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

The Grinder returns with Olyphant in tow

Illustration for article titled The Grinder returns with Olyphant in tow

Okay, so let’s just begin this whole thing by talking about how great that cold open was, because it was really The Grinder at its best. The rest of the episode was fine but not nearly as good as the few minutes that started it. In the opening, Stew, Deans Jr. and Sr., and Ethan banter about the nature of coming into a show midseason. Stew is admonished for his ignorance of past seasons, especially when he could catch up at anytime. It’s not the characters’ jobs to announce their backstory in every scene, that’s just bad writing, according to Dean, who in turn so perfectly encapsulates his backstory. It was such an elegant way to satirize the legal procedural, and the TV season as whole, while accomplishing the exact goal that they’re making fun of.

The rest of the episode got too complicated to achieve the same goal with similar economical elegance. A reporter from the Boise Herald is tasked with profiling Stew, but his article instead becomes about the ineptitude of Dean, who spends most of his time trying to pin case on Timothy Olyphant, who has been set up as Dean’s de facto rival (more of this, please). The plot was fine, but too convoluted to fully coalesce, with so much going on that none of it felt entirely cohesive. TV lawyers tend to be investigators just as much as they practice law, and therein lies the joke. Stew prefers to practice law as it’s done in reality: protecting the client and provide the jury enough reasonable doubt for a not guilty verdict. Defending a client is not about finding out who the real culprit is. But with the two plots that drove this episodes — the reporter covering Stew and Dean investigating the damage done to the SUVs — so intertwined, Dean’s plot never landed.

Olyphant is not just Dean’s professional rival, he’s his personal one as well. Tim is banging Claire, the object of Dean’s affections. Perhaps that’s why I was not in love with this episode: I dislike the notion that Dean is obsessed with Claire. It’s such a forced semi-love story, that even if it never comes to fruition (and there is no reason to believe it will), there’s something inherently off about foisting a will-they-won’t-they on a story that doesn’t support it. And the more and more Claire rebuffs Dean and scoffs at the notion that they will ever be together, the creepier Dean becomes in continuing to pursue her. The joke isn’t funny anymore. I understand why it’s being continued; Mitch Grinder always had a love interest and he doesn’t have one in this case. But I never liked where it was headed and I still don’t. Natalie Morales hasn’t really had a chance to be funny outside the context of eyerolling Dean yet, and she’s proven on other shows she has the capacity to be funny. But it’s frustrating that she keeps being shoehorned into this unnatural love interest role, even if it’s supposed to be a joke.

“The Olyphant In The Room” did provide an excellent showcase for Fred Savage. His attempts to make the law seem sexy in the eyes of the reporter were pitch perfect Dean-lite moments. Savage is so often tasked with playing the straight man, being the only guy in the room who can cut through Dean’s delusions, that the moments he gets to step out of that role are welcome and funny. Where Dean’s delusion allows him to get away with the “What if it wasn’ts,” Stew is far too self aware to be able to pull that off. Each time he tries, it rings false, and Savage was able to capture that perfectly.

Stray observations

  • Matan from The Good Wife makes The Grinder within The Grinder! I love Matan. He’s such a dick in the best way. The Good Wife, by the way, is often guilty of practicing law by finding the real criminal. At least they have the excuse of investigators.
  • “Todd, do me a favor and do the math and come back to me with something that doesn’t require math.”
  • “Did you know I was on a TNT miniseries called ‘Stakeout?’ Committed pretty hard to it. Lost of a bunch of weight. Lived in my car the entire shoot.” “Wow, that seems unnecessary.” “Yeah.”
  • “Dean doesn’t know if this is happening tonight. What am I doing with my life?”