The trickiest step for any new television show is figuring out how make the move from having a cool concept to having a fun, engaging series. The Grinder definitely has a cool concept. Rob Lowe plays an actor who starred in a hyper-cliched, over-the-top lawyer series (also called The Grinder), and then moves back home to try his hand at being a real lawyer — kind of — in his family’s Idaho law firm, using only his fake lawyer experience. That’s a solid piece of business. And if some of the more recent episodes are any indication, the series may have figured out that second piece. The Grinder is turning into a very good show, very quickly.
Let me give you an example. Spoilers ahead.
One of the big themes of the show’s first season has been the difficulty Rob Lowe’s character, Dean, has been dealing with as he tries to transition from TV star to regular(-ish) guy after leaving the fictional show. In the Thanksgiving episode we were treated to a flashback that explained why he left his show. It turns out the creator, Cliff Bemis (Jason Alexander), had been abandoning anything resembling a story in favor of Dean taking off his shirt and making passionate love to his female associate, regardless of where they were or what they were doing. This led to Dean doing some soul searching at the beach, where he ran into Timothy Olyphant (playing “Timothy Olyphant”), who gave him some great advice about acting and dignity. The advice included this exchange, which made the Justified fan in me squeal a little.
(An aside: This presents the flipside of the issue we saw when Ludacris appeared in character as a prison guard on Empire. If the universe of The Grinder contains real elements of Hollywood like a real Timothy Olyphant, does that mean it doesn’t include the real-life actors from the show, like Rob Lowe and Fred Savage and Jason Alexander? And if that’s the case, does it mean The West Wing and The Wonder Years and Seinfeld don’t exist either? Or do the shows still exist, but with different actors cast in the roles? And how did that change things? I care about this more than everyone else in the world combined.)
Here’s where things get wonderful: Dean left the show, per Olyphant’s advice about keeping your dignity and shirt. Then back in the present, while Dean and his family were watching football on Thanksgiving, they saw this.
A few things:
- Timothy Olyphant is guest starring on a sitcom as a devious fake version of himself who more or less stole a crappy lawyer show from another actor who is now trying to be a real lawyer using only TV law knowledge.
- Timothy Olyphant’s character’s name on The Grinder: New Orleans is “Rake Grinder.”
- That is the promo for it.
- Everything about this is terrific.
And in case you were wondering if this was all a one-off, one-time thing, please allow me to direct your attention to this clip from the most recent episode.
I have no idea if we’ll see more of “Timothy Olyphant” on the show going forward, but please consider this your official update: The Grinder is a good show. You should watch it.