It’s unfortunate to admit, but The Grinder is one of those shows that most people won’t watch until it’s on Netflix (or a Netflix-like service). It might happen this summer, if the show is renewed, or it could happen well after the show is cancelled. Even then, The Grinder probably won’t get the love it deserves until sometime later, when someone writes a listicle called “15 Times We Were All Mitch Grinder” with GIFs accompanied by captions about life’s little victories. After everyone who reads that listicle catches up on The Grinder, fans will campaign for Netflix to revive the show, probably with a hashtag like #GetTheGrinderOff.
This is a roundabout way of saying that The Grinder has been one of the most delightful surprises of the 2015–2016 television season, and few people saw its goofy brand of meta-humor coming. Granted, we were all blinded by Timothy Olyphant, but still: Sometimes shows need time to gestate and build, and we’re not living in an era where viewers really allow for that. How could they? There’s so much stuff to watch.
“We did it our way,” Dean says to the Sanderson clan at the very end of “Full Circle.” He’s technically talking about his and Stewart’s handling of the malpractice suit, but it quickly becomes very obvious that he’s talking about The Grinder itself. “It’s an unusual approach,” he says. “I’m sure it threw a lot of people at first. How are they gonna make this work? How are they gonna keep that up? Well, we showed them.”
I don’t think anyone who watched the pilot episode in late September even suspected this show would come within spitting distance of fourth-wall-breaking jokes like that, but here we are, thinking about the beginning of The Grinder because The Grinder asked us to do so.
Riffing on the circular nature of TV plotting, it’s revealed that the mastermind behind the malpractice suit is Kumail Nanjiani’s Leonard Velance, the man who lost a court case to Dean when he steamrolled into town in the pilot episode. We find out that defeat ruined him — it cost him his job and triggered an obsession with Dean and “The Grinder.”
“I tried to beat you at the law,” he tells Dean, “But you beat me with drama. Now you will learn what that feels like.” (Does any other show deliver such ridiculous and hilarious lines so consistently? I can’t think of another that’s airing right now.)
Velance’s scheme almost works, too: He’s obtained a transcript from Dean’s focus-group testing of Pop Sanderson in which he admitted to not offering Manler a settlement, and Velance’s incessant grilling goads Pop to lose his temper and admit as much.
Velance, however, is undone by what’s probably my favorite meta-joke of the season, one that’s only funny if you know that the actor portraying Cory Manler, Kenny Lucas, has a twin brother named Keith. (Odds are you do know this, most likely from their scene-stealing cameo in 22 Jump Street.) In a moment of epiphany, Stewart decides to look into Manler and discovers that he isn’t Cory Manler — his name is Raury Manler, and he’s impersonating his twin brother. When the Sandersons call the real Cory Manler to testify, the prosecution’s case is immediately invalid due to fraud.
Does any of this make sense? No. Does it end with Pop Sanderson embracing Dean and exclaiming, “You got me off son, just like you said you would?” Yes.
Because that’s what the Grinder does. He gets people off. Let’s just hope he can do it for many more seasons.
- The Sanderson kids, cub reporters. There’s not much going on in the way of subplots in “Full Circle” — and that’s totally fine — but the biggest one involves Lizzie and Ethan covering their grandpa’s trial for their school paper. They end up running afoul of their mother, who gives them an interview while totally drunk and becomes obsessed with trying to confiscate the tape. It’s not a very quippy subplot, but the dynamic between Deb and the kids is hilarious, and sitcom subplots where kids behave in comically mature ways (Black-ish does this a lot) are always a delight.
- Stewart, sidelined. When Stewart goes with Dean to present their theory that Manler is just a pawn in a larger scheme to the judge, he’s not willing to hear it — because Manler has security footage of Stewart breaking into his apartment, which disqualifies him from participating in the case. (I’m no expert, but I think Stewart’s punishment should technically be more severe than a slap on the wrist. Just roll with it.) This leads to one of the best gags in the finale, where Stewart and Deb routinely whisper tips to Dean from the gallery and the judge allows it, to Valence’s supreme frustration.
- Never settle. And that’s all from me! I’ll be Grinding away this summer, hoping the show gets renewed for a second season. Tell your comedy-nerd friends to catch up. Tell your parents. Just guilt them with something like, “It’s so much better to love something while it’s alive than to deliver a beautiful eulogy when it’s gone.” Lay it on real thick. That’s how the Grinder would do it.