I don't know who runs the guest-star department over at The Grinder, but they are killing it: after a trio of episodes featuring great turns from Christina Applegate, Michael Showalter, and Nathan Fielder, this week's installment boasts both Jason Alexander and Timothy Olyphant, who turns in what may be the single funniest scene of the series to date. If the end of the episode is any indication, Olyphant may end up returning for more.
The Grinder delivers its best work when it mocks entertainment tropes and Hollywood culture, so the structure of this week's episode, which moves back and forth from Dean's life on-set one year ago to Thanksgiving in the present day, provides a lot of room to play. In 2014, Dean is extremely conflicted about Grinder showrunner Beamis (Alexander), who wants to cram as many shirtless sex scenes as possible into the show, while he longs for the hot-button issues of earlier seasons. Though he promises to give Dean a say in whether or not he uses shirtless footage, Beamis goes behind his back, sending Dean into one of his typical mopey-hero despair spirals.
Enter his buddy Olyphant, who administers a hysterical pep talk as Dean ponders on the beach: "You didn't fall for the 'let's shoot it both ways' thing, did you? Little trick for next time: if you're doing a take you don't want 'em to use, just leave the tiniest bit of your penis showing. They can't use it." Olyphant continues: "You're an actor, you're not a piece of meat, and you can't take your shirt off unless it's…" Lowe: "…justified." (This is, of course, all the more hilarious for anyone who's actually seen Justified, since Olyphant's character removed his clothes more often than not. I'll cop to feeling a pang of guilt over how much I'd enjoyed that particular treatment of a human as a piece of meat.)
Back in the present, however, it's Stewart's desires that are being compromised, as the Sandersons' typical "family free day" on Thanksgiving is overtaken by Dean's desire to have a true family meal — to commemorate the crossing of the English Channel or something. (He's not all that up on history.) The episode avoids the easy route of making Stewart a Thanksgiving curmudgeon, but it turns out that his aversion to the holiday is…justified. Five years ago, he caught his mom having sex with the Yao of Sanderson & Yao in his childhood bedroom. (The sex act is badly explained by Stewart's standards-and-practices-ese, but based on Dean and Debbie's looks of apparent horror, she was administering a rim job.) This is the first mention of both the elder Mrs. Sanderson and of the mysterious Yao; she's divorced from Dean Sr. and will likely show up in a guest-star slot of her own at some point, while he's been on the outs at the law firm, but is still liked enough to score an invite to Thanksgiving dinner.
Of course, it wouldn't be The Grinder without Dean trying to set up a TV-style confrontation. He urges Stewart to tell his dad what he saw. This seems like a bit much even for Dean, but the show tries really, really hard to argue that he should tell his father. Even though his folks have long since divorced, it's supposed to be a personal growth moment for Stewart. While this plotline isn't unique, I dug its hilarious and bizarre twist: Dean Sr. knew about the hookup all along, and he's only mad because Yao didn't close the door. It seems like that the elder Sandersons had all sorts of weird sex stuff going on. ("We lived a rock-and-roll lifestyle. Things were different back then." "It was five years ago, Dad!" "Rock and roll never dies, Stu.")
As a result, the trauma that was meant to be passed to the father rockets right back onto the sons, particularly Dean, who's less than thrilled to learn the specifics of how his parents got busy. (The viewing audience, however, is spared the details.) The real trauma, however, comes at episode's end: that lying snake Olyphant has gone behind Dean's back and is now starring as The Grinder's brother in a New Orleans-based spinoff. "The Big Easy just got hard," a shirtless Olyphant says in the show promo, and I'm hoping that means The Grinder just got serialized. I can't think of anything better than Dean having to compete with a second Grinder, aside from that Grinder being Timothy Olyphant. Grinder writers, consider me very thankful indeed.
- According to the poster in Dean's trailer, the fake Grinder also airs on Fox and has a terrific tagline: "There's no one that he can't get off."
- The show seems to be increasingly cavalier about its ridiculous premise. Stewart makes fun of Dean for accusing him of taking the easy way out when he didn't even go to law school; later, he insists that "Dean, you are a fake lawyer, not a fake psychologist."
- Deep Thoughts with Timothy Olyphant: "You can't let another man own your dignity, because then you're leasing it…and that lease rate is astronomical, brother."
- Debbie: "Talk to him about it, it'll make you feel better." Stewart: "Talking to Dean rarely makes me feel better."
- I love that Dean asks Ethan on Skype how he's handling prepubescence, and Ethan's nonchalant response: "I'm powering through."
- I also love that Dean shares my desire to try really hard to make portmanteaus, even when they don't work at all. "That coward Yao. That Yaoward. Is that something?"
- Did anyone get the joke about Dean understanding the Thanksgiving spirit because he played "Second Julia" in a Lifetime movie? I'm guessing it's a dig at one of Lowe's innumerable Lifetime movies, but that's a pretty deep cut.