The Mindy Project: “Take Me With You”
B+

The Mindy Project: “Take Me With You”

When our own Todd VanDerWerff wrote that The Mindy Project could improve by embracing its author and her point of view much as Louie encapsulates the perspective of Louis C.K., it made a lot of sense to me. This is Mindy Kaling’s show, complete with her name in the title and everything, and the most logical fix for a show searching for an identity is to focus on the identity that was built into its premise if also buried in the ephemera necessary to get the show past network executives on the air (which the show has been shedding throughout the season).

However, watching the first season’s finale, I was struck by another point of comparison. As Mindy confronts her boyfriend Casey about the fact that she doesn’t want to go to Haiti, and she doesn’t want to get engaged, I realized the show was making a rather sophisticated point. Mindy didn’t only not want to go to Haiti because it would involve spending a year in a tent (a prospect that many in the office believed she couldn’t stomach as a woman who once freaked out over a butterfly in her apartment); rather, she didn’t want to go to Haiti because it would mean spending a year in a tent with another person. Mindy isn’t scared of commitment so much as she’s scared of losing her independence, of her life changing from being about searching for her place in life to actually finding it and working out how it’s supposed to work (which sure sounds a lot like The Mindy Project itself, but let’s focus on the storylines and not the meta-commentary). Her camping trip with Casey was supposed to prove that she could tough it out in Haiti, but instead, it was a test of if she wanted to cohabitate with someone who’s all elbows and penis.

That may seem like a rather crude description of a character within something I’m calling sophisticated, but at its core The Mindy Project is—not unlike Louie at times—a show with often silly situations that can be about something more complex than those situations suggest. “Take Me With You” does a better job than most of the season of positioning Mindy as a woman balancing her career and—rather than just romance—her sense of self, her increasingly messy relationship history adding up to big questions that aren’t as simple as “Why can’t I get a date?” In isolation, some of the season’s episodes read that way, as the show struggled to find its tone and rhythm. But “Take Me With You” brings together some of Mindy’s ex-love interests at that party to give Mindy and the show a moment of self-reflection, one that’s interrupted when her job—so inconsistently rendered this season—beckons.

It’s also an episode that is silly and charming in a way that other parts of the season were not. Anders Holm has been really strong as Casey, walking nicely on the edge between straight man and comic foil, and it paid off here. With Mindy in closer proximity to Casey, the quirks start to add up: I particularly like Mindy’s subtle disgust at his willingness to both eat the piece of corn that flew into her eye and his desire to share gum, small details that would be fine in isolation but in close quarters start to drive her nuts. The character never loses his basic decency for the sake of a joke, his proposal no less serious but much funnier for including the phrase “Notorious G-O-D,” and when Mindy goes to his window to convince him she is serious about their relationship the series earns some wacky neighbor banter without turning the entire storyline into a joke. It’s a silly situation—Mindy does trick him with both a fake demand to get married and a fake pregnancy, after all—with a deeper meaning, the kind of balance that helps the show build its characters and settle into its own skin.

The show isn’t yet at the point where everything feels organic. I realize that Ike Barinholtz’s Morgan is the show’s closest thing to a breakout character, but the show has never managed to find logical reasons for him to come along in situations like the camping trip except those that reduce his character to an invasive nuisance in the lives of others. Along similar lines, the show has always sort of danced around the potential for a relationship between Mindy and Danny, but the writers’ efforts to turn it into a thing in the final scene required the show to push Danny’s conversation with Christina—an effective Chloë Sevigny—off-screen unproductively. The series may have laid the groundwork for Mindy and Danny’s connection over the course of the season, but it still felt rushed, a grand gesture to build anticipation where the rest of the episode provided enough evidence of the show’s improvements without necessitating romantic plot twists.

The Mindy Project is an inherently romantic show, and certainly the show’s embrace of romantic comedy has helped it improve as the season wore on. However, one of its struggles is that by embracing an almost procedural collection of potential suitors—because the show discovered they like Mindy dating more than they like Mindy in a secure relationship—there’s a difficulty in making this feel like a sophisticated take on the romantic comedy when you’re having to prematurely end relationships or delay potential couplings in order to keep the “Mindy struggles to find the right guy” wheels turning. What “Take Me With You” got right was finding a way to spin this collection of relationships into a meaningful and cumulative conclusion, one that leaves Mindy’s future in flux as she heads off to Haiti alongside Casey with a new haircut and a new outlook on life; what it doesn’t answer is what the show will be able to do to get back into their rhythm next season without artificially disrupting the developments of the finale.

I feel more comfortable with that uncertainty after “Take Me With You.” The choice to use M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls” as a link back to the pilot is smart, and it results in a great sequence—itself a stylistic callback to the pilot—as Mindy, Danny, and Jeremy prepare to deliver the triplets introduced earlier in the episode. It’s an artful scene, and one that nicely isolates Mindy’s professional life in ways that nonetheless—as the subsequent conversation with the mother—reflect on her personal concerns. That’s an angle the show never used particularly effectively this season, and the choice to return to it helped this episode feel solid in a way the season as a whole hasn’t. Even if it was still messy—its original title was It’s Messy for a reason, it seems—and even if there are still some questions left about how the show is going to move forward, ending on a funny, confident and more or less cohesive note is the kind of statement that buys curiosity if not outright excitement for what’s to come next season.

Finale Grade: B+
Season Grade: B-

Stray observations:

  • I was talking about this with Joe Reid on Twitter, but the show’s attempts to evoke its New York City setting are pretty consistently terrible, especially in this episode. There was at least a sort of retro charm to the backlot set for Casey’s apartment, but the final tracking shot out of the hospital window became a complete mess when the angle changed. Go back to your recording and watch Mindy and Danny become two-dimensional. Just watch it.
  • As much as I’m not really on board with Danny and Mindy as a romantic pairing, at least not in the haphazard way suggested here, I liked the way the scene used the natural swelling of “Midnight City” to suggest it’s building to a kiss that never comes. I thought the music was giving something away, but it was really just false signification, deployed effectively.
  • There were a lot of nice laugh lines in the scene at Casey’s apartment building, which flowed nicely, but I think “It was a boy the whole time” gets points for the callback to the earlier short hair conversation.
  • “For the record, a person of color can have white people problems”—I never entirely took to Mark Duplass on this show, but that was a nice line and a nice subsequent conversation.
  • For the future, building on some of Todd's argument, I like the idea of treating the season as a set of, say, four or five different relationship arcs for Mindy. Hire some great comic actors like Anders Holm, give them some time to build a relationship and test out different dynamics, and let the workplace stuff feed off of that.
  • It’s unfortunate that circumstances didn’t allow David to offer some closing thoughts on the season, so I hope he’ll join us in the comments to offer his own perspective once his DVR stops being a jerk.

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