Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Mindy Project: “Halloween”

Illustration for article titled The Mindy Project: “Halloween”

After four episodes of The Mindy Project, I’m relatively certain every episode of the show has had a slightly different premise from the one before. This isn’t a bad thing! A young show should take a little time to figure out what works best for it and come up with a formula that works for it. The problem is that I’m still not precisely sure what kind of show this is going to be. That’s a problem because at least one of those shows is one I’m just not all that interested in, and if the series chases after it, I doubt I’m going to stick with it long-term. That’s the danger of doing a show that tosses so many different elements into the mix: Every viewer is going to like some element of it better than some other element, and an emphasis on one over another is going to drive a certain portion of the audience away.

Specifically, I’m not a huge fan of the “Mindy needs to find her dream guy” side of the show. The reason for it isn’t that I dislike romantic comedy—far from it. Instead, I think I’ve just seen too much TV. It seems self-evident to me that Mindy will eventually end up with Danny, and the show will end with them riding off into the sunset happily together. The show is already head-faking in this direction with all of the scenes the two share, and even if it’s theoretically possible that she ends up with Jeremy or Stephen Tobolowsky or something, there’s just no one in the cast she sparks with like Danny. And this is before the show has bothered to really turn this into a will-they/won’t-they relationship! We’re still at least a few months away from that sort of story!

All of this means that Mindy’s “date of the week” storylines are rarely all that interesting to me. For instance, tonight, we see Mindy has continued to date Josh, the just-nice-enough douchebag we met in the last new episode several weeks ago. (I briefly thought he was a new character before remembering that, no, he was introduced in the last episode, and it’s just been that long since this show aired.) Josh is a lawyer who works at ESPN, and he’s the kind of guy who’s casually jerky, as if he’s daring you to ask if he’s really serious or just fucking with you. Truth is, I kind of enjoyed Josh’s douchiness—one of the few outright laughs I got in the episode came when he said he was still scrolling through Kaitlins in his phone’s contact list. But anybody who’s seen TV before knows that Josh won’t be long for this world because his name’s not in the main credits. The same is true of all of the times we drop in on some story about Mindy’s past relationships, particularly her lengthy relationship with Tom, who pops up again tonight mostly to remind us he exists, I guess.

The question, then, is if these relationships reveal anything interesting to us about Mindy. She’s the main character and all, and she’s the reason we’re supposed to be watching. And I’m not sure a single one of these relationships has just yet. The Tom relationship is essentially all exposition at this point—and poorly delivered exposition at that—and even if it’s sort of amusing that this has all broken Mindy up so much that she seems to think sending all of Tom’s friends a video of him spitting out too-hot pizza would be the ultimate revenge, I still don’t get the point of this. Mindy has sadness in her past? Is that it? Because it seems awfully generic at this point.

Similarly, Mindy’s ultimate decision to go out with Josh to his Halloween party doesn’t really tell us anything either. It seems that one of the qualities we’re meant to associate with Mindy is that she doesn’t quit, so it’s meant to be a triumph when she gets off her couch and throws together a Diane Chambers costume. But persistence in the workplace or persistence with a love interest the audience actually cares about are a far cry from persistence with some guy we know won’t stick around, some guy who’s mostly just been a dick so far. I like Tommy Dewey’s handling of patter quite a bit, but one of the weird things about this show is that it seems to confuse being a dick with being charming. Everybody on this show is an asshole for no real good reason. That would be cool if it were a conscious choice, but the show also seems to think being an asshole is really, really likable. I’m not sure it works just yet, though it’s the sort of thing that could definitely be okay with further calibration.

Anyway, the episode is saved by sending Jeremy and Danny off into the hinterlands of Long Island so the two can get their drivers licenses. There’s not much to this plot, which mostly exists to play up the differences between the two most prominent male cast members, but I’m enjoying Chris Messina’s work as Danny quite a bit, and this is a good showcase for the way he actually makes being an asshole kind of charming. Plus, as the storyline rattles to its conclusion, the series offers a rationale for this whole “likable dick” thing it seems vaguely trapped by: Assholes are just so much more passionate, you know? Jeremy skates by on charm and likability, but he doesn’t really care. Danny cares about everything, and that makes him intolerable some of the time. It’s a fairly neat dichotomy, but it’s one that could work for the show going forward. (This is also the first time I’ve really enjoyed Ed Weeks in the role of Jeremy. He and Messina play well off of each other, and I’m guessing the show will give them more storylines together.)


If I enjoyed that plotline—which, to be fair, was about half the episode—I was mostly confused by the Mindy storyline, which had lots of moments where I knew I was supposed to be laughing, but I just wasn’t. (The main one was that long montage of “funny” costumes that just reminded me how much more TV characters care about Halloween than anyone else who has ever lived.) Plus, the show’s cast continues to be ridiculously overstuffed, even as the actors don’t appear in every episode. I still don’t know what Anna Camp is doing in this thing, for instance, and the two—two!—receptionist/assistant/data entry characters seem vaguely redundant as well. Halloween episodes are a good chance to define who characters are by showing who they’d like to be, and I think it’s telling that Mindy chooses to dress up as Diane, a smart, occasionally caustic woman who gave as good as she got. You can see the seeds of that in Mindy Lahiri, but too often, she seems to take and take and take.

Stray observations:

  • I did like Mindy letting out an exasperated “ugh” to the advice she was getting from a first-grader with a lisp.
  • I just don’t see that there’s any way for the show to continue using those opening credits. They remind me too damn much of that chicken song that was used on The Good Wife.
  • David’s cable was garbled, thanks to Hurricane Sandy. You’ll see him again next week, when he will surely do a much better job than I have.