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Series / The Grinder

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The Grinder is a series starring Rob Lowe and Fred Savage on Fox. Savage is Stewart Sanderson, a lawyer in Boise, Idaho. Lowe is Dean Sanderson, a former actor whose television series (called The Grinder) about lawyers has just been cancelled. Dean returns home to live with his brother, and 'helps' his brother practice law, thinking that if he played one on TV, he could do it in real life too.

Stewart is supported by his loving wife, Debbie (Mary Elizabeth Ellis), and alternately helped and hindered by his father, Dean Sr. (William Devane), his daughter Lizzie (Hana Hayes) and his son Ethan (Connor Kalopsis). His coworkers include Todd (Steve Little) an incompetent yesman who's more interested in Dean than practicing law, and Claire (Natalie Morales) a remarkably good lawyer who's the only woman impervious to Dean's charms.


This Show Provides Examples of:

  • Adorably Precocious Child: Ethan and Lizzie often talk like adults, particularly when helping the rest of the family dissect the particulars of a case. They're too old for this trope to be adorable most of the time, but just young enough for it to seem oddly precocious.
  • As Himself: Timothy Olyphant, who took over Dean's role in The Grinder.
  • Becoming the Mask: Dean's played The Grinder for so long that the character pretty much defines his real-life personality, despite his attempts to shed it midway through Season 1.
  • Commander Contrarian: Stewart sees too much of himself in a character on The Grinder naysaying everything Mitch thinks of, and tries to be more easy-going. It doesn't last.
  • The Determinator: The term "grinding", as described in-universe, is synonymous with this trope. The Grinder never settles.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Stewart calls out the egregious use of this trope by Dean on The Grinder. Later on, while Dean and Timothy Olyphant are conducting a mock trial, Stewart actually has to invoke one on Dean in order for him to win.
    • A later episode finds Dean and some of the other characters trying to invoke this trope, intentionally looking for "side stories" that they hope will somehow give them a Eureka Moment concerning how to win Dean Sr.'s trial.
  • Failed Attempt at Drama: Dean is either too clueless or too stubborn to realize this is how most other people react to his dramatic antics in real life.
  • Gambit Pileup: In the episode "The People", Dean and Stewart's mom comes to visit. What follows is one of the most heavily layered gambit pileups in comedy. Stewart and Deb both forget their anniversary and try to hide the fact they forgot, first from their kids then from each other. To do this Stewart asks Dean to use his celebrity to get him a reservation at a popular restaurant and Deb asks Dean to help her pick out a good gift for Stewart. In exchange, Dean is trying to impress his mother by saying he has a fiance (who happens to be Claire) and wants Stewart to help him out. Claire eventually gets on it, but at that point their mom has been convinced that Todd is Claire's abusive ex-boyfriend. Dean Sr. wants to convince his ex-wife he is still in the dating game and enlists the kids to help him create a dating profile. This all eventually crashes down around them.
  • Hollywood Law: Dean has a rather warped sense of what the legal system can do after spending years playing a lawyer on TV. Stewart is constantly at his wit's end trying to prevent his brother from torpedoing real legal cases with his antics.
    • Subverted and inverted as often, Dean will suggest a tactic and Stewart tries to explain that in real life, it doesn't work like that. However, often, Dean's plans do work because they're so wild and untried. It also helps that judges are willing to look the other way due to his celebrity.
  • Hypocritical Humor: On a meta level. The typical structure of an episode is for the Framing Device to point out how cliched and nonsensical a trope is, only for the main plot of the episode to play the same trope completely straight, usually with heavy lampshading from Stewart, Deb, and/or Claire.
  • I'm Not a Doctor, but I Play One on TV: The show's premise is that Dean thinks playing a lawyer on TV is experience enough for him to practice law for real.
  • Inherently Funny Words: "Grinder".
  • Invincible Hero: Mitch Grinder went through multiple seasons of The Grinder without ever really losing a case or being wrong. Stew cries foul on this.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Done so much that the plot of a typical episode usually hinges on someone pointing out to Dean how ridiculous a particular trope is, him doing it anyway, some sort of hijinks ensuing, and the Sandersons winning the case as a result of that very trope.
  • Large Ham: Dean's character on the show that made him famous. He can be quite dramatic in real life, to the chagrin of others.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: The second episode opens with a scene from the pilot of The Grinder. Dean comments that they couldn't keep the momentum going into the second episode, saying it's a problem that a few shows have.
    • Pretty much every episode going forward does this, using the Show Within a Show to foreshadow tropes that the main plot will be based on, complete with meta commentary from the family members watching the show with Dean.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Stewart suspects that the man suing Dean Sr. is getting outside help. In the season finale it's revealed to be the lawyer who lost Dean's first case, seeking revenge.
  • Once an Episode: The show usually opens with a scene from The Grinder, which is commented on by the Sanderson clan.
  • Only Sane Man: Nearly everyone in town is so star-struck by Dean, they ignore or accept his antics — except for Stewart, who tries in vain to get anyone to realize that everything Dean says is nonsense. Debbie and Claire also seem to be immune to Dean's celebrity, but only for Stew is it a constant aggravation.
  • Parental Sexuality Squick: Comes up when Dean and Stewart find out that their mother had an affair with Dean Sr.'s former partner Yao. Gets especially squicky when it turns out that it was a swinging situation and dad was fully aware.
  • Show Within a Show: The Grinder, the show that Dean used to work on.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Dean has a thing for entering a room unannounced so that he can add some sort of a twist to the ongoing conversation. This often leads to characters being startled or asking him how long he was standing there.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: In-Universe. After Dean left The Grinder, Timothy Olyphant was brought in as his character's brother to take his place.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: While the show does play with Dean's TV-inspired ideas actually working (See This Is Reality), a recurring bit will be Dean acting like his TV character would only to realize how weird that looks.
    • A regular gag is Dean doing some overtly dramatic move like sweeping a desk clean of items only to be yelled at.
    • Dean clearly thinks Claire is just like any romantic conquest he would have on his show and easily falls for his charms and that her seeming disdain hides her attraction to him. He is very wrong.
  • This Is Reality: Done constantly as Stewart at least Once an Episode has to tell Dean that his suggestion of an idea based off his show won't work because real-life legal stuff doesn't work that way. Subverted in that almost every time, the ideas work because they're so outrageous.
  • Twin Switch: In the finale, the case against Dean Sr. is dismissed after it's discovered that the plaintiff is really his twin brother passing himself off as the one who filed the suit.
  • The Unfavorite: Stewart is clearly this as despite the fact he's a top-notch lawyer, father Dean Sr. constantly dotes on Dean and is perfectly okay letting him run with cases despite the fact he's not a real lawyer. Several times, Dean Sr. will constantly ignore Stewart's perfectly reasonable and logical ideas in favor of Dean's TV plots.