For a sitcom that went from subway ride meet-cute to full-scale women’s prison riot in less than a half-hour, this episode was predictably all over the place, never truly settling on one theme. Plot fared considerably better despite the aforementioned thematic shift, but at least there was some continuity between the plot surrounding Mindy’s love life with the one about her work life. “My Cool Christian Boyfriend” was a streamlined affair, moving seamlessly from one setting to another, a considerable mark in its favor.
The meet-cute is between Mindy and Casey (Workaholics’ Anders Holm), a seemingly perfect Lutheran minister who gets Moby to score his sermons. Their courtship began similarly to Mindy’s relationship with Josh, her most significant relationship to date; she’s immediately turned off until she notices he’s hitting on her and suddenly has a dinner engagement. After Casey rejects Mindy for the core principle of her character at this point—her own selfishness—she volunteers at a women’s prison with the rest of the office crew to prove him wrong. And to make the rest of the cast work for that paycheck.
There were a couple of interesting themes that reared their heads throughout “My Cool Christian Boyfriend”: religion versus altruism and selflessness. The episode starts off exploring the former, then switches gears in the middle, focusing on the latter even though both could have covered the whole half hour. Religion can be a sticky situation for a young sitcom, especially one that is struggling so hard to find its identity, like The Mindy Project. Casey’s religion can be (gently) mocked on the surface because he’s the new guy. His only character trait so far is his job and his height. But Mindy isn’t a strong enough character to explore her identity through the lens of her religion yet, even if that means she doesn’t have one. Otherwise, the entire episode would just be a half hour of Danny riffing on what he does to make himself more Catholic, like going to brises or fasting for Ramadan. That’s fine for a riff, but it’s not a full episode. Holm is back for another three episodes, so I might be eating my words, but writer Jack Burditt dodged a bullet by choosing the shallower route this episode.
But by not following the more complicated thread, “My Cool Christian Boyfriend” did exactly what every other episode of The Mindy Project seems to do. Mindy bristles against her own flaws and, after much embarrassment, finds that those flaws are not as bad as they seem. So instead of looking at the role of faith or god or following a non-Judeo-Christian belief system, “My Cool Christian Boyfriend” finds Mindy trying to be selfless to impress someone else and, of course, make herself feel better about her own shortcomings by going to a women’s prison. So Mindy is placed into two potentially hilarious scenarios and neither of them is particularly funny because we’ve seen most of it before. “My Cool Christian Boyfriend” could have been a potentially disastrous episode, but without taking any kind of risk, it’s ho-hum, even during a prison riot.
If we’re going to start talking well-worn Mindy Project problems, let’s get into the ensemble. Everyone in the ensemble, save for Jeremy, just did not feel right to me this episode, even though no one was given a ton of screentime. As the resident ex-con, this should be Morgan’s episode. While he ended up with my favorite lines (“I understand that boxes are fun to play with, but people in Haiti need supplies”), he felt out of step this episode, emulating a guard rather than an erstwhile prisoner. Morgan's constant need to take charge and protect could point to this character shift, but hearing him talk about being an ex-con so often felt like Chekov's gun never fired. (Although I did enjoy his fake backstories for each doctor, namely making Danny Asian.)
I continue to dislike Betsy, mainly because I don’t get her shtick and there’s only so much the writers can do with the deer-in-headlights innocent. Why did she tell the prisoner to step off Susan, when her entire character thus far has pointed to her cowering in fear to a more intimidating figure? Even Danny, who usually has the strongest characterization, felt off. I totally giggled at: “I just met the first female casino robber. She said she broke the glass ceiling. I guess that’s what set off the alarm.” But that’s not a Danny line. That’s a Morgan line in the same way that if this was Cheers, it would be a Coach line. Danny is the cynical sad-sack Norm Peterson, lovable in his own right, but certainly not the doltish Coach. And, while I enjoy having Rishi around, I’m not entirely sure the writers can keep having him plausibly show up unless Stanford has a multi-episode spanning spring break. While it may lead to mediocrity, The Mindy Project needs to hold off on tackling big issues so it can sort out its basic elements. God, of course, is in the details.
- Thanks to David for letting me check in. He’ll be back for Thursday’s episode.