Review: Why ‘The Grinder’ was smart to embrace its showbiz side

“The Grinder” has really come together nicely in recent weeks. Some quick thoughts on last night's episode, and the season to date, coming up just as soon as you give us the room…

Back at press tour, “The Grinder” creators insisted the show wasn't meant to be a Hollywood satire. But when your title character is an ex-actor who has trouble distinguishing reality from his old scripts, it makes sense to just steer into that particular skid, and the show has been much better for its embrace of Dean's past, particularly in this two-parter about Cliff Bemis, Timothy Olyphant, and “The Grinder: New Orleans.”

What was so effective about these two was that they didn't brush the family stuff aside and overload on inside showbiz gags. There were still plenty of those (like Dean shifting from hatred of the spin-off to wildly over-the-top fake praise the moment Bemis enters the room, or the acknowledgment that Mitchard Grinder – a name that never fails to make me laugh when they state it in full – is basically a prettier Horatio Caine), but as good as Rob Lowe is, the show lives or dies with Fred Savage's reactions to Dean's insanity (and to the rest of the world's blind adoration of Dean), and both of these episodes were still stories about the brothers. Alexander and Olyphant were both having an enormous amount of fun – the revelation in the tag that Olyphant is just as vain and neurotic as Dean, and thus will also not be having sex with Claire, was excellent – but the core was Stewart once again accepting that Dean now belongs in Idaho with him and his family, and then finding a way to work around Dean's absurd commitment to remaining in character to convince him it was okay to kill off his signature character.

I also appreciate that the series really doesn't make any pretense at reality except when necessary. As Todd VanDerWerff noted in this excellent essay, Dean is someone who (like Abed on “Community”) fundamentally understands he is a character on a television show, and thus the rules of the “real” world on the show are nearly as elastic as the ones on the show about Mitchard Grinder. It makes no sense that Bemis would bring the whole production to Idaho to film Dean's farewell scene, but it doesn't matter, any more than the clumsy infodump about Mitch's new life in the Florida Keys with his nightclub and his black girlfriend (“Bemis never uses diversity unless he's pressured by the network”) is just a thing we accept that would happen on the show-within-the-show.

Also: Rake Grinder and Mitch's ex having sex on top of Mitch's corpse in the morgue is instantly one of the funniest comedy moments of 2015.

What did everybody else think? How are you finding “The Grinder” at this point?