So there’s this network sitcom, right? It’s smart and funny — really funny — and it takes a lot of pleasure in subverting and commenting on your standard television tropes. Just ambitious as hell. And people really enjoy it. Unfortunately, the number of people who enjoy it isn’t all that high, and now it’s in serious danger of getting canceled after only one season.
The sad thing is that I could have just copied and pasted that first paragraph from stories about a ton of shows: Community, Happy Endings, Arrested Development, Better Off Ted, etc. etc. etc. (Man, Better Off Ted was good.) It’s not very fun to be doing it again. But I feel like I need to because the first season of The Grinder was so good and that might be all we’re gonna get.
The Grinder, in short: Dean Sanderson (Rob Lowe) is a famous Hollywood actor who starred in a hilariously stereotypical legal procedural, also called The Grinder, before leaving the business to move home to Boise to try to use his TV experience to practice “real” law at the firm run by his brother Stuart (Fred Savage) and their father (William Devane). His presence throws the firm into chaos a bit, with the lawyers either being entirely too impressed (Steve Little, more or less reprising his role from Eastbound and Down) or extremely annoyed (Natalie Morales, who will get her own show one day and deserve it). We’ve been over this.
And if we’re being truthful, it really had no business working. That premise is gimmicky as hell on paper, and it sounds more like a pitch for an episode of a legal comedy instead of an entire series. But work it did. The show’s first season used Dean’s history with television as a way to wink at the camera, but not in a cute way, and not in a way that hammered viewers over the head. It struck a really difficult balance. Please note Timothy Olyphant’s guest arc as a sleazy version of himself as evidence. And please also note this GIF, because it is great.
But the finale might have been the best example of this all season. The show brought things full circle back to the premiere, providing a resolution to the serialized aspect of the season (the misconduct lawsuit against Papa Sanderson) while bringing back Kumail Nanjiani as the opposing counsel who wanted to take Dean down by using his own actor-y, drama-y game against him. The result was Rob Lowe getting out Rob Lowe’d temporarily, right down to his own “The Grinder rests” trick from the premiere being used against him. And throughout the whole thing with the show — the “real world” in this universe, as opposed to Hollywood — dropping callback after callback, Dean was comparing it to the world of television, essentially creating a Grinder-within-a-Grinder series of very handsome Russian nesting dolls that look like increasingly smaller versions of Rob Lowe. Which, for the record, I would buy.
(Let’s pause here to note that Rob Lowe has been excellent on this show. As Dean, he spends huge chunks of each episode poking fun at handsome, dimwitted actors, and to a lesser degree, poking fun at his own image. And let’s also note that between this role and his supporting turns in one of the best dramas of the past 20 years, The West Wing, and one of the best comedies, Parks and Recreation, Lowe has a really impressive television resumé. No one should be allowed to be that handsome, talented, and accomplished. I kind of hate him. But not really. But a little.)
And yet, despite the show being an interesting and inventive take on the genre, it finds itself very much on the renewal bubble, with odds that don’t look that great. And here I am, again, shouting into the abyss about a show I love dearly that didn’t resonate with a larger audience for some infuriating reason. It’s going to be such a bummer if the show gets canceled after one season, because it would be yet another reminder that these types of shows have trouble finding their place in network lineups. I’d love to live in a world where shows like this can exist without Netflix having to swoop in and save them. We deserve better. Or, to put it another way…
It looks like The Grinder might get canceled.
But what if it didn’t?