The Grinder Recap: Fire in the Mole

From left: Rob Lowe and Steve Little. Photo: Ray Mickshaw/FOX
The Grinder
Episode Title
The Curious Disappearance of Mr. Donovan
Editor’s Rating

Though literally nothing would please Dean more than being right all the time, The Grinder isn’t going to work unless the Grinder is fallible from time to time, and this entire episode was clearly designed to check that box. As always, Dean takes his inspiration from the latest fake episode of the show-within-the-show, this one featuring a sexy mole within the firm whom the fake Grinder tricks into confessing. It appears that the writers have decided to skip cold-opens and use the pre-credits sequence as a theme-setting “fake Grinder viewing party” instead, which is probably a necessary move as the show finds its footing with new viewers. (It appears they’re also having a ball with creating the fake show: Dean’s revelation that “I reperformed the autopsy myself” was pretty funny.)

In real life, though, there’s no mole — or, as Dean forces Stuart to admit, there is a mole, he just got the name wrong. Dean thinks it’s new hire Claire but as we learn early on, it’s actually Todd, whose love of pouring his heart out to his favorite bartender has been noted by the competing firm of Rozz & Landy, the lead attorneys of which send him free drinks and then station themselves behind him to take notes. Dean is, of course, aghast to learn this, as “wrong is not a good look on me. It’s why the Grinder was never wrong on the show, because I could never believably play it.”

Meanwhile, on the home front, Ethan and Lizzie are in hot water when neither will admit fault over deleting an episode of Ray Donovan on the DVR. This felt like a ton of free advertising for Ray Donovan, with the show’s name mentioned at least six separate times, including in the title. With that said, I couldn’t find a connection between the two shows: The Grinder is produced by Fox as well as airing there, while Showtime, Ray Donovan’s network, is owner by competitor CBS. Maybe the Grinder folks just really, really like the show. (If anyone knows the link, you’re heartily encouraged to share it in the comments.)

In any case, this is a classic case of siblings pitted against each other (as Dean is happy to narrate from across the kitchen table), with the twist that his uncle’s lesson in developing believable acting skills allows Ethan to pretend to confess, subsequently guilting Lizzie into admitting culpability. That’s a lesson she passes on to Dean, who, with much prodding, cops to a bigger crime: breaking a window back in high school, a transgression that Stuart took the heat for and subsequently was grounded from his sophomore class trip over. (The result: His virginity was extended another 18 months.)

It’s a solid-enough structural plan for an episode, but based on its premise, it’s a bit odd that The Grinder seems to have settled so quickly into the vibe of a family sitcom. Everyone learns a lesson about honesty, from Stewart’s actual kids to his work kid (Todd) and even Grandpa. It’s sweet, but for a single-camera Fox show that took some interesting swings at the legal system in its pilot, it’s decidedly un-edgy. Perhaps the network has encouraged things to run in that direction to make it a better pairing with Grandfathered, which actually bills itself as a family show.

In fact, the whole Grinder operation is remarkably PG, with the exception of one jarring moment: when Dean insists that Claire is the mole because “she’s a new hire, she worked for the other side, and she refuses to sleep with me.” The Grinder pretty much runs on Dean being a lovable doofus with issues distinguishing fantasy from reality, but it needs to be really, really careful with how far his entitlement stretches. Expecting to win every case is one thing, but expecting every woman to whom he takes a shine to bang him is quite another, and pretty much immediately catapults his character out of likability.

This isn’t helped by the fact that other female characters continue to get short shrift: Claire only had two scenes in this episode, Lizzie’s only distinguishing personality trait is her boyfriend, and we’re three episodes in and I’m still not entirely sure if Debbie has a job, or if so, what it is. Mary Elizabeth Ellis, bless her, is trying to bring some sharpness to the job, but it’s a seriously underwritten role. If The Grinder wants to talk a big game about the value of honesty, then it needs to be honest with itself about what kind of show it wants to be, and what kind of character development it still desperately needs to get there.

Other notes:

  • A nice generational moment: Ethan can’t understand why his parents are so aghast over the loss of the DVR'd episode, since “it’s on On-Demand.” (I’ve pretty much given up on trying to explain this loophole to my own folks.)
  • Meanwhile, Dean refuses to DVR anything because it drives down ratings. No one tell him about Live+3.
  • On Ethan learning life lessons from The Grinder: “Would you rather he learn it on the streets?” “I think there are more than those two options for him.”
  • Steve Little did good work this week as the inadvertently duplicitous Todd. His extended “Don’t tell Dean that I know that he knows” bit with Stewart went on a hair too long, but was still funny.
  • I like how the rival firm already just expects Dean to grandstand. “Shouldn’t Grinder do the big speeches?”