When you're in love, texting the third banana at work is sort of meaningless.
First, the bad news: Tonight’s episode of The Grinder was allowed to air because the World Series already ended, and the World Series already ended because the Kansas City Royals bested my beloved New York Mets. Even though I’m a huge fan of Rob Lowe’s new television high jinks, I was really hoping I wouldn’t have to come back to The Grinder until next week.
However, despite the failings of the Mets, there are two pieces of good news: There’s only 108 days until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, and during its World Series hiatus, The Grinder got a full season order. While the show hasn’t been much of a ratings machine, it is still outgaining whatever Fox had in the same time slot last fall (can anybody remember any single element of the short-lived reality series Utopia?), and the critical praise heaped upon it (including by yours truly) seems to be enough to let the first season play out. It’s a shrewd move for Fox, as it keeps one of the better-talked-about shows of the new season on the air and also keeps Lowe involved in those football promos.
Can we talk about the football promos for a minute? I completely abandoned the NFL two years ago after their remarkably poor handling of the Ray Rice domestic abuse case, but the clips of Lowe talking to Cleatus (the bizarre robot that for some reason is Fox Sports’ mascot), cracking wise about holograms, and picking games like he’s Balki Bartokomous have me almost thinking the NFL isn’t just a pitiless machine that grinds human brains into mush for pleasure and profit. Almost.
But speaking of grinding! This week the show welcomes its first big-name guest star since Kumail Nanjiani livened up the pilot. She arrives in the form of Christina Applegate, who plays Dean’s old high school flame. Dean is feeling melancholy because he is just coming off his latest sexual encounter that was based purely around his celebrity, which elicits some sympathy from Debbie. Stewart isn’t having it. “I’m sure a lot of people like him because he’s absurdly handsome and rich,” he notes.
But Stewart realizes that if Dean meets somebody who really fulfills him, it might get him to move out sooner. So he sets up a meeting with Gail (Applegate) at the law firm (they handled Gail’s divorce), and she and Dean immediately hit it off (much to the delight of Todd). Not only does she still look as good as she used to, but she also isn’t even aware of The Grinder. “I’m more of a book girl,” she tells Dean, who is overjoyed to have someone in his life he knows doesn’t want him just because he was on a show that was a staple of the culture.
Stewart’s plan to get Dean and Gail together seems to be working exceptionally well, particularly when Dean announces that he’s going to be a father — to Gail’s already-out-of-the-womb son from her first marriage. There’s a lot of riffing about the travails of fatherhood, but the joke was set up from a mile away: Gail’s son Toby is actually 23 years old. The other, funnier bit of fallout from the Gail affair is that Dean disappears from the law firm, which leads to a very simple but extremely effective montage of everybody actually getting work done rather than being distracted by the TV star in their midst. (Claire gets the most done, probably because she’s being so cool about all this.)
Gail, Dean, Stewart, and Debbie all meet for dinner, where Gail accidentally outs herself thanks to a quote from the episode of The Grinder we saw in the opening scene and a conspicuously placed painting on the wall where it looks like a television might have been mounted. In the end, Gail was only looking for what most other women were looking for: to have sex with Dean while the couple watches a rerun of The Grinder. “Gail, you’re not really a book girl, are you?” Dean says, always grinding. After his interrogation, he says dejectedly, “I’m sorry. I can’t say I enjoyed grinding you like that.” Dean is disappointed — it’s the kind of disappointment that comes with a realization that love is fleeting, or that comes with an unlikely World Series run undone by defensive blunders and inopportune strikeouts.
Later in that episode, he defends space travel not as a waste of tax dollars but as a necessary stirring of the human spirit. “We came out of the cave, and we looked over the hill and we saw fire. We crossed the ocean, and we pioneered the west, and we took to the sky. The history of man is hung on a timeline of exploration, and this is what’s next.” Sam Seaborn is the best.