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

The Mindy Project: “L.A.”

Illustration for article titled The Mindy Project: “L.A.”

T.V. show casts have been taking off to California since the days of I Love Lucy (Sex And The City’s two episodes in L.A. also come to mind). This week The Mindy Project begins a two-episode West Coast-themed arc written by Mindy Kaling and Tracey Wigfield. The premise is that Jeremy is sending Mindy, Peter, and Danny (with Morgan tagging along) to L.A. to attend a cosmetic injectables conference to “enhance not only the haggard female face but also potentially our revenue stream.” As Mindy is a sitcom set in New York but actually filmed in L.A., this kind of lessens the wow factor.

The result, unfortunately, is an episode that feels oddly disjointed and not at all tethered to the rest of the season, which is unfortunate since the show has been on a superlative streak for quite a while. Even the editing is weird: After the obligatory en route airplane conversations (anyone know what was up with Mindy’s weird somnambulant mumblings?), a signature Sheryl Crow song meant to announce the cast’s L.A. arrival gets cut off in a very haphazard way. Then Mindy and Peter are cruising in a convertible, and in the very next scene, Morgan accuses Danny of being cooped up in his hotel room all week. They’ve been there a week? And what reason would Morgan have to move Danny to the Y with him? And why is Morgan even there again? It feels rushed, and forced, and like a bunch of scenes that would have tied this all together got cut.

I think about and talk about this show a lot, as you might imagine, and most of the time I’m pulling for it because honestly it’s all too rare for me to bust out laughing at the T.V. (unless I’m watching Archer). So I truly love Mindy’s homerun throwaway lines, like Casey losing five cats to sharks (“they were rescues”), or “guest cameo” Kevin Smith desperately trying to name-drop Matt Damon. But do 14 one-liners add up to a great show, or am I just enjoying the ride from wisecrack to wisecrack? Sitcoms don’t have to feature exemplary people as main characters (look at Seinfeld, for example), but many of the most recent successful efforts have managed to inject their shows with large doses of heart, so that we actually care about the public servants of Pawnee or the employees of Dunder Mifflin or the students at Greendale Community College.

In this episode, Mindy seems to be trying to pull out all the emotional stops, but it hasn’t earned them yet. We’ve only seen Mindy in a relationship with Cliff in one full episode so far, so why should we care if they live together? Or break up? And why would Cliff call and tell Mindy about his new apartment? Did he just forget their whole cohabitation discussion?

Unfortunately, I can barely care about the rest of the episode either: the reappearance of faux-hawked Casey, only there to cause problems for Mindy and Cliff (it would have been nice if Mindy got some actual insight out of running into  him, like perhaps that was another relationship in which she moved too fast); the adventures of Danny and Morgan in Old West Town and Mindy and Peter at the pool party; Peter’s pointless search for Maria Menounos, especially since their hookup ended up so perfectly in “Christmas Party Sex Trap.” But at least Pat O’Brien’s takedown of Peter was pretty epic.

The episode ends with not one but two devastating phone conversations. The most successful “dramatic” arc this week involves Danny finally calling his father, which his does from a tiny room at the Y, completely isolated from everyone else on the show. His swigs from a whiskey bottle, his plaintive voicemail message to Mindy, the cross on the wall: it’s an exemplary scene in an episode with far too few of them, mostly due to Chris Messina, who is bringing it here. He even swallows meaningfully, and you know by the way he grips the phone receiver that calling his estranged father is about the scariest thing he’s ever done in his life.


Glenn Howerton also does an effective job in his breakup phone call with Mindy, but again something was off in the editing room. Mindy returns to her hotel room to plug in her phone and sees a whole string of calls from Cliff. She calls him, and he says he’s ready to move in. We cut to her happy face, and then the next cut is him grimacing and saying that he can’t do this, because he saw a photo of her and her ex Casey at the fancy L.A. pool party. So I guess the photo just popped up while they were talking. Or did he find this out ahead of time? It’s all so poorly put together, but Cliff’s explanation about his life as a divorce attorney certainly rings true that he would be more cautious than most. Howerton makes the scene work in spite of itself.

Of course, I predict that this will all be resolved next week (my speculative guess: Mindy will comfort Danny after a devastating discussion with his father, and the two will finally realize they have true feelings for each other, just in time for Cliff to say he’s made a terrible mistake in dumping her). And it looks like the show’s excellent casting of the Castellano family will continue with Dan Hedaya next week as Danny’s father. I look forward to that, and more great emotional work from Messina, and a chance for The Mindy Project to rebound from this week.


Stray observations:

  • Chris Messina looks so good in a cowboy hat he should be calling his agent to scout out Westerns. Seriously, he should wear one all the time.
  • “Hey, I mean this in a nice way, but please don’t hang out with us when we’re in L.A.”
  • Entourage left us almost three years ago (although apparently the prospective movie version is still floating around), so all the Johnny Drama references seem pretty tired.
  • Mindy wrote Cliff a joke prescription for infinite cuteness.
  • “I’m obviously pretty sure that I’m Hindu.”
  • Casey’s shoe store has a whole wall of sneakers with naked women on them.
  • Vaginal rejuvenation for the obese: apparently a thing.
  • Like Mindy and Peter bonding over the necessity for a “full-toppings” sliders bar.
  • Always happy to see Richie, however briefly, especially at a Taylor Lautner appreciation party. “I gotta go, Ramon just swallowed a sparkler.”
  • How is a radish plate a draw?
  • I want to sit in the splashzone at the Captain Phillips Stunt Show.