The Grinder’s always been a meta show — my favorite is the previous episode, when Stewart asserted that a spinoff about the Grinder’s less cool, less handsome brother could totally work — and tonight, we go down another Hollywood rabbit hole: The real Jimmy Kimmel interviews Rob Lowe, who’s playing the fictional Dean Sanderson, who’s talking about the real Timothy Olyphant, who plays (presumably) a dim, self-centered version of himself, on Jimmy Kimmel Live!
Fictional people, real people, real people playing fictional versions of real people, and fictional people making comments that could apply to the real people who are playing them: That brain-twisting brew is part of what’s made The Grinder such fun in its freshman season, and tonight’s episode is no exception.
The episode starts with another bit of meta-commentary for those tuning into the show for the first time after the holiday break: During the usual Grinder rerun — this one featuring the main assistant state’s attorney from The Good Wife, for extra brain-melting potential — Dean mocks the trope of catching new viewers up in one big infodump. Then in a hammy voice, he runs down the premise of the show that we, the audience, are watching and concludes, “I’m just saying, it’s bad writing.”
“I don’t want to be spoon fed,” Ethan adds. (How they resisted pitching reruns on Hulu, I do not know.)
Ah, but the actual plot of this show is Neal, the journalist who’s shadowing Stewart to write a profile of him and his trademark brand of simple law for the Boise Herald.
The case that Stew is desperately trying to showcase for Neal involves their defense of an environmentalist accused of throwing bricks through the windshields of SUVs at car dealerships. Stew just wants to establish an alibi, but Dean hijacks the conversation, as per usual, and promises to find the culprit and solve the case, which he tells Neal is what Sanderson & Yao does.
They don’t, actually, but Neal doesn’t jot that down when Stewart makes the correction. Instead, Neal’s pretty clearly only writing down Dean’s words, and a little snooping by Debbie proves that his notes point toward a smear piece about what a big fat albatross Dean is to the firm.
Dean isn’t aware of that, though. He’s too busy fuming as he watches Timothy Olyphant making out with Claire while parked in Dean’s reserved spot at the office. (It should be noted that the license plate on Olyphant’s muscle car is GRINDER 1.)
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While Dean’s grandstanding on the case, he’s also pumping Todd for information on Timothy and Claire. Todd says they’re pretty serious, and when Dean asks how many days Timmy’s spending in Boise versus filming the show, Todd says he doesn’t know.
This doesn’t make Dean happy. “Todd, do me a favor. Do the math, and then come back to me with something that doesn’t require math.”
Then Dean has a brainstorm and points out to Stew that none of those windows were broken before Olyphant arrived in town. It’s a theory, anyway.
“That Timothy Olyphant is smashing car windows in Boise?” Stewart asks.
Dean decides that if they catch the bad guy, it’ll put Stew back in the headlines and (somehow) show Claire that Olyphant’s not the real deal. He points to his crime board, which is a map with scribbles, pictures of the damaged windows, and an Olyphant headshot in the very middle.
“Look at the board. I’m so damn close,” Dean says.
He is not, but Tim looks great there in the middle of that board of crazy.
NEXT: Dean shows us all how to call in a favor
When Dean hears that Olyphant has something big planned for Claire on Friday night, he hatches a plan: He’ll taunt the real culprit into hitting one more dealership, which they’ll stake out on Friday, forcing Claire to cancel her plans. And of course, he’ll do this by making an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!
So there’s Dean on Kimmel, wearing his stocking hat, talking about the Boise crime wave and challenging the smasher to terrorize the best dealership in town. Debbie and Stew sit in their living room and watch in amazement.
“Kimmel owed him a favor,” Stewart explains.
“Well, obviously, you would want to cash that in on this,” Debbie responds.
Of course, Dean isn’t just doing this to win the case; it’s to win back Claire. And we know this for sure when Dean asks Kimmel to confirm that Olyphant’s never been on the show. (Should we assume he’s always been in the green room with Matt Damon, just waiting to be called?)
Tim and Claire are watching in bed, and he insists that he’s actually been invited a number of times but had to cancel at the last minute. Then he guilts Claire for cancelling their plans and wrangles an invitation to the stakeout
Dean, Stew, Todd and Neal are sitting outside the dealership in the car when Claire pulls up with Olyphant. (She’s really put up with his actorly self-absorption for far longer than you’d think — particularly if, as rumor has it, she isn’t as into Tim as he is to her.) When Stew finally tells his brother that this is a smear piece (no, not about Todd, as Dean initially guesses), Dean’s touched that Stew went along with the stakeout to protect Dean from Neal.
Dean then uses his persuasive gift to pitch Neal on a story about a man looking out for his brother. Simple story, simple law. Neal, who’s fairly beaten down by life at this point, agrees and asks for a ride back to his car. Team Sanderson, FTW!
Well, it’s half a win, anyway. In the end, the article calls Stewart one of the sharpest lawyers in Boise, but it refers to Dean as a deluded, soul-sucking roadblock. But as he reads it, Dean chokes up with tears of pride. Plus, he heard that Claire’s kicking herself for taking Olyphant on the stakeout, which means they’re dunzo.
OR ARE THEY? The next morning, Clairyphant’s making out in Dean’s parking space again. Dean wonders if it’s maybe a goodbye kiss? (It’s clearly not.) And then Timmy leans out the car window to say, “I hate that this keeps happening. Might be time to get my own spot.”
Listen, if this means more fiction versus fiction-as-reality showdowns between Dean and the bizarro version of Timothy Olyphant, sign me up, your honor.