Last week’s episode of The Grinder featured the debut of the show-within-a-show-usurping bare chest of Timothy Olyphant, whose promo for The Grinder: New Orleans (“The Big Easy just got hard!”) sent us to the credits. It was a very funny entry in the young series — laugh for laugh and minute for minute, probably its funniest yet — but it did leave me worried. After all, it used two stellar guest stars (Olyphant and Jason Alexander) for an escalating series of gags that also provided some insight into Dean Sanderson’s recent past, but would it just be a closed loop that would, once again, reset us back at the starting point in Dean’s character development?
Tonight, thankfully, not only do we get what is essentially the back half of an impromptu two-parter, but we also get something of a proper midseason finale (not a gimmick often seen with sitcoms). Back in the world of The Grinder, Cliff Bemis (Alexander) reaches out with his version of an olive branch and invites Dean to drop in on an episode of The Grinder: New Orleans in order to give his character a proper send-off. Dean is torn: He obviously feels hurt by the betrayal involved in launching the spin-off of his hit show, but the pull of the television world is clearly strong. (And, as Bemis notes, Mitch Grinder gets killed off either way: “A hero’s death on screen, or a coward’s off,” he says.)
While Dean struggles with his identity, Stewart sees his return to the role of Mitchard Grinder as the opportunity he needs to finally get Dean out of the house. Dean has been doling out advice to Ethan that makes Stewart a little nervous. When Ethan mentions that Brie is no longer interested in him, Stew suggests he talk honestly to her. But Ethan goes with Dean’s philosophy: Find a slightly hotter girl to hang with, thus making Brie jealous. But both Dean and Stew see eye to eye on one thing: They both want Mitch Grinder to survive, though Stew wants it so Dean will go back to TV, and Dean wants it so Mitch can work as a judge in the Florida Keys while he runs a Cuban nightclub on the weekend and lives with a black girlfriend.
Of course, it has to be on Dean’s terms, so Stew gets the firm to sort through Dean’s Grinder contract to figure out how Dean can seize control of his character. They discover he signed a “Caruso Deal” right before the seventh season, which gave him total control over the character because he had essentially become the character. Bemis agrees to their terms, and the new life of Mitch Grinder seems inevitable.
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But something isn’t right. When the script arrives, Dean realizes that he has been manipulated by Stew. Still, the shoot goes on — apparently in Idaho, because the entire firm is there, as well as both of Ethan’s girlfriends — but Stew can’t let it go on. So what does he do? He walks right into the shot to reveal himself as Barry Grinder, the baby that Mitch and Rake (Olyphant) were told died at birth. But he’s alive, and he has given Mitch rat poison. Bemis declares the scene “truly repulsive,” but it’s okay because Dean tells him it doesn’t matter to him how Mitch dies (in the end, he’s eaten by a crocodile and given a dignified exit via Rake having sex with a paralegal on his lifeless corpse in a morgue). The Sandersons are staying together, and there will be plenty more family-style grinding in the new year.
- This week, the Rob Lowe Appreciation Society genuflects before Lowe’s performance in the video for The Go-Go’s “Turn to You.” The clip, which comes from the 1984 album Talk Show, features Lowe as an escort at a formal affair (his IMDb credit is actually “Hunk at the dance”) who dumps hooch in the punch and finds himself drawn to Go-Go’s drummer Gina Schock (and honestly, weren’t we all?). Check out his killer air guitar stylings at 1:18!
- No new Moonbeam City last week, though you should go out of your way to check out the episode that airs tomorrow night. When I talked to Lowe at San Diego Comic-Con, he told me the one Moonbeam bit he was most excited about was when his character, Dazzle Novak, gets caught in a love triangle between an albino warden (voiced by Susan Sarandon) and the sentient artificial intelligence that operates a prison (Molly Shannon). Don’t let Rob down by not watching a cartoon version of him avoid having sex with Susan Sarandon and her crystal ax.
- I would not have guessed that Fred Savage was that much taller than Jason Alexander!
- Dean took his role so seriously that he never, ever broke character, even to acknowledge himself. “When I was Mitch, I was Mitch.” “And where was Dean?” Stew wonders. “I honestly have no idea.”
- Where exactly will Dean be using the catchphrase “Clause Cliff”? I desperately hope these things come back in the second half of the season. It’d make for a great series of nonsensical in-jokes.
- Dean has mastered the art of the dramatic exit in a real conversation. “First my TV brother stabs me in the back, and now my real one. I don’t know which one hurts worse… I’ve given it some thought — it’s the real one.”
- According to his toe tag, Mitchard Grinder’s middle name is “Livingston.”
- Claire bags Olyphant! Everyone gets what they want! It’s a Grinder miracle!
- See you in 2016, when The Grinder moves to 9:30 p.m. on a revamped Fox Tuesday that will now include New Girl and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Enjoy the holidays, and as the great Paul F. Tompkins likes to say, “Don’t get drunk and fight each other.”