By Finchley Atticus
A couple of years ago an early career commercial lawyer explained to me that in her law firm you have the finders, minders and the grinders. In her opinion the prime position is the finder, the lawyer who brings in the clients to the firm, the rainmaker who ensures the firm is rolling in the cash.
I mention this because I’ve been enjoying watching the first (and unfortunately the only) season of The Grinder, a US legal comedy series which screened in the USA in 2015-16. It’s been screening here in Australia on Channel Eleven, and it’s a show within a show. Each episode usually opens with a scene (which gives a nod to all the clichés of legal drama and always draws a laugh from me at least) from the long-running TV legal drama called, yes you guessed it, The Grinder. Like a Russian nesting doll, Rob Lowe (I never watched The West Wing but he was fantastic as the nefarious TV executive in Wayne’s World) plays TV star Dean Sanderson, Jr, who in turn played attorney Mitch Grinder, the lead in the fictional show The Grinder (hope you’re keeping up with me here). Dean is still very emotionally attached to his Mitch Grinder persona, and he never loses an opportunity to provide a commentary on his humorously overwrought performance of Mitch Grinder, for the benefit of his family, ensconced in their lounge room.
What’s an out of work actor like Dean to do? Apart from reliving his stardom as Mitch Grinder, he decides to parlay his skills learned as a fictional lawyer by joining the law firm Sanderson & Yao, headed by his father (played by William Devane) alongside Dean’s brother (Fred “The Wonder Years” Savage), both attorneys. Coincidentally, Fred Savage’s Wonder Years co-star Josh Saviano grew up to become a lawyer in real life, following a long and storied tradition of thespians giving up their auditions and scripts to pursue a legal career. The reverse is also common, with a string of lawyers turning in their briefs to become actors or comedians (Ronny Chieng being on prominent recent example). The intersection of acting and the law is fascinating to ponder, and probably explains the endurance of university law revues, featuring witty performances by law students who write, act and direct whilst cramming for exams and working long hours as paralegals for grinders who are under the pump to achieve the billables for the managing partner.
It’s a shame Fox axed The Grinder after one season, and the ratings was probably a key factor (why oh why do some quality shows have difficulty drawing in ratings?). Nevertheless, hopefully Mitch Grinder in endless of reruns of The Grinder somewhere in a screenwriter’s imagination and the memories of his fans like myself.