Let’s get to a complaint right away: Why did The Grinder return from its holiday hiatus in the first week of January with the full knowledge that it would have to take a back seat to the State of the Union Address the very next week? Why wouldn’t Fox wait the extra two weeks to debut its newly re-jiggered Tuesday night, which features the return of New Girl and the day-jumping Brooklyn Nine Nine? On the surface it might not seem like a big deal — it was, after all, only a week — but in an age where watching a television program week-to-week is becoming more and more scarce among the most desired audience, continuity is that much more important. None of the shows on Fox’s Tuesday night comedy block are ratings juggernauts, and if the network is really committed to those programs succeeding, it should do everything in its power to keep the people already hooked right where they are.
Of course, that’s a big “if.” Consolidating all of the comedies onto one evening seems like a last-ditch effort before you throw in the towel on sitcoms completely. That would be a shame, because The Grinder remains one of the more fascinating plays on the format in a long time and seems destined to go underappreciated for the duration of its existence. It has a killer cast, some real sharp meta-humor, and is sentimental without being cloying or cynical. That’s a pretty rare breed, and I can’t help but think that if The Grinder premiered on Netflix or Amazon Prime, it would be heralded as a bold new step in an exciting direction. I mean, it’s a way better show than Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, right?
Hold onto that argument though, as “Exodus” might not be the best exhibit A. It opens with Dean, his dad, and Todd watching a particularly ridiculous episode of The Grinder, which finds a bearded, skinning-fish-in-the-lagoon Grinder explaining his philosophy to some native kids and getting an unfriendly visit from former partner/mentor Gordon Stutz (Richard Schiff, echoing the same relationship the two actors had on The West Wing). Dean is becoming more and more comfortable in his brother’s house, so much so that he allows Todd to casually track his discarded popcorn into multiple rooms. He’s kicking it up a notch, though: Not only is he bringing a tractor trailer’s worth of stuff from his sold home in Malibu, but he’s also bringing in body double Andre (Efren Ramirez, a.k.a. the immortal Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite).
Even after all the challenges to his place as the king of Castle Sanderson, the latest is the last straw for Stewart, who gently wonders what Dean’s long-term plans are and nudges him to look for his own place. Dean, of course, completely overreacts, treats it as a dismissal, and leaves to live at his dad’s place (Todd also offers an air mattress, though Dean would have to share). Everyone gets mad at Stewart for alienating his brother (though Claire seems fine with it), and it gets so bad that Dean ends up signing up with a rival firm, whose top two partners share a business card.
Like the episode of The Grinder that opens this episode, it wraps on a cliff-hanger, though not before Dean gives Stewart an on-the-mouth kiss (perhaps recreating the “I know it was you, Fredo” scene from The Godfather Part II?). The B-plot, wherein Debbie becomes obsessed with Andre and his pancake-making and dishwasher-fixing, is good for a chuckle or two, but “Exodus” feels like the setup to a better joke — one that hopefully arrives next week.