Tuesday, November 24, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Grinder' - Dean and Stewart Struggle Getting Their Dignity Back in 'Giving Thanks, Getting Justice'

FOX's The Grinder - Episode 1.08 "Giving Thanks, Getting Justice"

After spending several holidays away from the family, Dean is thrilled to be reunited with them for his first real Thanksgiving celebration in a long time. But his overexcitement and meddling brings a major, unexpected family secret to light. A series of flashbacks reveal the chain of events that led to Dean's departure from his hit TV drama, "The Grinder."

The Grinder has been a consistently funny show. However, it does struggle balancing its many different tones and areas of focus. At times, it is a legal show. Other times, it's a family show. And then, it is also an inside showbiz parody. It's a very tricky balance of tone and structure that the show hasn't always been able to pay off. It wants to focus on all three of those narrative directions. At times, it is a tad overwhelming. It also keeps the show from maintaining the same consistency - even though all elements of this show's universe have their humorous moments. "Giving Thanks, Getting Justice" focuses on the inside showbiz qualities of Dean's life much more so than any previous episode. But the episode also finds a way to tie that in with the present-day story of the Sanderson family celebrating Thanksgiving.

The show-within-the-show concept has always been good for a handful of jokes in each episode. Every episode so far has opened with a scene from Dean's hit show "The Grinder." This episode expanded that concept further by actually flashing back to that time in Dean's life and what it was truly like to be on the set of the show. The opening scene from "The Grinder" was actually the show's crew filming that scene and Dean having questions over whether or not it felt right for him to rip his shirt open. The Grinder could loss the appeal of this device if it opened it up more. It's been an amusing concept that defined Dean as a character for years before the present day. It's still affecting his personality but he is slowly moving past his stardom to embrace this more normal life. Spending more time on what he was actually like on that set could be pushing the concept too far. Fortunately, the show was able to keep the humor of those scenes without completely losing their appeal.

It's funny to see just how delusional Dean was on set. There is the hint that he is yearning for more out of life and jealous of what his brother has. That sets things up perfectly for his later decision to move back home to spend more time with them. But that is never the focus of the story. It's a moment that establishes a connection to what the audience already knows to be true. Instead, the purpose of this story is in showing Dean taking control over his life long before deciding to come home. It's common for shows in their ninth seasons to broaden things out in order to stay relevant. That's what Dean fears is happening to his show. He believes the series creator, Cliff Beamis (Jason Alexander), has lost the thread of what the show was about. The reason why Dean took on the role of Mitch Grinder is no longer what Cliff is interested in telling. Dean just needs to get the courage to confront him about it.

It's because of Dean that his show came to an end. At that point in time, he hadn't decided to return home to be with his family. This decision isn't even about his family. He has just started felling objectified by the creative team. He wants control over his story and the character again. He only gets the courage to stand up for himself after a chat with guest star Timothy Olyphant. That's a hilarious scene where the two are basically surfer bros who make a lot of sense with their arguments. But this story also proves just how gullible and easy to manipulate Dean is. Cliff convinced him to do the shirtless scene by telling him they would shoot it both ways and then decide. Of course, Cliff still got his way in the end while appearing cooperative with Dean. And even though Dean gets a victory in having the last word in the situation, he still ends up being devastated. It appears Olyphant only helped him with this struggle because he wanted to be the star of the show. Now, a spinoff of "The Grinder" entitled "The Grinder: New Orleans" is coming out starring Olyphant as the Grinder's brother. It's the same show just without Dean. He believed he put an end to the show and that would be it. And yet, it's no surprise that the industry would try to keep that success going even without Dean as the star.

All of this connects wonderfully with the present day story because Stewart is dealing with a same emotional secret. He doesn't want to celebrate Thanksgiving even though Dean is very enthusiastic about it. This is his first family holiday in years. He wants to do it just like they used to. And yet, Stewart knows something that Dean doesn't. That memory is what has ruined the holiday for him. He knows that Dean Sr.'s old legal partner and ex-wife were having an affair together. Stewart caught them in a very compromising - and hilariously described - position in Dean's childhood bedroom one year. And now, he can't face that old family holiday tradition out of shame. He too has lost himself and the idea of something that he once loved so much has gone away.

So it would seem that both Dean and Stewart are in the same headspace for once. That's an enticing premise for the episode - even though Dean doesn't have control in the past while Stewart doesn't have his in the present. But it still sets things up perfectly for Dean to give Stewart a talk in the same way that Timothy Olyphant once did for him. It's because of Dean that Stewart is able to confront their guest and expose the secret for everyone to know. But the thing is, Dean Sr. already knew. In fact, Stewart bringing this out in the open forced Dean Sr. and his partner to tell the family all about their arrangement from years ago. It's a secret that traumatizes both brothers. They now know all the details about the past. That's horrifying and neither one knows how to react. Stewart accepts that it's good that they just know the full truth now. And yet, Dean isn't in the best mindset which is then made even worse by the final reveal of his hit show getting a spinoff staring a shirtless Timothy Olyphant.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Giving Thanks, Getting Justice" was written by Niki Schwartz-Wright and directed by Jamie Babbit.
  • Now that it is known that Dean and Stewart's mom is just no longer married to their father and not dead, how long until she actually pops up in an episode? Perhaps needing some legal help? And maybe she loves Stewart more?
  • It's pretty amusing that Debbie decides to stay in the bedroom when Stewart makes it known that he didn't tell her everything that he saw when he caught his mom and his dad's partner having sex.
  • It's also funny that the two kids ask what everyone is talking about and everyone just says it's grown up stuff that they can't understand right now.
  • The spinoff news hopefully means more Jason Alexander and Timothy Olyphant in the future. They were both amusing but could be even better with more screen time in the present day.