoes compared to the broken window in the Dean-Stewart scenario that forced Stewart to postpone losing his virginity for a whole 18 months. That deserved real consequences, while grounding Ethan and Lizzie made Stewart and Debbie look like insane parents for getting so worked up over a missing episode of TV. Look, I like TV a lot, but grounding both kids is a little much, no? The low stakes of the crime is supposed to be the joke. It’s the same reason it’s funny that Dean fights so hard to win; he’s looking for a mole in a $900 personal injury case. But that joke doesn’t work when it’s the central focus of the plot. The low stakes, in that case, are no longer running gag, and more a hole in the character. Debbie and Stewart are supposed to be the sane one in this scenario, aren’t they?

Those leaps in logic need to be addressed at some point. Take Dean Sr., who so comically favors his namesake that he doesn’t feel like a real character. But why was he at Stewart’s house? There was no purpose for him to be there. I understand that Dean Sr.’s house was being painted and that’s why he needed to bunk at Stewart’s, but what was the purpose of him being there? Was anything accomplished by having him around more than in previous episodes? There were other excuses to get him into the house, it seemed odd to keep him in the house for one crack about a bathrobe.

I did enjoy Steve Little’s expanded role in the episode, and he was used effectively, unknowingly acting as the mole despite Dean’s claims that Natalie is the true snitch (“She’s new, she worked for the other side, and she refuses to sleep with me”). There is something about Little that gives him an air of desperation for approval of any kind, something he so expertly did on Eastbound & Down. His conversation with the bartender was almost sweet: What else can I tell you about work? he asks, as if the bartender wants him there just as much as he wants someone to listen to him. Similarly, I’m also beginning to enjoy Connor Kalopsis’s Ethan, so entirely serious about following in his uncle’s footsteps. Although, in her second episode, Natalie Morales was not given all that much to do, and Mary Elizabeth Ellis has had no action of her own, expect to look miffed.

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“The Disappearance Of Mr. Donovan” was The Grinders first misstep of an episode. Maybe it just wasn’t thorough enough.

Stray observations

  • TV Law School: Entrapment — When law enforcement uses coercion to induce someone to commit a crime.
  • “When I was deep in it, I actually believed I was guilty.” “I saw flashes of that but I also saw some false moments.”
  • “Shouldn’t the Grinder do the big speeches?” “Don’t mind if I do.”

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