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'The Grinder' recap: 'The Curious Disappearance of Mr. Donovan'

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Ray Mickshaw/Fox

The Grinder

type:
TV Show
seasons:
1
run date:
09/29/15
performer:
Rob Lowe, Fred Savage
broadcaster:
Fox
genre:
Comedy

Actors lie for a living. As much as Method types like to talk about getting to the truth of a character and no matter how much Will Smith insists he has never met Jared Leto because he was the Joker the entire time, it’s still a very elaborately constructed fiction. Everything, from the written lines to the artificial sets to the very nature of the characters themselves to the canned quotes the actors are forced to give about how great a project is (even though it’s clearly garbage), is a complete and utter deceit. 

There’s a very slim chance that Stewart’s line about there being no such thing as a good lie was actually a meta gag, but the fact that there is still a chance it was is one of the reasons The Grinder works so well and elevates it above other high-concept sitcoms currently taking up airwave space. This week’s episode opens, once again, on a rerun of The Grinder (which, it should be noted, is shown constantly in 170 countries). Dean talks about the struggles he had to go through to shoot one of those classic cop show scenes wherein people just confess for no reason (which is the third act of roughly 71 percent of all episodes of Law & Order) and says that the Grinder believes in the truth but also believes in justice, and a lie to get to the latter is always okay. Stewart disagrees and asks Dean not to use episodes of his old show to teach his son, Ethan, lessons about morality. “Would you rather he learn it on the streets?” Dean asks.

The current crop of television dramas tends to deal in big lies, like Olivia Pope’s affair with the president or the dirty deeds Gordon has done in the name of morally ambiguous justice on Gotham. But this week’s The Grinder is knee-deep in the white lies that everybody tells just to get through the day. Somebody has deleted the latest episode of Ray Donovan from the DVR, which upsets Stew and Deb (even though, as Ethan points out, it’s available on demand). But nobody claims the blame for deleting it, so both Ethan and his sister, Lizzie, get grounded. “Two siblings, pitted against each other in a battle of consciences. Who will prevail?” Dean helpfully narrates. In fact, the conflict dredges up an old tale: Once when they were kids, Stewart’s bedroom window was broken, and though he always claimed that Dean was responsible for it, Stewart was the one punished.

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It’s a conflict that has stuck with both brothers for two decades and finds itself being played out in this week’s case. The firm is working on a simple personal injury suit, but what seemed like an open-and-shut affair has a new wrinkle: the defense counsel discovered that the victim had a pre-existing injury that might allow them to wriggle out of paying a $900 medical bill. Stewart is willing to allow that sometimes these things just happen, but Dean believes there is a mole at the office, and he’s particularly convinced that said informant is Claire. His logic? “She’s a new hire; she worked for the other side; she refuses to sleep with me,” he explains to Stewart in the middle of the night. “It adds up! It adds way up.”

NEXT: Everybody comes clean [pagebreak]

But Claire has a clear conscience because it’s the bumbling Todd who was an unwitting accomplice for the other side. His bartender explains that the two opposing lawyers have been sending him over free shots for weeks in an effort to get him to talk about the details on a number of cases. Nobody seems that upset that Todd is the culprit (as Dean points out, “It’s fine for you to be wrong. Everyone expects you to be wrong”), but after Todd tells Dean the nature of his wrongdoing, Dean is more upset that he was wrong about who the mole was. He does not want to admit that he was wrong, so his quest now becomes to keep that fact away from Stewart.

Stewart finds out pretty quickly, and though he tries to play everything close to the vest, he can’t keep it from Dean that he knows that Dean knows (a level of syntax Todd was unable to comprehend). Inspired by Ethan’s teary faux-confession that draws out Lizzie, Stewart sets a trap and pretends he had to fire Claire for being the mole, only for Dean to call his bluff. “Todd didn’t tell me anything,” Dean says. “You just did.” Callback!

In the end, everybody cops to what they’ve done: Dean takes the rap for breaking the window 20 years ago, Lizzie allows that she wiped out Ray Donovan, and Todd comes clean about being the mole (even though literally everybody knew already by the time he made his revelation). Nobody really ends up mad, either. In fact, Stewart and Dean’s dad says, “He did what he had to do to get out of trouble. You can’t fault him for that!” (Deb responds, “I would argue that you can fault him,” and Stewart points out, “You faulted me for the same thing!”) Dean comes to terms with being wrong. But he holds on to a shred of dignity in pointing out that while he was wrong about the identity of the informant, Stewart was adamant about there not being a mole at all.

“I guess it’s kind of a tie,” Dean says.

“Is that what you need to tell yourself to move on from this?” Stewart asks him. 

“Yes. Yes it is,” Dean admits, in a rare example of complete and total honesty. 

Allowable Exhibits

  • This week’s Rob Lowe Appreciation Society entry is 1986’s Youngblood. Lowe plays an up-and-coming hockey player named Dean Youngblood (another character named Dean!) who has is desperate for a pro contract but is stuck in the minor leagues because he needs to develop some toughness. Essentially, he needs to learn how to be a goon. It’s every underdog sports movie you’ve ever seen, a soapy mix of Slap Shot and The Karate Kid. It’s got a great cast, with Lowe playing opposite Patrick Swayze and an underrated Cynthia Gibb. Plus, watch for a very young Keanu Reeves doing an extremely dubious Eastern European accent — it’s like Latka Gravas broke his jaw and re-learned English from one of Monty Python‘s French guards. It’s got everything, and Lowe is totally winning as a baby-faced upstart who can’t hold his liquor. 
  • There was no new episode of Moonbeam City last week. I have no idea what was going on with Comedy Central, but I’m going to go ahead and take it personally. 
  • I know this is a sitcom, but doesn’t the scenario that Todd’s bartender lays out sound like Todd leads the saddest life in the universe? He’s regularly in that tavern by himself, getting super hammered on gifted shots from strangers and talking about anything to anybody who might listen. He’s got some serious coping issues and probably shouldn’t be left alone for long stretches of time. 
  • Lawyerly d-bags Rozz and Landy mention to Stewart that they were a little upset that he stole Claire away from them. “You didn’t exactly steal me,” she tells them. “I wanted out. Badly. You two are terrible.” “And we’re working on that!” Rozz says. 
  • Dean was prevented from going on his sophomore field trip because he broke the window. “Missing that sophomore field trip extended my virginity another 18 months,” he tells Deb.  “Oh yeah? You’ve done that math a couple times?” she replies. Through three episodes, Mary Elizabeth Ellis is undoubtedly the most underutilized element on this show. 
  • Awesome to have Rob Lowe, a former star of the perpetually ratings-starved Parks and Recreation, say the line, “After what the DVR did to the traditional ratings model, I don’t touch the damn thing.”
  • “Who is that?” “It’s Ray Donovan!” 

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