The Mindy Project: “Teen Patient”
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The Mindy Project: “Teen Patient”

I may just have to retract all that stuff I was saying about The Mindy Project cementing its status as a workplace comedy in its first few episodes. Even though the main plot of “Teen Patient” is connected to Mindy’s job, the episode is mostly just her on a weird little high-school adventure trying to convince a teenaged friend not to have sex with her boyfriend. There is some very lackluster material at the office (which really just laid bare how much this show struggles when Mindy’s offscreen) but mostly this episode is about Mindy, her 15-year-old friend Sophia, and the valuable lessons she learns about her own relationship with Josh.

There are some fun moments in Mindy’s watered-down Never Been Kissed experiment, which mostly involve her yelling at kids for getting in her way and end with her getting arrested for passing out condoms to Sophia and the volleyball team (she tries to play the race card as she’s dragged away, but concedes that the cops would probably arrest a white man for doing the same thing). But the whole thing come out of nowhere, especially the introduction of the Sophia character, and that really robs the episode of any possible impact.

We don’t even really get an idea of who Sophia is—I guess she lives in Mindy’s apartment building and they have some sort of big sister-little sister relationship? In her first scene, Mindy’s offering to take her shopping for American Girl doll accessories, and the whole thing comes off as weird, particularly since we don’t know to whom Mindy is talking. I will say I appreciated the gag of Sophia reading Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and Mindy reading a novelization of the film Iron Man (“I thought Gwyneth Paltrow would be in it more”). It’s such a ridiculous thing for anyone to be reading, it made that very standard joke work well.

But Sophia is basically still a mystery when she walks into Mindy’s office and asks for birth control, because she’s 15 and she has a boyfriend and she wants to start having sex. Now, one problem is that the actress playing Sophia, Kara Crane, does not look remotely 15 (I’d peg her in her early 20s). Another problem is that Mindy’s relationship with the character is so vague, her extreme reaction just seems a little off. Mindy goes on an anti-sex crusade, following Sophia to school, interrogating her boyfriend, and even introducing her to Josh to try and convince her that waiting is a good idea. I think the audience might be more invested if Sophia felt like a real character, but instead she comes off a little jerky, especially since Sophia is doing the responsible thing by asking for birth control.

The obvious joke, to me, is that Mindy is the last person to be lecturing anyone on responsibility when it comes to relationships. And there’s some material centered on that, but a lot of the high-school material is broad and slapstick-y and serves only to undercut whatever serious feelings Mindy might actually have about Sophia’s decision. In the end, she wins the girls over by saying that they should stop being so obsessed with eternity and worry more about herpes. The first point, a totally valid one, just reinforces that kids should have fun and do whatever they like as long as it’s consensual. And the second just reinforces that you should have safe sex. Nonetheless, Sophia decides to wait a while for reasons that are not terribly clear.

I don’t care too much about the point of view a fun half-hour comedy is foisting on me, but I’d at least like it to be coherent, and “Teen Patient” just isn’t. The only real standout scene is the one with Josh (where Sophia’s tough questions have him stammering over the issue of life-long commitment to Mindy). That’s mostly because Tommy Dewey is increasingly great in this role. He’s keeping the douchey edge, but his game-for-anything energy (like being asked probing questions by a 15-year-old girl at lunch) is undeniably charming. I hope the show keeps him around for a while, even though having Mindy in a serious, committed relationship might really mess with the premise that she’s a single-lady mess.

The other plot this week had to do with Betsy not liking people ogling Morgan and drawing a compliment out of Danny, who tells her she’s sexy while looking at the ground and being very nervous. As much as I found fault with Mindy’s plot this week, Kaling is a lot of fun to watch onscreen even when things get stupid. But the doctor’s office is a real drag, especially any storyline involving Betsy, who is a painfully one-note character. Chris Messina does his best with Danny’s embarrassment over the whole situation, but mostly the plot reinforces my impression that this show’s supporting characters are still painfully thin.

Stray observations:

  • Another random new character in the opening scene: an intern who Morgan assaults because he’s role-play attacking Mindy. Kind of an elaborate setup for a simple (if funny) physical gag.
  • Mindy is shocked that Sophia went to a street-art class. “Like that criminal Banksy? There’s a class about him?”
  • Morgan says ogling women is one of two problems for men in his family. “Staring at beautiful things. And gout.”
  • The “slime” gag is a good one. Nice, weird way to deal with the classic trope of teens following mysterious trends.
  • Mindy (who has been arrested twice now) thanks Danny for bailing her out. “I shall get you one beautiful orchid.”

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