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Episodes: A thing I'm worried about about The Grinder


Emily VanDerWerff

Jan 28 2016

5 min read



The Grinder is probably my FAVORITE show right now. By that I don't mean I think it's the best show on TV, though I think it's pretty darn good. No, I mean that every week, without fail, it's one I put on for 21 minutes, because it makes me laugh. (I pretty much watch everything on ad-free Hulu now, because I am loyal to my corporate masters.) I have a tendency to let stuff build up now, both because there's so much TV and because my shift into senior management means a lot more meetings than I used to have to deal with. (Fortunately, I love meetings.) (This is actually true.)

Anyway, something I haven't noted when I've written about The Grinder in the past is that a central part of it really, really scares the hell out of me, like to the degree that I am worried it could totally break the show for me if it happens. I haven't brought this up in a review, because being worried about a thing a show might do that it hasn't done yet isn't really giving the show a fair shake. But since this is my newsletter, we can fret all we want.

Anyway, I'm worried that Dean and Claire will sleep together and have an actual will-they/won't-they, instead of the one Dean is convinced they're having in his head.

If you've never seen The Grinder, that might sound strange to you. All you need to know is that Dean (Rob Lowe) is a former TV actor who's moved back home to Boise to practice law with his brother. Though not a lawyer, Dean is pretty sure playing one on TV for eight years qualifies him to try cases. His brother is more skeptical. Claire is an associate at the firm whom Dean carries a torch for. Since he bases his entire knowledge of reality on television shows, he's pretty sure they're going to have a will-they/won't-they. Claire is disgusted by this notion.

And here's the thing: If this show runs for seven or eight seasons, Dean is almost certainly going to be proved right.

Now, I probably have an out here, in the fact that The Grinder will almost certainly be canceled before it gets to seven or eight seasons. With its low ratings, it will be very lucky to get to two seasons. So it seems likely Claire will resist Dean's advances forever, thus never completely sullying her character. (Hell, she fell for his TV replacement, Timothy Olyphant, which is a great gag in and of itself.)

But the longer the show runs, the more tempting the idea of hooking up Dean and Claire is going to look to the writers. I strongly suspect the show's creators had the idea that Claire would just forever say no to Dean, because she would be one of the few characters who resisted his television-driven idea of reality. And this isn't a bad idea! Dean's brother, Stewart, is the one character who completely rejects Dean's crazy ideas about how things work, but he regularly has to buy into them just to reach out to his brother. Thus, Claire is the one character who remains completely uninfluenced by Dean, which the show needs.

Now, that could conceivably make her a killjoy (a role women are thrust into on TV a lot), but The Grinder is both well-cast (in that Natalie Morales plays Claire and is wonderful) and also essentially on her side. Comedy can get away with killjoys more than drama can, because comedy is inherently about trying to return to the status quo at all costs. Thus, the killjoy is one of the main forces of story gravity, forcing everybody back into the place they need to be for further hijinks to ensue. As such, The Grinder knows that Claire is probably the sanest person in its ranks and can use both her and Morales's dry delivery to its advantage.

But the thing about television is that it essentially abhors a thing everybody says can't happen. When you have to tell 100-plus stories, and you have a whole thing that supposedly will never happen, that whole area of "do not enter" becomes mighty tempting somewhere in season four.

And if we're being honest, I think a lot of the horrible ideas that people (okay, mostly men) get about how romance is supposed to work come from these sorts of fictions, where simply pushing and pushing and pushing eventually results in grudging acceptance. One of the things I like about The Grinder is that it feels like this is a story where that might not happen.

But fiction and reality have different needs and requirements. In reality, when somebody says no, they're not going to change their minds unless you do something to dramatically change yourself, to make yourself more interesting to them. Fiction requires trying out every single permutation of a certain base idea, until the best possible one is found. And that means that if The Grinder lasts long enough, it will eventually break itself. Which puts me in the rare position of thinking that canceling this show that I love might not be such a terrible idea.

But tell me I'm wrong. I'd love to be. I want this show to run eight seasons. Just so long as it doesn't end with a wedding.


Episodes is published at least three times per week, and more if I feel like it. It is mostly about television, except when it's not. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox Dot Com.

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