All great superheroes have an origin story. But most of them aren’t revealed in the 18th episode of a network sitcom, and most superheroes aren’t former actors living in Boise, Idaho. However, most of them aren’t Dean Sanderson. While the latest Grinder episode, “Genesis,” does continue the ongoing story arc that has overtaken the show, we spend just as much time back in 2005, learning about how this journey began for Dean Sanderson, AKA Mitchard Grinder.
In lieu of the episode beginning with a clip from “The Grinder,” we are instead treated to Caroline Rhea in an episode of the show “Fran of the House,” a generic sitcom. Who walks in playing the role of “Hot Mechanic?” Why, Dean Sanderson of course, in what was his first TV role. Dean’s fiancé, played by the wonderful Jenna Fischer, is very happy for him, but Dean feels robbed of the opportunity to give everybody the extensive backstory for Cliff Lubbock*, the hot mechanic from Galveston, Texas.
(*His name may have been Clint or something. This has been lost to the sands of time. The Lubbock is locked in, though.)
Throughout the episode, the show jumps back and forth between 2005 and the present. In the present, we find out that the office was ransacked not by a shady competitor, or the person suing the firm, but by Todd, at the behest of Stew. The two of them now find themselves trying to keep Dean from solving the case, but it’s all Dean cares about. He wants to prove himself to the gang, and perhaps he wants to also prove to himself that The Grinder is, indeed, back.
Obviously, Todd is the only person foolish enough to agree to help Stew in this ploy, although he also takes it much further than Stew wanted, but that also leaves Stew stuck with Todd as an accomplice in the cover up. Unfortunately for the two of them, Dean is unusually en pointe in his detective work. He’s grinding on all cylinders, although, generally speaking, it is not good for cylinders to grind.
Meanwhile, in the past, we find out that Dean’s fiancé Kelly is not as supportive as she originally seemed. Deb and Stew visit from Idaho (with a toddler version of Lizzie sitting in the background for verisimilitude), and Kelly is sort of running Dean’s life. She’s decided two years is enough time to try the whole acting thing. It’s time for them to move to Indiana, and for Dean to become a freezer door salesman. Then, one day, Dean is helping his buddy, played by Chris Klein, but unfortunately not actually Chris Klein within the story, run his lines for the little role of Mitch Grinder. Dean seems perfect for the role, but Kelly won’t hear any of it.
Then, Dean finds out the role is being given to a woman, because they tried out every man in town, and nobody worked. Nevertheless, Dean doesn’t want to see yet another plum role going to a woman. When he gets some words of encouragement from Stew and Deb, the engagement is off, and Dean sneaks onto the lot (in his mechanic character) and bursts into the audition, charming Cliff Bemis on the spot. Also, it turns out that Dean is the one who named the character Mitchard Grinder. It was supposed to be Mitchell, but Dean just assumed it was Mitchard. Thus, The Grinder was born.
In the present, The Grinder is reborn, as he gets a bluff to work at getting Stew and Todd to crack under the pressure of his investigation. Dean is not hurt or angry, though, because Stew has always believed in him, and Todd will always love him.
It was quite enjoyable learning about how Dean got the job on “The Grinder.” The wigs were amusing, the weird alternate universe where women are dominating all the good roles in Hollywood was funny, and it was just a nice change of pace for the show. Sure, it would have been nice for the show to use Fischer better. She’s mostly just angry and mean—obviously playing a TV archetype, but not in a way that really does anything new.
Additionally, the jumps back and forth weren’t terribly smooth. “Genesis” just moves from the past to the present seemingly on a whim, which somewhat disrupted the flow of things. In the present, there was a lot of Todd (and you’ll never hear any complaints here about too much Todd), but, all in all, this episode consisted of two good stories that were hindered by being fused together. But at least we got to see some “Fran of the House.” That show seems terrible.
Chris Morgan is not the author of THE book on Mystery Science Theater 3000, but he is the author of A book on Mystery Science Theater 3000. He’s also on Twitter.