There’s a certain mania to The Grinder that’s difficult to top. When the show is firing on all cylinders, the jokes come hard and fast, piling on top of one another while simultaneously tangling its characters within their own madcap logic. It’d be frustrating to follow if it weren’t so extremely funny.
The Grinder ostensibly posits Dean as the aberration in its universe, the only character who lives on an unrealistic plane apart from everyone else, but that’s not really true. Just about every character has a weirdly warped perception of the world around them, and the show derives its comedy from Stewart’s frustration as the only sane man in the universe. (That role is sometimes filled by Claire, but not nearly enough.) It’s a “Who’s on First?” merry-go-round that speeds faster and faster every week.
Of course, this formula is not the sort of thing that can escalate indefinitely. There’s got to be some kind of endgame.
And that endgame, it seems, is gaslighting Stewart.
At the close of last week’s episode, the only responsible Sanderson was (justifiably) upset after discovering that Dean is sleeping with their mutual therapist, Jillian. Dean, however, doesn’t get it. “Don’t you think they teach you how to separate stuff when you date your patient in therapy school?” he asks innocently.
Jillian is not much help either. When Stewart mentions that there’s maybe something ethically dubious about her dating a patient, she loops back around and asserts that Stewart’s frustration is really about his inferiority complex regarding his brother. (“Let’s start with your recurring dream where Dean carries you around in his suit pocket.”)
But this is just one layer in a series of events that seem specifically constructed to make Stewart look as crazy and irrational as possible. Another comes from the malpractice lawsuit faced by Sanderson & Yao. Stewart’s father continues to dismiss the suit, both because he thinks the statute of limitations has long expired and because the case ought to be literally dismissed.
However, when they go to the courtroom to meet the plaintiff, Cory Mandler (played by Kenny Lucas!), that strategy backfires. As unassuming as Mandler looks, he’s ready with a legal counterargument, and the Sandersons can’t get the case dismissed.
Back at the firm after the court hearing, Stewart thinks there’s some sort of conspiracy going on with the malpractice suit — someone must be out to get them. Dean offers his input, too. He wants everyone to know that he’s not a lawyer. He’s just an actor, so instead of playing lawyer, he’s going to be Sanderson & Yao’s new intern, doing things like taking out the trash. No more legal stuff at all … except for this one hunch about the malpractice suit. Dean thinks someone is probably coaching Mandler, which is exactly what Stewart had been saying, but no one listens to him because he’s not Dean, and also because he has this habit of being perpetually flustered by everything, and that can really work against a guy.
Naturally, Stewart ends up being his own worst enemy. After he picks up his kids from practice, he spends an extra three hours tailing Mandler, and even snaps a photo of him receiving a thumb drive from a shadowy figure. The kids rat Stewart out to their mother and Dean, which makes him look pretty obsessed, although he maintains they’re overreacting.
In a delightful bit of absurdity, Dean decides to hold an impromptu intervention, which illustrates just how far gone Stewart seems to be in their eyes: “You’re stalking people. You’re kidnapping the kids.” Realizing he can’t win, especially with Jillian there,Stewart lies and says they’re right. He admits that something’s going on with him.
And then he hatches a plan to prove he’s on to something.
Todd and Stewart concoct a plan to sneak into Mandler’s apartment and copy the flash drive, which Stewart believes to hold the evidence he needs to prove his hunch about a puppet master. It seems like he might be right, too — except when he shows the files to everyone back at home, it triggers a virus. Everything is erased.
Dean says Stewart is starting to sound like a character in a TV show, with his conspiracy theory and evidence-destroying computer viruses.
It’s interesting that Dean is making that observation, don’t you think?
- This week’s Grinder cold open might be my favorite one yet. Dennis Haysbert places Mitch Grinder in witness protection, and he becomes a hairnet-wearing, mustached Mexican busboy. Even better: The cut to Dean’s bedroom, in which he feebly tells Jillian he missed one of the DVDs during last week’s big bonfire and thought he’d just sneak a peek, and then destroys the DVD player instead of the DVD. “It’s a whole process,” he explains.
- There’s a running joke where Dean implies Deb and Stewart aren’t doing so hot in bed. It’s a bit of a lazy gag for a show this smart, but exchanges like the one between Dean and Deb (“How’re are things going in here?” “Oh I don’t want to talk about that.” “Lacking.” “I didn’t say that.”) are aces.
- Another terrific line delivery: Todd, when Stewart gets frustrated at him for not being super gung-ho about his breaking-and-entering scheme. If it were Dean’s idea, Stewart thinks Todd would be all over it. “Alllll over it,’ he confirms. It’s a top-five Todd moment.
- I’m not sure how I feel about this whole conspiracy plot — it feels like a bit too much, even for The Grinder. But we’re in the home stretch for season one, so I’m nevertheless onboard. In the meantime, theorize away! Do you think Dean is behind this whole scheme? Dean seems pretty suspect.