Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Grinder gets meta in its second episode

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There’s an inherent metaness to “A Hero Has Fallen” that points to something deeper within The Grinder. “A Hero Has Fallen” may not necessarily be as laugh out loud funny as the pilot but it demonstrates a complexity that is certainly beneficial to how The Grinder will work in the future. In the beginning of the episode, Dean, Dean Sr., Stewart, and Ethan sit around and watch the second episode of the show within a show. Dean comments about how it’s not as strong as the pilot and that they lost a lot of viewers. This is the fate of the young TV show. So much effort and time is put into the creation of the first episode that when it comes time for more, it fails. How many shows have we, as critics, heaped praise on only to see that praise dissipate once the concept actually needs to be put to work? The Grinder acknowledges that immediately, and further shows how the concept is at play as Stewart figures out his role in the new world order. He’s not meant to be the laidback cool hero. He always was, and is always meant to be the Pinkus, as Debbie points out. I will admit that I’m a sucker for the meta, I like these demonstrations of real life seeping through within a show, especially one as conceptually focused as The Grinder. But the plot of “A Hero Has Fallen” points to complexity that goes beyond “Isn’t Rob Lowe funny when he’s in ‘Grinder’ mode?”

Of course, those moments are still when The Grinder is at its funniest. Rob Lowe sits plaintively outside the courtroom with the perfect sadsack, yet still blank face. Rob Lowe sits plaintively on the bus as music plays. Rob Lowe plaintively poses as balls fly by him in the batting cages. The humor of The Grinder will always in part lie with Dean’s refusal to accept the reality that Stewart and we live in. That’s where the comedic tension lies. But that place can also be where The Grinder’s heart is, as well. Debbie’s limited role at this point is still just “sitcom wife.” She doesn’t do much but clean up the messes of everyone else, but it’s still incredibly early in the series’ run so there’s no use in lamenting a wasted Mary Elizabeth Ellis because there hasn’t been enough of a show to waste her on yet (although I did laugh when she said, “Zadak is running around like a free range douchebag”). But the real emotional pull of “A Hero Has Fallen” is not in her speech to Stewart telling him that the Pinkus is just as important as the Grinder, but in Stewart’s realization of that role. Stewart accepts that he will always be lame, he will always be the naysayer, but that person gets as much shit done as the guy everyone cheers on in the end. The only problem is that people don’t like him as much. That’s fine when it’s Fred Savage, who once again uses his inherent affability to bring a sweetness to his wet blanket role. The case is impossible! Literally, to steal a Chris Traeger enunciation, no lawyer on earth could win it! Stewart isn’t lying. But instead of shutting down his brother, he makes the smart move and decides to play the part his brother needs to succeed.

“A Hero Has Fallen’s” biggest development comes in the form of Natalie Morales who joins the cast as a senior associate in the family biz. Claire, like Stewart, is entirely unfazed by Dean’s glow of celebrity that has everyone else enthralled. She’s good at her job and will be able to aid Stewart, acting as another counterpart to this reality in which everyone accepts that Dean can successfully litigate cases. I welcome her presence, I like Morales quite a bit. She’s already played this part before, as Lucy on Parks And Recreation. In her first appearance in “The Master Plan,” she is immediately immune to Tom Haverford’s bullshit and forces him to cut it out and act like a normal person. Lucy wasn’t always successful but she was dealing with Tom so let’s let that one slide, shall we? Hopefully she does not always have to be that character. In the dearly departed Trophy Wife, Morales also showed she had a talent for being as much of screw up as the characters she would now heavy sigh at, and I hope she gets the chance to show off that silliness as well. Here’s where Claire concerns me: She’s immediately set up as this potential love interest for Dean, and while she makes it clear that he has no shot, there’s an inherent creepiness to the purpose of her character as seen in this light. Morale is 30, Lowe is 51, and while female-male age difference is certainly not something new in terms of Hollywood, that doesn’t mean there’s not an ick factor in the off chance that Dean will eventually sleep with Claire. Hopefully, her claims that any potential romantic entanglements are impossible hold up even to the Grinder’s charms.

Stray observations

  • TV law school: An out of court statement offered for the truth.
  • Other than the batting cages moment, there were some other lovely physical moments in this episode, namely when Dean emerges from behind the boxes of evidence to make his case.
  • At first I heard that the couple at the center of the episode were named Trevor and Don, instead of Dawn and I thought, “Damn, The Grinder getting political with a gay employment law case.” Here’s a not-so-fun reminder that you can be fired in 28 states for being gay.