There’s good news and curious news this week in regards to The Grinder. Let’s get the uneasiness out of the way first: The numbers were solid, if a little unspectacular. It did a decent overnight number in the adults 18–49 demographic (the most-coveted target for advertisers) with a 1.5 and got a robust boost from DVR numbers, but it and the rest of Fox’s Tuesday lineup, which includes The Grinder’s lead-in Grandfathered, got boxed out behind NBC (The Voice) and ABC (The Muppets and Fresh Off the Boat). Still, both Grandfathered and The Grinder are already faring better than the New Girl/Mindy Project combination Fox was running with last season, so it’s a fair bet that both comedies will be given plenty of rope over the next several weeks.
Which brings us to the good news: The second episode of The Grinder is just as sharp as the first. Last week we talked about how difficult it was to construct a comedy pilot, and perhaps the only thing tougher than producing a funny debut is crafting a funny follow-up. Countless rock bands have had this problem, as the first album tends to be the culmination of years of work and a bevy of song possibilities. Meanwhile, second efforts are typically put together while the group is on the road over the course of less than a year, which is why even great bands tend to fall victim to the sophomore slump.
The Grinder managed to sidestep this completely, primarily because the chemistry between Rob Lowe and Fred Savage is so instantly winning. They won’t be able to ride this wave forever, but at the moment, Savage’s exasperated reactions to Lowe’s boundless confidence is one of the funniest bits currently on television. (And it’s entirely possible that they could run like this for years — if you had told me back when Sleepy Hollow premiered that I would still be laughing at Ichabod Crane’s confusion about modern-day technology and slang, I would not have believed you, but yet here we are, and I’m cackling at Tom Mison correcting a guy at a theme restaurant for wearing his tri-corner hat the wrong way. And by the way: How long do we have to wait for a Sleepy Hollow/The Grinder crossover ep? Can Dean defend Ichabod in court? Make it happen, Fox!)
Anyway, the second episode of The Grinder picks up shortly after the events of the premiere. The family is again watching an episode of The Grinder, only this time they’ve started from the beginning with its pilot (there’s even a bit of meta-humor about how The Grinder lost a lot of viewers because its second episode drifted away from the central conceit of the show). The reality is setting in for Stewart, who now has Dean coming to the office every day in a carpool. Dean is still settling in, too, and is awestruck by even the simplest of family-related activities, like dinner and driving the kids to school. But his biggest impact is at work, where they are now inundated with new cases thanks to Dean’s courtroom grandstanding last week. Stewart is talking about bringing in a new lawyer, but all Dean wants to do is find a slam dunk case the way it worked on his old show. “This is a real law firm. We can’t do that,” protests Stewart. “But what if we could?” Dean asks. Stewart is befuddled. “I don’t know how to respond to that exactly.”
In fact, nobody seems to know how to respond to Dean’s nonsense, but they certainly get swept up in his enthusiasm, including a couple who are friends with Stewart and Debbie who were just fired because they work at the same place and violated company policy. But as opposing attorney Claire (regular Natalie Morales, making her debut) points out, there’s literally no case there. In fact, Claire is seemingly the only person in the universe not charmed by Dean, and thus Dean has to eat his first ever defeat.
NEXT: Dean snags Claire…kind of [pagebreak]
After a delightful depression montage that found Dean by himself in a batting cage (the saddest of all sports-arcade distractions), Stewart tries to cheer him up. Stewart doesn’t want to be a naysayer — specifically, he doesn’t want to be Pinkus, the character on The Grinder who always told Lowe’s character he couldn’t do something. But his open-mindedness backfires, leaving Dean depressed and Stewart’s kids all messed up: his son’s circadian rhythm in the toilet and his daughter hanging around the house with a football player. Stewart realizes that Pinkus is necessary, and there is no Grinder without Pinkus.
One loophole later, the case is won (2-0 for the Grinder!), and Claire comes to work for Stewart’s firm. Her arrival not only gives Dean a love interest but also an adversary who doesn’t buy into his shtick. Stewart can only roll his eyes at Dean so much — he is family, after all — but Claire is free to rebuff both Dean’s strange approach to law and his sexual advances. At the moment, it looks impossible that they’ll end up together. But what if it wasn’t?
- This week’s Rob Lowe Appreciation Society entry is “Schoolboy Father,” a spectacular 1980 entry in the ABC Afterschool Special series and one of Lowe’s earliest credits. Lowe plays Charles, the titular underage parent who gets a girl (played by Dana Plato!) pregnant during summer break but doesn’t find out until after she has had the baby. When it turns out she’s going to put the kid up for adoption, Charles goes into a self-righteous fury about his parental rights — until he realizes the sacrifices he’ll have to make in order to raise the child. The production values and dialogue are cheesy in the way that all Afterschool Special films are, but “Schoolboy Father” presents a surprisingly evolved view of teenage pregnancy and adoption. Even at a young age (Lowe was only 16 when “Schoolboy Father” premiered), Lowe had already tapped into his natural rakish charisma and boyish charm, two elements that inform his most memorable roles and have carried over into The Grinder. Let’s watch, shall we?
- Lowe exploits that same brand of charisma on Moonbeam City. Last week, Dazzle Novak (Lowe) became obsessed with a video artist whose specialty is putting together those videos that play when you throw a strike at a bowling alley. It remains a deeply silly show that any Lowe enthusiasts should be watching.
- The guy playing Pinkus in The Grinder (the fake show) is the co-creator of The Grinder (the real show), Jarrad Paul. (Though technically he did create both shows, I guess?)
- Does anybody else kind of hope we’ll get a full episode of The Grinder (the fake show) at some point? Seems like a real season 4 type of stunt, but I want it anyway.
- Here’s the best exchange by any two characters on television so far this season:
Stewart: “There are worse situations to be in.”
Dean: “Like AIDS, you mean?”
Stewart: “Yeah, that’s one of them. Not one I would have chosen…”
Dean: “Right. AIDS you can kind of manage today. It’s not the death sentence it once was.”