If you thought The Mindy Project might return this fall renovated and retooled, outright professing a cohesive vision for what it is and should be, well, hey, you were wrong. The show ain’t much different than it ever was.
In fact, we kick it right back into play pretty much from where the first season ended. Fresh off a summer doing mission work in Haiti, Mindy and pastor Casey get engaged. She suffers gall stones, and we’re right back in New York (which makes sense, because Mindy can’t be in Haiti for this show to function), dealing straight on with the plot elements presented in last season’s finale: Danny’s relationship with his ex-wife and whether Casey and Mindy will continue on. Also, James Franco shows up as Dr. Paul Leotard, sex therapist. And along with it, there’s the show: veering all over the place in tone, but being funny throughout.
The way I come at The Mindy Project, and probably will henceforth, is like it is an charming but sort of rundown house, and one could spend an endless amount of idle days imagining different ways to renovate the house.
So, to the game tape, what isn’t working here?
Mindy clearly isn’t marrying Casey. (Obviously this week, but also ever.) Anders Holm is solid as Casey, he gets a good line here and there, and the idea behind the character works. But he and Kaling don’t have much chemistry, and the character is more stand-in than serious candidate, and doesn’t offer to the show the same verve that Josh (Tommy Dewey) did. So The Mindy Project wisely sort of sends him off into the sunset, set to the Flaming Lips' banging cover of "Borderline," still engaged to Mindy, but not marrying her.
What will that do? Well, it might put the romantic comedy subplots on the backburner in place of workplace comedy for the time being. Or it might just be a hilarious and/or needless complication down the road, with Mindy continuing to half-purse the romantic elements of the show’s repertoire in the interim. Either way, the premiere builds to an expected conclusion—that Mindy and Casey won’t marry—and staves it off instead of just getting it over with for reasons unclear.
Second, and more to the point of some of the show’s weirdo mechanics, there are some tone issues with the Danny plot this week. Danny is the obvious straight man; James Franco is obviously absurd. If ever there were a time for dry sarcasm, it’s James Franco skeezing out, “The ear is the clitoris of the head” on an audio track while a second party is trying to initiate sex. Danny reacts to the sex therapy subplot somewhere between seriousness and the awareness of the audience, and the show leaves a lot on the table there. We only get a few good sketch lines out of Franco (and the sperm thing doesn’t really work), and the porn resolution is sort of out of left field.
Now, the flip side of this enduring tone conundrum is the very fine fire escape scene between Mindy and Danny. Kaling and Messina, as always, excel in a realist scene that balances a touch of normal humor with the openness both actors have. “I just got good at pretending to like things I don’t like,” Mindy tells him. That’s one of the double-edged sword conceits of adulthood—tricking yourself into liking things to get by, and possibly tricking yourself too well. One of the show's core concepts is Mindy frequently doesn't actually want the things she thinks she does, and this idea folds well into that.
But, I mean, I’m being a little heady for the topic at hand: This is a half hour comedy that’s pretty pleasant, if disjointed, not, like, a treatise on chemical weapons. If you don’t think James Franco skeezing out, “The ear is the clitoris of the head” on an audio sex tape is funny, then I don’t know what to tell you. Same thing with nurse Tamara looking at Mindy’s haircut and snapping, “Uh-uh. I told you. We don’t want no candy bars, little boy.” The twin jokes of the proposal (“It looks like a douche ad—“ “Not exactly the best segue”) and the abrupt wedding postponement (“I don’t want to marry you. I mean, like this. I do want to marry you—I want to marry her”) also made me laugh.
And as per usual, the physical comedy beats are really good. Chloe Sevigny breaking Danny’s laptop or Casey peeing on Mindy’s wedding dress look only okay on the page here, but the timing works really well in the episode.
That’s how The Mindy Project goes, I guess! Some good laughs, surrounded by a number of oddly shaped pieces. Here comes season two.
- Ayo, I’ll be reviewing the show this year for T.V. Club. Full disclosure: I loved the Christmas episode last year, I have an identical taste in music as this show, I love cameos by athletes, and this show does crack me up enough that I like it.
- “Okay, I would win every wet t-shirt contest I entered because I have huge knockers and they look great damp—“ “Okay. That’s enough.”
- “What? Is this Taliban? I can’t look at a man anymore?”
- I'm glad that Mindy gets to wake up in a hospital bed with full eye makeup, because if we can't do that on TV, then when can we?
- Mindy's father wants her to get married on the Freedom Trail.
- Everyone’s always thinking about Tom Hardy.