The Grinder Recap: It’s Ethan!

From left: Guest star Christina Applegate and Rob Lowe. Photo: Greg Gayne/FOX
The Grinder
Episode Title
A Bittersweet Grind
Editor’s Rating

Though he may have headlined “a show Entertainment Weekly called ‘one of the most competent legal dramas in quite some time,’” it’s hard being Dean Sanderson. First and foremost, all those women he’s able to get with thanks to being a handsome, rich, famous TV star seem to have a penchant for watching him grind on the tube while in flagrante delicto. (If at all possible, they’d prefer the scene in which he rips monitoring devices out of his hospitalized TV girlfriend’s arm in a fit of passion.) But constant exposure to Stewart and Debbie’s bucolic family life is also wearing on our Grinder, who laments his inability to just find a nice lady and settle down.

That nice lady arrives in the form of Gail (Christina Applegate), his former high-school girlfriend who’s now a recently divorced mom. Stewart engineers the setup in the hopes of catapulting Dean out of his home and out of parenting his kids, and it ends up going better than he’d hoped: Gail apparently doesn’t watch TV, being “more of a books girl,” and though she knows Dean has had success in Hollywood, she’s never seen him grind. So Dean jumps into the relationship with his usual blind enthusiasm, whisking her away on a weeklong vacation — much to the delight of the rest of the firm, which is finally able to get some work done. (So much work, in fact, that Stewart inadvertently slaps Todd’s ass in his excitement.)

Since Gail has a son, Dean also throws himself into the job of parenting, and almost immediately finds it exhausting to the point of sprawling out on the nearest conference table he can find. The big reveal (or so I thought) is that said son is actually 23, despite his mom and proto-stepdad’s love of cooing over him like he’s 5. I thought that this was going to lead to an even bigger reveal that Dean actually is a dad — after all, Applegate, who is 43 in real life, would have had to have gotten pregnant pretty young for that math to work — and have him shirk his duties almost immediately once he discovered they were real.

That’s probably something a braver, darker version of The Grinder would have done, but instead, things swung back to a more pedestrian reveal: Gail does actually own a TV, and knows all about Dean’s show. For Dean, given to drama as he is (“You chose to frame that in the most misleading way possible.” “No, I chose to frame it in the most dramatic way possible”), this is quite obviously a deal-breaker. Though he’s still willing to accommodate Gail in her final wish — and the only joke of the episode that made me laugh out loud — to have sex with him while they watch the show, “if it’s not too much trouble.”

And so the show returns to its status quo: Dean lusting over Claire, who continues to be completely uninterested in him and their nonexistent will-they-or-won’t-they chemistry. I get that she’s supposed to be resistant for that trope to play, but the writers have made it clear that she hasn’t shown one iota of interest in him, and Dean’s insistence that they’re meant to be (with Todd and Dean Sr. as rooting section) continues to push me over the line from “goofy/willfully blind” to “entitled/queasy,” especially since he seems to have no problem leaping into whatever other relationship catches his fancy. Dean being a lovable lunkhead is the basis of the show, but it seems to be at risk of letting him run away with it.

I’d love to spend a week of these recaps not calling out The Grinder on its pretty messed-up gender politics, but the show definitely didn’t give me a chance this week with the family B-plot, in which Ethan asks out one of his classmates, his parents approve the date, and Lizzie (who still wants to get with parental worst nightmare Joel Zadak) immediately carps about the double standard of her much younger brother being allowed to date when she’s not. I appreciate that the show was willing to bring up the concept of a double standard at all — 20 years ago, we wouldn’t have even gotten that — but it quickly became clear that what was supposed to be a cheeky riff on a tired family-sitcom trope was actually reinforcing a lot of the same old crap.

That moment came when tiny Ethan proved himself to be a bit of a middle-school player, making out with his new love interest on the couch. (To be fair, he got enthusiastic consent: His date cheerfully proclaims that she knew the score.) Considering he’s a seventh-grader, his parents are understandably horrified and send the girl home, but the show throws in a total what-a-stud wink from Zadak: “Kid’s got some moves, huh?” Ethan’s “punishment” for his misdeed: His dad throws parenting duty on the topic over to Dean, whom he sadly admits is much more like Ethan than himself. Considering Uncle Dean doesn’t exactly have the greatest concept of consent or boundaries, I’m sure that’ll go really well. And since Lizzie, who’s significantly older, also gets her boyfriend thrown out on his ass, too (even though they didn’t screw around), the show isn’t exactly sending a progressive message about teenage girls being able to make their own choices. Sorry, Grinder, but not willing to let you rest on that one.

Other notes:

  • Steve Little’s Todd continues to be a real bright spot. “Has [Dean] ever even gotten a call here?” “I’ve called him here.”
  • Also great when he refused to leave the room when Dean and Gail were smoldering at each other. “I like watching … I feel warm.”
  • Stewart has his priorities straight: “We’re here to have a nice dinner and watch Dean fake-parent his pretend kid.”
  • I love that Debbie is so passive-aggressive about Gail’s proud declaration that she doesn’t own a TV. I have been that person, too.
  • Does Debbie Have a Job Watch: We still don’t know! Five episodes in!
  • “I gave Gail my virginity, Todd.” “I still have it!”