Rob Lowe as Dean, Timothy Olyphant as himself.
Last week, we saw The Grinder flounder a bit. This week, we see the show at its best. Part of that is undoubtedly due to the return of breakout Grinder actor Timothy Olyphant, played by Timothy Olyphant — but it’s also a tightly structured episode with an unusually razor-sharp focus. Plus: The cast nails a ton of smart, funny, fast-paced dialogue.
I’m thinking of the first exchange, which follows a Sanderson family screening of a Grinder episode that revolves around one of those “What did you just say” moments. You know the trope, right? One character says some seemingly innocuous word, which suddenly causes the protagonist to Put It All Together? (For the record, Black Dynamite lampooned this better than anyone.)
Anyway, Dean gets upset when Stewart does idle paperwork during the episode, thinking he missed the “what did you say” moment. He didn’t, though; he just thought it was ridiculous. Then, in an exchange that’s almost too fast to transcribe — “The Grinder never loses.” “But he can.” “But he won’t.” — the two of them hilariously debate the merits of a common Hollywood trope.
Yes, you read that right. I just wrote the word Hollywood, which means The Grinder is back in the business of cracking showbiz jokes. Hence Timothy Olyphant, who makes a dramatic entrance of his own following Dean’s at the law firm the next day. (Doubling the number of “OR … ” moments, to Stewart’s chagrin.)
Turns out Timothy is in town visiting his girlfriend, Claire, while The Grinder: New Orleans is on hiatus, but because they just wrapped an episode relating to the very case that Sanderson and Yao are working on, he feels like he can chime in and be of assistance. Kind of like Dean!
And Dean hates this.
“He’s done four episodes. He thinks he’s a lawyer!” Dean later scoffs at the Sanderson home, before launching into his tried-and-true “if you were choking in a movie theater” routine. Except Stewart’s not listening. He’s got an idea — if Timothy Olyphant comes by the firm for a couple of days, maybe Dean will get a taste of his own medicine.
At first, this has the desired effect: Dean gets pretty visibly worked up by the Olyphant in the room (ha, puns) but when Tim pulls Dean aside to talk, things slowly start to turn around. See, Tim just wants to learn. He thinks it would improve his performance as the new Grinder.
Timothy: I’m just acting. I’m not inhabiting the damn role.
Dean: If acting were easy, we wouldn’t be doing it.
Timothy: We’re junkies for the job.
It’s hard to accurately convey just how much fun Rob Lowe and Timothy Olyphant have with this scene. It is a riot, especially when Dean tells Timothy to stop yelling so much and bring his voice “down here,” adopting a growly, sexy register that’s probably not too far off from the sexy phlegm voice Phoebe was obsessed with in that one Friends episode.
So yeah, they’re pals now.
After seeing Dean instruct Timothy on the best way to dramatically take off his shades just before court, Stewart realizes his plan backfired. At home later that night, he complains to Deb about how he inadvertently created a carbon copy of his brother. Deb suggests pitting them against each other. “They’re both used to being the star,” she says. “Why don’t you just remind them of that and let them destroy each other?”
- Deb needs more of her own stories.
- Evil scheming Deb is amazing.
Stewart does exactly as Deb suggests at the firm the next day, asking both Dean and Timothy for their individual opinions about how to proceed with the case. Dean’s jealousy kicks in as Tim reminds him he’s not a real lawyer. Stewart suggests a vote on which Grinder is more of a lawyer — the loser walks. Todd has an even better idea: Take it to court. Let them hold a mock trial.
The mock trial is probably the best thing The Grinder has done in its brief run so far, a one-act farce that showcases the show’s love for overblown grandiosity and jokes involving circular reasoning at its very best. Exhibit A: Olyphant’s opening argument.
“Just because a person is not something does not mean he is closer to being the thing he is not than another person.”
Again, half the joy of watching the scene comes from how much fun Lowe and Olyphant are having. They pour so much cheeky bravado and earnest investment into the proceedings, even as all the other attendees can barely get over how silly the whole thing is. (Except Todd, of course. Todd lives for this.)
What’s more, it’s a wonderfully neat conclusion to a tightly-written episode, with a resolution that loops back to the very first scene. After Olyphant gains the upper hand by calling Stewart on the stand to recall a quote he mentioned at the firm earlier (“A lawyer isn’t a lawyer until they’ve lost their first case”) Olyphant reminds the jury that Dean, as the Grinder, has never lost. On the other hand, Olyphant’s Grinder lost in the third episode of “The Grinder: Naw’lins.”
Timothy: No further questions. The case is yours to lose.
Dean: What did you just say?
And with that, The Grinder gets to have its cake and eat it too, using the very trope it mocked in the beginning of the episode to give Dean his way out. By accepting his defeat, then immediately moving to reopen the case, he asserts that his loss made him more of a real lawyer than Timothy Olyphant. The “judge” rules in his favor, officially making Dean Sanderson the most real fake lawyer on The Grinder.
This show is ridiculous and silly and I love it.
- Claire is clearly not happy about her actor boyfriend being around every week. If Timothy Olyphant is in fact going to stick around, Claire’s continued indifference towards him could make for a pretty great gag. Natalie Morales doesn’t get a lot of funny lines, but her deadpan delivery is a delight.
- I don’t know about you, but I though Deb and Claire’s “weird we haven’t met yet” line was hilarious, possibly because I hope the writers were cheekily admitting that their show is almost constitutionally incapable of passing the Bechdel test.
- Speaking of the Bechdel test: I hope that’s something they’ll fix, because Claire and Deb need more screen time.
- The Boise Hampton Suites has a helipad?