Tuesday, May 10, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Grinder' - Dean & Stewart Go Back to the Beginning for Their Father's Case in 'Full Circle'

FOX's The Grinder - Episode 1.22 "Full Circle"

Dean Sr.'s malpractice trial is finally at hand and it will come to a surprising conclusion when Stewart gets sidelined, leaving it to the rest of the Sanderson & Yao team to save the firm and find out who has been the secret mastermind behind Cory Manler and Dean Sr.'s case. Stewart is concerned that Dean's instincts and Grinder-isms won't be enough to win the day, and Dean is offended by his own brother's lack of faith.

The Grinder has had one consistently great first season. It started as one of the few new broadcast comedy pilots that was actually funny. And then, it grew and only got better and more inventive throughout the season. The decision to switch to a more serialized sense of storytelling has really benefitted the show as well. Because of that, it has really honed in on its voice and comedic structure and rhythm. This is a show that knows how to balance a season-long story with episodic pleasures. That has really been appreciated. And now, the show has reached the conclusion of its first season not sure if there will be any more. Admittedly, the ratings are pretty horrendous. And yet, there is just so much uniqueness to this show. It can't go away now. It is so confident with itself while telling a story from a fresh perspective. That's something that should be rewarded in this business. But we'll just have to wait-and-see if this is the last outing for The Grinder.

The season ends with the characters going all the way back to the beginning. Over the last few weeks, the show has been setting up this big twist with Dean Sr.'s malpractice case. And now, it's time to reveal just how important this story has been all along. This finale is the first episode of the season not to open with a scene from the show-within-the-show. Those opening moments have been some of the most delightful and hilarious pieces of comedy this year. The show breaks that pattern with purpose as well. Those little peaks into Dean's former series show just how dramatic Dean views the world of law. In reality, the lives of the Sanderson family are just as dramatic. And now, it's time to see just how life-changing their actions have been to others. The story goes all the way back to the beginning to show that Leonard Valence - the lawyer Dean embarrassed in the pilot - is the true mastermind behind this latest case. It's a fantastic and devastating reveal. The opening minutes of the finale show just how destructive that loss was to Leonard. He was broken because of it. He lost everything important in his life. This case with the possibility of revenge was what built him back up. And now, his plan is coming fully into fruition.

Dean was able to figure it all out before Leonard made his surprising entrance in the courtroom though. That was all thanks to his commitment to the side story in last week's phenomenal takedown of that familial TV trope. And yet, the purpose of that outing is still incredibly trivial. Dean spent so much time leading up to the trial to unravel this mystery of who was feeding Cory legal information. He solved the mystery. But now, that's irrelevant. It makes no difference in this case whatsoever. It's just not as surprising as it could have been. That is all. But more importantly, Leonard has re-entered the legal world of Boise poised to humiliate the Grinder just like he did to him all of those months ago. All of that starts with getting Stewart thrown off the case which forces Dean to stand as lead counsel trying to save his father and the firm. It's an incredibly dramatic setup for the finale. The episode more than delivers on it too.

Things have changed so much since the first time Dean and Leonard faced off in court. There are many funny parallels throughout this finale to the premiere. And yet, the stakes are much higher here. Before, they were in court over a $600 eviction case. But now, the entire future of the firm is at stake. Sure, Dean blows the stakes out of proportion saying that his father could go to jail and a loss here would jeopardize all of their careers. But that drama is very infectious over the proceedings. Because of the stakes, Stewart's doubts about Dean's ability to do the job once again rise. Stewart always reacts with incredulity to whatever Dean suggests to do from a legal perspective. That's been one of the most humorous recurring bits across the whole season. But now, Dean needs to take things seriously because his father is the client. They need to do their best to defend him even though he is completely guilty. However, the details of this case are completely irrelevant. Once again, victory will be crowned to whichever side plays drama most effectively for the jury. That makes for one fantastic viewing experience.

Dean knows a little bit more about the real law now than he did at the start of the season. He still has so much confidence because of the knowledge he learned on the show. And yet, it's amusing to see him struggle with calling out objections in the courtroom. He realizes he needs to cite a particular reason in order to object that can damage opposing counsel's line of questioning. That's much more difficult than he initially thought which gives Leonard a leg up early on in the proceedings. Dean is at a loss a little bit because he has to act more like a real lawyer and not a TV personality. He loves him some drama but the stakes are too high for that to completely work. Leonard has the facts on his side while Dean just has colorful stories about hanging out with Edward James Olmos, Edward Norton and a horse at a crafts service table. It's a humorous situation. But it's not enough to save the firm from complete destruction.

Once again though, the show finds its solution by mining a side story for laughs and information. That's a fantastic continuation of the story from last week's episode. But here, it's Stewart who has to embrace that over-the-top setup in order to uncover the truth. Lizzie and Ethan wanting to interview the people at the center of this case for a school paper or something really didn't have a lot of meaning for a long time. It was largely an excuse for Debbie to freak out about something potentially damaging she said while drunk. And yet, it holds so much value for Stewart once he listens to the tape. It's because of that that he gets an instinct. Sure, it's a humorous idea that Dean believes every instinct is right. But that has always worked out for him and it works for Stewart here to. When the time calls for it, it's Stewart who makes the grand entrance into the courtroom with new information that can rip this case wide open. He has miraculously discovered that Cory is actually his twin brother Rory posing as him to help Leonard get revenge on the Sanderson family. That's a fantastic twist that really brings the drama, intensity and absurdity up for the final act of the finale. It's because of the work that both Dean and Stewart do that they are successful in saving the firm and their father. This is a relationship that really works. And now, the network just needs to be confident in letting it continue to happen and be awesome.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Full Circle" was written by Dominic Dierkes and directed by Jay Chandrasekhar.
  • When Leonard is at his rock bottom, he watches every episode of The Grinder to study the world that Dean comes from. And yet, that still isn't enough for him to be victorious in this battle of drama against Dean and Stewart.
  • It's pretty amusing that the strategy Leonard uses in the courtroom against Dean Sr. is the exact same misdirection that Dean used in the pilot so well. And here, it works too. It's an effective beat because of the audience's knowledge of the events Leonard is talking about.
  • Claire wondering what Dean and Todd do with the notes Todd is always writing down for Dean is an amusing observation of a funny but small detail about that character dynamic.
  • That final scene with all of the family in the living room together one last time is so meta. It's fantastic too! It's the show commenting on its own struggles in the creative community. And yet, it has proven itself that this premise can work just as long as everyone wants it to. I really hope FOX wants it to.
  • Dean: "You want the Grinder to read cue cards?" Stewart: "Isn't that what you do?"
  • Dean: "It's his last name. He turned it into a verb." Leonard: "Damn right I did."