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‘The Grinder’ review: But What If He CAN?

THE GRINDER
Season 1, Episode 2
“A Hero Has Fallen”
AIR DATE: October 7, 2015
GRADE: A-

“Dad, this is a BIG episode! They have to reset the whole premise!”
“And that’s a hard thing to do!”
“In a graceful way? VERY difficult. And we
didn’t follow up the pilot as well as we should have. And, you know what? We lost a LOT of our audience because of it.”

Thus begins “the follow-up of the Pilot” of FOX’s The Grinder, an episode that aims to “reset the whole premise” — and pretty much succeeds with its continued reliance on the beautifully-realized “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” meta style the show lovingly bathes in. With Dean now staying with his family for the foreseeable future to help his brother out in the courtroom (much to Stewart’s chagrin; and he actually has to point out that Dean “isn’t a, uh…a LAWYER“), there’s no time like the present to review some episodes with Stewart’s father and son. The opening gleefully points out the overall sentiments of any viewing audience taking in the sophomore episode of a show that starts out with a strong pilot episode: most of the time, it pales in comparison and there’s almost always a major ratings drop. It’s refreshing, however, to see Dean point the remote at the Bluray player and say, “Let’s queue this bitch up,” almost as if the cast is ready and willing to show us that they’re about to buck the norm.

If “A Hero Has Fallen” sounds melodramatic, it’s because it’s about the rise and fall and rise of the great Dean “Grinder” Sanderson — all in the space of 22 minutes. Fresh off their win from last week, Stewart wants to get right back to the grind, working on new cases. Dean, however, doesn’t want to choose any cases — he wants the cases to choose the firm. Stewart is exasperated, telling him that they can’t just throw out cases, only to have Dean respond with, “But what if we can?” This logic, of course, only makes sense in Grinder’s world where there isn’t a reasonable answer to that question — mainly because when you do answer it, the next question is always the same. It always works. So does casually pacing around a room, asking rhetorical questions about morality and objecting to your opponent on the grounds that they’re going off of “hearsay”. It always works.

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So, imagine Dean’s surprise when none of this works and there’s no case to be had in the tale of a couple who found their jobs very legally terminated due to workplace rules about fraternization. His career, his hopes and dreams, his very life has hit rock-bottom. Even his own teammates can’t console him:

“It’s over!” Dean says, his eyes closed, possibly holding back tears.

“But…what if it wasn’t…?” Todd offers.

“That doesn’t work here, Todd,” Grinder says, momentarily snapping back into reality.

“Oh, right, sorry,” Todd simply says in reply. Silly him.

The melodrama runs parallel to Dean’s show: Grinder’s partner, Pinkus, always tells Grinder that the things he thinks he can do in the courtroom aren’t possible. Moreover, Stewart feels like Pinkus because he believes his negativity has had detrimental impact on his entire family. Whereas Dean “never not wins” and pushes his righteous philosophies on those around him to achieve maximum efficiency, Stewart tells his son when to do his homework and his daughter who she should date — and he tells Dean that they can’t do what Dean used to do on his show. All for good reason, mind you. This is real life…but is it? When Dean falls apart, so does his family: Stewart’s son falls asleep at the dinner table (he’s been doing homework at 3 AM rather than early evening) and Joel (Lizzie’s boyfriend) walks around the house “like a free range douchebag”, according to Stewart’s wife, Debbie. Can Dean make a comeback?

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If there’s one flaw in all this, it’s the casting of Mary Elizabeth Ellis, who is still frustratingly underused as Debbie. That said, while the show’s creators seem to feel that she’s more useful as a woman who lies to her husband about his personal foibles to make him feel better, the good news is that she’s a key part of the episode. When Stewart tells Debbie that he’s “tired of being Pinkus”, Debbie is the one who explains to him that Pinkus is just as important to show as Grinder is because Pinkus lights a fire under his ass — and without him, there is no Grinder.

On the flip side, The Grinder has settled into a nice rhythm early on with “A Hero Has Fallen”. The casting is beyond impeccable — especially with the addition of Natalie Morales as Claire Lacoste, a possible love interest for Dean. That is, if he can get past the part where Claire actually hates his show because it’s severely unrealistic. If nothing else, the duo will be fun to watch for that reason alone: Dean will be attempting to court somebody who is also “not in on the joke” and I look forward to seeing how that will progress going forward.

“A Hero Has Fallen” is a thing of beauty because it continues to build on last week while mostly omitting the overly silly stuff from the pilot. Not to say the laughs we got in the opener weren’t necessary, but you simply cannot have your characters win cases like that each week without insulting the audience’s intelligence. Even though the world Stewart and his family inhabit might be somewhat influenced by Mitch Grinder, there’s also a sense that reality still prevails over melodramatic insanity. Thankfully, the show adjusts to this and finds a creative way around the issue: Dean’s annoying persistence wins the day and the wrongful termination suit is won in mediation simply because the guy who canned them couldn’t suffer Dean’s bullshit for ten more seconds. The couple is hired back and the fraternization policy is changed. The Grinder rests and justice has been done. Not bad work on a case where the couple suing didn’t even want to sue.

But what if they did?

About Danielle Stolman

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