Whenever a television comedy introduces a brief, but episode-driving celebrity guest star, I like to consider the long game.
Like, say it’s 2026, on a Tuesday at 2:30 p.m., and you’re 12 years old. Is the episode still funny? Do the characters still act normally? Is there a weird stiffness as though Justice Stephen Breyer just popped by unannounced? I sort of doubt The Mindy Project will live on in perpetual, Fahrenheit-451-wall-television saturation syndication like How I Met Your Mother or Big Bang Theory, but let’s say it does and a sixth grader is watching this episode in 2026, at best only vaguely recognizing James Franco.
The good news is, perhaps because of the high volume of guest stars on this show, things run normally. Of the two episodes featuring Franco, tonight’s is the funnier, offering a few solid bits (Mindy’s one-piece whipped cream bathing suit and the drinking contest) and a number of good one-liners before Franco exits.
Because Franco must steal away into the night to follow the migratory patterns of the elusive Florida panther or whatever, Dr. Paul Leotard must depart as well. The method of departure—drinking contest followed by poor decision—is not a revelation, but it is executed well. I watched this episode last week right after the premiere, and this exchange has been cracking me up ever since:
Paul: “How are you doing this?”
Mindy: “I ate an entire loaf of bread before I came here tonight.”
Paul: “Oh, so you knew we were going to do this.”
Mindy: “Nope, I just do that every night, dog.”
It’s a well the show goes to a lot and everything, I know, but it’s a well that’s proficient at telling drunk jokes. Mindy and Paul’s interactions, actually, constitute the highlight of the episode, from her frustration at his skeevy smarminess, to her goofy drunk kiss, and their panicked agreement not to tell Danny that Paul slept with Danny’s ex-wife in the dungeon/closet office. There are a lot of good little jokes in there, too, like Franco’s face when Kaling throws her bra at him.
But, as always, there are some weird tonal and character decisions. Danny is the most cheerful Danny has ever been on this show the morning after Paul and Christina have sex. First off, despite allegedly being moody over the second breakup of his marriage and stating that he doesn’t approve of Mindy’s drinking contest methods, Danny uncharacteristically delivers a hangover cure and giddily announces that Paul’s had sex. This is, secondly, unnecessary cheer! There’s no reason, in an alternate narrative here, Danny couldn’t just suss out that Paul had sex the night before with disgruntled suspicion with the rest of the confrontation scene proceeding from there. False cheer aside, the confrontation scene works pretty well, shoehorning in a lot of little laughs (Kaling saying, “We made love,” for instance) and efficiently sending off both Franco and, presumably for the short-term, Chlöe Sevigny.
The B-plot leaves something to be desired, with Bill Hader appearing again to sort of muted effect. While I love watching people play basketball terribly, the character seems a couple clicks off, and the basketball pick-up game group comes off more like a fix thrown out to fill out the episode than a developed plot.
And at the end of it, we’re right back where we started in the last episode of last season, awaiting a new slate of plots.
- The Varsity Blues bathing suit cold open was good for two laughs, but felt like it was missing a third good joke to it, rather than defaulting to the ants thing. “Go to the shower, and let me just see you rinse it off” was pretty good, though.
- Franco’s weirdo sincerity is the source of a few good laughs, from, “Hillary is happily married to her husband Bill Clinton” to “And remember, I’m a sex therapist, so the sex was extraordinary.” There are certain things that are just going to be funnier if he says them.
- Two things of mild note in these first two episodes: One, we still haven’t seen much done with Jeremy’s weight gain besides some sight gags and a few throwaway references. Is that just going to be an ongoing thing, or is there an episode in the pipeline here?
- Two, it feels like we’ve seen less of Ike Barinholtz compared to last season. Since there have also been next to no scenes with Zoe Jarman (Betsy), I don’t know if there’s much to make of that.
- “He is a godsend. You don’t return gifts to heaven.”
- “Because she’d be so grateful, she’d pay for my ticket home.”