The third episode of the series Futurama is called “I, Roommate.” It was an attempt by the show to do a more “traditional” episode of television, to try and keep viewers from being alienated by the idiosyncratic show. It was a fairly by-the-books plot involving roommate troubles. However, it ended up disappointing, to some degree, a lot of Futurama fans who found it, well, bland and by-the-books. They tuned into Futurama because of its fantastical world, and didn’t appreciate the change-up. The show did not do an episode like that again.
The third episode of “The Grinder” is called “The Curious Case of Mr. Donovan.” It is an attempt by the show to do a more “traditional” episode of television, perhaps to try and keep viewers from being alienated by a show that has been, so far, rather idiosyncratic. It has a fairly by-the-books plot involving two brothers bickering about lying, and admitting when one is wrong. For those tuning into The Grinder because of the weird, little world of meta comedy and genre parody they had been building, it may end up being a bit disappointing. It seemed like this show was going to be something that stuck out of the network sitcom lineup like a delightful sore thumb. This seems less likely now.
That’s not to say it isn’t a good episode. There are funny scenes with sharp dialogue. They make excellent use of characters over-explaining themselves and their situation. Rob Lowe and Fred Savage are still top notch. It’s just that this episode seems determined to humanize Dean Sanderson, even though the crux of Dean is that he’s still living in his own little world, where he’s “The Grinder.” He’s cartoonish. Trying to bring him down to Earth could, potentially, bring the show down with it.
After another opening bit with the show-within-the-show, which remains a strong element, we get the usual sitcom trope where Dean is all like “Lying is OK sometimes,” and Stewart is like “No, you can never lie.” One of the kids deleted an episode of Ray Donovan from the DVR. Ethan is able to use lying, or “acting” as it were, to trick his sister into admitting she did it. This parallels a situation going on down at the ol’ office, where Dean has to face the fact that, unlike The Grinder, he’s wrong sometimes.
Namely, he assumes Claire is a spy sent to infiltrate the firm to help her old firm. It seems like the setup for some excellent Dean shenanigans. Then, it turns out that Todd had been spilling secrets while he gets drunk at a bar, and the other lawyers have been eavesdropping. Todd and Dean find this out, and Dean, not wanting to admit he is wrong, swears Todd to secrecy. He fails, and then Stewart swears Todd to secrecy, although Todd seems a little shaky on the whole thing.
In the end, Dean admits that he is the one who broke the window with a baseball when they were kids. Yeah, that was a thing in this episode, too. In the end, the whole family sits down to watch Ray Donovan, while Dean learns to live with his partially clear conscience.
It’s a marginal plot wrapped in good jokes and funny moments, and when Dean is the Dean we’ve come to know and love, it’s still delightful. Maybe the folks working on the show fear that isn’t sustainable, though. Maybe instead of wacky lawyering antics, we will be getting more of Stewart and Dean as brothers, and more stuff with the family. That could work. It would be a move in the wrong direction, but it could work. The Grinder has a chance to be something wonderful. This version of the show is just merely good.
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.