Over the course of its first few episodes, The Grinder has been trying to find its voice, balancing the crazy world of Dean Sanderson, delusional actor with more traditional sitcom storylines. This week, with “Little Mitchard No More,” the show made the decision to basically bifurcate these two visions of itself into separate storylines. On one hand, we had Dean in his weird little world, where everything should function like his TV show did. On the other hand, we have the rest of the family dealing with the real world implications of being related to a famous actor. Fortunately, this balancing act works quite well.
Over in Dean’s world, he’s still going after Natalie Morales’ Claire. She is, in his mind, his office love interest. They are destined to meet cute, destined to have witty repartee and a will they/won’t they thing. To drive his point home, Dean shows Claire the big scene from his show wherein The Grinder and his love interest finally made sweet love. It seems like it’s supposed function as a how-to video, but Claire remains completely disinterested, which Dean seems to feel is all part of the game.
He goes to great lengths to try and woo her. He shows her how humble he is by letting her overhear his big donation to the Church for the Blind. All Claire wants is for him to do some actual grunt work—which he does at episode’s end, only after an all-night session of whiteboard-writing and Chinese food-throwing. Dean is still The Grinder, even though he no longer exits in the world of television, and it’s delightful to witness. When he finally does the boring work that Claire wanted him to do, he finds something that proves their client is innocent. At this point, Dean naturally assumes it’s time to sweep everything off Claire’s desk so they can make love. They do not. Will they? Won’t they? Dean sure wants to know.
Additionally, Todd is dealing with his own TV character-like problems. You see, Claire represents a “new character” in their lives, and what happens when a new character shows up? Old characters are phased out. So, Todd is worried that this is what’s happening to him, and he’s not wrong to do so. Claire already has his old office. It was the kind of great meta story arc that would have made Dan Harmon proud.
Over in the real world—the world where Dean isn’t The Grinder—but former television actor Dean Sanderson, Stewart and his family are dealing with having a huge TV star living with them in Boise, Idaho, a place that doesn’t see a lot of TV stars. Stewart is accustomed to it, but the rest of the family find it shaking up their lives. The kids are taking advantage of it—Lizzie got on the basketball team by promising that Dean would show up to games, even though she is horrible at basketball. The son is going to the prom with a senior. (Lizzie is mentioned by name, because the scene where she gets in the basketball game when Dean shows up is very funny, and the actress did a great job of playing basketball terribly. The other kid can get his name mentioned when he steps up his game and does something that memorable.)
That’s all kid’s stuff, though. Stewart and Debbie are in the world of conniving adults—adults played by Nat Faxon and some other lady who befriends Stewart and Deb because they want a connection to The Grinder. Deb wants to believe that these two actually like them, and actually want to have dinner with them, but Stewart is skeptical. He is proven right, although not without some awkwardness along the way, and the other couple never really drop the pretense. Remember that episode of Seinfeld where Todd Gack keeps figuring out ways to have dates with Elaine, without having to actually ask her out on a date? It was like that, but nobody was bowled over with a bag full of change.
To this point, Dean being Dean was always the highlight of any The Grinder episode. This week, though… well it was still the highlight, but the other stuff was almost as strong, and had plenty of humor as well. Fred Savage is doing good things as Stewart, even if he doesn’t get to be as nuts as Rob Lowe. The ramifications of having a ridiculous and ridiculously famous person in your midst can provide plenty of comedy fodder outside the realm of Dean trying to be a lawyer like he was on TV. This episode proved this show can do it well.
Perhaps this will be the future track that The Grinder takes. They will try and have their cake and eat it, too. They can comment on TV and law shows and have Dean be goofy and over the top, but they can also just have sitcom stuff going on with a character who is an out of touch actor. It worked really well in “Little Mitchard No More.” Can they find that balance as well in future episodes? The question is, it would seem, will they, or won’t they?
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.