Review: ‘The Grinder’ takes down another TV cliche in hilarious fashion

A few thoughts on tonight's penultimate episode of The Grinder season 1 coming up just as soon as I leave an onion bagel in the toaster…

It's funny – albeit not nearly as funny as The Grinder itself has been this season – to think back to how nervous the show's creators were last summer about the idea that anyone might view the show as a Hollywood satire, rather than a family comedy that just happened to include a famous actor in the family. It's not hard to understand their concern, since inside-showbiz stories rarely interest the rest of the country nearly as much as they interest the people who already work in showbiz. But The Grinder has been so much better, and more consistent, since it dropped the family comedy pretense and embraced the meta.

“Divergence” was a particularly self-aware episode, riffing on the trope that many procedurals use, where a seemingly unrelated side story somehow gives the hero the solution to the problem in the main story. It's an overused device – Wilson's primary function on House was to inadvertently point House to the proper diagnosis – and one that the show-within-the-show here takes to extremes, with Mitchard Grinder barely even caring about his son's return from the war once Luke unwittingly helps him solve his latest case.

This is among the sketchier bits of TV logic that Dean has tried to make happen in the real world, which of course means that it all works out perfectly, even if the cliffhanger prevents us from finding out what the epiphany was until next week's finale. (Speaking of which, the show has done a nice job of treating the lawsuit against Dean Sr. like the MacGuffin that it is, creating the illusion of a serialized arc even as it's really just an excuse to tie together a collection of individual stories.) But it was fun, as always, to watch Stewart gradually shift from incredulous dismissal at Dean's latest idea to gleeful acceptance of it, and to have a bored Claire once again turn this idiocy to her advantage, and here to have poor Joel Zadak realize that Dean was just using him as a way to get back to the main story.

The ensemble's well-oiled enough at this point that the show can get by no matter how inherently dumb the story, because Dean, Dean Sr., Todd, and the kids commit to it, while Stewart and Debbie (and, when she's feeling up to it, Claire) get to stand back and point out the ridiculousness of it all. (All the goofiness about restaurant reservations and phony engagements of the previous episode wouldn't have worked without Fred Savage and Mary Elizabeth Ellis' incredulous reactions to it all.) But the show is at its best when it isn't telling dumb stories, but commenting on the kinds of dumb stories that other TV shows constantly tell because they're just easier.

The ratings have been poor – in that sense, the creators were probably right to fear the show being perceived as being about what it turned out to be about – but creatively, it's a gem, and I hope FOX can find some justification to bring it back for a second season.

What did everybody else think?