The cold opens for The Grinder that comment on how we as an audience watch the show have never been particularly subtle when it comes to what they are trying to say. “For The People” was the least subtle cold open of them all: Things are getting too complicated, says “The Board,” in the Mitchard Grinder’s world. “We need to present a case that anyone can understand even if they know nothing. Something so simple you barely have to be half awake to understand it,” says Mitch’s nerdy associate, both commenting on the case the Grinder character is prosecuting, but also the half-season long arc that’s taken over the series’ plots. There’s a lot of risk associated with the malpractice case that has been the show’s focus for some time. The drawbacks and benefits to pulling this off for The Grinder are part of the discussion in the beginning. On one hand, this move allows The Grinder to give its viewers some credit. They’re smarter than this “Board” gives them credit for. On the other hand, maybe they’re not, and the plot canalienate the people who are not entrenched in whether Dean is actually a lawyer or at what stage the defense is on. Even the title of the episode — “For The People” — speaks to what this episode is about on its basest level. This is a break in the action so that the audience can catch a their breath and keep up.
But The Grinder went against Mitchard’s own steadfastness of staying on the complicated path and took a break to welcome Anne Archer’s Lenore into the family. The lack of subtlety that pervaded the cold open, for better or for worse, carried its way through the end of the episode. “Your presence this week really changed the dynamic and it felt really good to focus on the family,” Dean says to Lenore as she heads back off to Paris. It worked on some levels, much like a lot of what The Grinder is doing.
Archer as Sanderson matriarch Lenore was so great. Her most famous role — Fatal Attraction, for which she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar — involved her being this sweet, almost naive housewife. But in the last decade or so, her rare roles see her as this confident, sexual, often rather unpleasant woman (see: It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, before her character’s untimely death), and she’s quite good at it. She looks put together and elegant, and her silky voice gives her a certain sensuality that she uses entirely to her advantage. Lenore is the anti-Dean Sr. He likes things simple, she likes things complicated. Dean is his favorite, Stewart is clearly hers. I understand why this dichotomy was set up in the first place, especially because at least it makes Stewart’s life considerably less tragic than being the younger brother constantly in his brother’s shadow. But Lenore’s complaints about Dean’s profession seem a little ridiculous. A woman had an open relationship with her husband, and had an affair with her previous lover Nigel, disapproves of her son’s very successful life because he didn’t settle down? That doesn’t jive with what we know about her.
The rest of the plot is similarly convoluted, but that also feels intentional in a lot of ways. Keeping the episode simple by taking a break from the larger plot arc is the note that The Grinder is bristling against. The episode starts out with purposefully basic sitcom plotline — the harried married couple at the middle of the series is so busy they forget their anniversary and have to scramble to keep up the facade that they didn’t. Dean figures this out and decides to play both Stewart and Debbie against each other in a bid to get what he wants: Claire to agree to pretend to be his fiancee so his mother will like him more (the best part of this entire idea is the conversation Dean and Stewart have about the lines of harassment). Soon everyone — from a reluctant Claire to an ignorant Todd — are all at a fancy trattoria dealing with the fallout of the insane lie. Screw you network suits! Even the most simple ideas can turn out balls-to-the-walls insane in The Grinder.
That doesn’t even count Dean Sr. who decides to try online dating in yet another well-worn sitcom trope — the youngs try to teach the old how to use the internet with wacky results. Except the absurdity of this small B-plot worked better than the A-plot because it was simple. There were only three characters, the goal of the plot — get Dean Sr. a date — was never obscured by extra characters or further complications. William Devane has rarely gotten to do much, usually just acting as one of the reasons that Dean is allowed to exist in his delusion at all. But when he does get to actually do something other than express his undying love for Dean, he’s perfect. My favorite laughline throughout the entire episode: “Calista, that picture of me was taken quite a while go. I’m actually an old man.”
And, yet, even though I liked the simpler plotline in “For The People,” I still remained so impressed with what this show is doing or attempting to do. I enjoy watching it because it gives a me the benefit of the doubt as a viewer. But there’s got to be a lot of people who don’t want that benefit, and it’s not always bad to pander to them, too.