"How ‘The Mindy Project’ Can Pull A ‘New Girl’ In Its Second Season By Mashing Up RomComs and Medicine"
When Fox announced that it would be airing The Mindy Project, a sitcom by The Office star and writer Mindy Kaling, based in part on Kaling’s own mother’s work as an OB/GYN, I had high hopes. Like many freshman comedies, particularly its timeslot partner New Girl, The Mindy Project had a first season that involved throwing a lot of elements at the wall to see what stuck and what didn’t. Last night’s finale of The Mindy Project, though, contained a near-perfect sequence that united the series’ two core elements, the practice of medicine, and the pursuit of romantic comedy perfect, and provided a terrific template for how the show can follow New Girl‘s lead and level up dramatically in its second season.
Pulled out of a party to celebrate Mindy and Casey’s moving to Haiti for a year that had become an utter disaster after Danny’s ex-wife had praised his androgyny in a photograph, Mindy had tried to get Casey to break up with her by demanding that he propose, and Casey, unaware that he was playing relationship poker, called her bet and asked her to marry him on the advice of “the Notorious G.O.D.” and she freaked out, Mindy, Danny, and Jeremy ran off to deliver triplets. Their display of extreme competence, set, in a flashback to the premiere, to M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls,” not only gave Mindy a professional win and the ensemble a nice character moment, with Jeremy bragging that the triplet that he was responsible for “had the highest Apgar score.” But the willingness of Mindy’s patients to embrace the chaos of triplets also gave her a critical insight in what she needs to have a grand romantic comedy moment, and it isn’t a checklist of compatibility, or a meet cute in an elevator: it was courage. She rushed to Casey’s apartment, delivered a demented speech on the gap between her aspirations to be in a serious relationship and her actual ability to handle her dream scenario, revealed her chopped-off hair, and reunited with her pastor boyfriend.
This is The Mindy Project‘s sweet spot, the interaction between Mindy’s role as an expert in the mechanics of what it takes to have safe sex or deliver a health baby, or what makes an individual moment cinema-worthy, and her total lack of understanding about how two people get to a point where they want to have a baby in the first place. The finest episodes of the show’s first season were the ones where Mindy’s work helped her realize important things about her approach to dating and relationships—and ultimately made a sly argument that even if Mindy has to run out of dates and parties to deliver children, her commitment to her career is actually one of the things that’s helping her make incremental progress towards a healthier personal life.
In “Teen Patient,” the day that Mindy spends with Sofia, her neighbor and long-time patient, trying to convince the younger girl that she should take the decision to have sex for the first time seriously brought up her anxieties about commitment to her boyfriend Josh, and to a serious and funny conversation between them about how to approach the long-term (that Josh turned out to be a coke-addicted cheater was another issue entirely). Mindy’s competition with the midwives upstairs has been one of the show’s most productive long-running gags, bringing out Mindy’s devotion to her medically-based approach to gynecology and obstetrics, as well as romantic complications when she mistook midwife Brendan’s (Mark Duplass) general sensitivity for monogamy. The culture clash between them is sharp and funny both personally and professionally, and continued into the finale as Brendan congratulated Mindy on her move to Haiti by telling her that it was something he would do, then declared to her that “people of color can have white people problems,” a sharp injection of class analysis into the show’s racial politics. If The Mindy Project can find more opportunities to marry its strong riffs on romantic comedic situations like Mindy’s visit to the Empire State Building or her Harry-Met-Sally failed relationship to better procedural scenarios that show Mindy interacting with her clients, it’ll have an extremely strong two-part formula on which to hang its second-season episodes.
But to make that formula work, I think The Mindy Project needs to clean up its messy edges. Mindy’s office life is cluttered, and if the show can’t find better story lanes for its older receptionist or African-American nurse other than having the former be bigoted and irascible and the latter be musical and whimsical, maybe they should go. Nurse Morgan’s anarchistic approach to life seems mostly like an effort to give Jeremy more storylines because he isn’t a part of the unfulfilled sexual tension between Mindy and Danny, though the show could reintegrate him into that dynamic by renewing his casual sexual relationship with Mindy in between her boyfriends. Mindy’s friends could also stand more time on screen, particularly the excellent Anna Camp, whose Gwen Grandy could provide Mindy a tie into a larger New York social context, as well as a married friend who could provide the kind of counterpoint to Mindy’s own life that her patients also provide.
These are tweaks around the edges, though. The Mindy Project has always had the core elements of an excellent sitcom. All the show has to do is trust them.