End of Season Report: The Mindy Project, Season 2

9 May

Mindy and friends

Overall, the second season of The Mindy Project was a success. The Mindy Project continues to get better season to season, and it has a fresh and new sense of humor that’s influenced by shows like The Office (where series star Mindy Kaling of course previously worked) and 30 Rock while having a voice all its own.

The major problems that tThe Mindy Project has and has had since the beginning are pretty much universally agreed upon both in everything I’ve ever read about the show and with every viewer I’ve talked to in person. Mindy’s character is fleshed out, three dimensional, and great. Chris Messina’s Danny is also a well-built full-fledged character and fantastic. Ike Barinholtz’s Morgan is a not nearly as complex, but is a perfect humorous side character to lead funny but less character-building  B plots. Outside of that trio, though, every other character just doesn’t click, and while this may sound like I’m simply repeating the problems the show had after the first season, it’s no less true now.

Actually, that’s not entire true. It’s slightly less true now. While Adam Pally’s character Peter Prentice seemed like an out-of-nowhere poorly fitting character when he was shoehorned in because TV unions promised to get the very talented cast of Happy Endings new jobs as soon as possible, he’s slowly emerged over the course of the season as a character who could actually be welcome in this universe. His frat-boy edges have been softened enough to actually feel for him somewhat, and his repartee with Mindy has sharpened. With her moving into full romance mode with Danny, Pally has emerged as a solid replacement as Mindy’s sounding board. He’s still not all the way there, but while I thought the show should not keep him around long term when he first appeared, I now think there could be a place for him.

As for everyone else, not so much. Characters have come and gone, welcomed into the fold and the discarded, more so than any program I can remember. Stephen Tobolowsky was the first, credited in the pilot, but gone thereafter (fair enough; many shows have pilot only character, but it was the start of a trend). Anna Camp as Mindy’s best friend Gwen Grandy fit the workplace vibe and was dropped. Shaunaa, the jersey girl administrative assistant was dropped soon afterwards. Jeremy, the other doctor in their practice, has made it through both seasons so far but hasn’t really found a place for himself and I would forget he ever existed if the show dropped him tomorrow (Mark Brandanowitz from Parks & Recreation style). Likewise, Betsy, who is actually slated to leave the show, old Beverly, and Tamra. A couple of these characters would be fine for background humor, given one or two lines an episode, something The Office mastered, carefully parceling out the use of one dimensional characters like Creed and Kevin. As anything more though, these characters are stretched beyond usefulness.  Mark DuPlass’s dastardly midwife (along with his more reserved brother) is better as a recurring character than any of these secondary characters.

That’s part of a trend as well. The recurring boyfriends Mindy has have been consistently excellent, and her and Danny getting together have made me despair for their absence. The show has been unafraid to have guys appear in solid multiple episode arcs, and the show is richer for that, as the boyfriends are often among the better characters in the show. Four or five episodes can be a perfect amount of time to build a character so that we care about him or her and wring all the comedy out without feeling stretched.  It’s to The Mindy Project’s credit that they’ve hit home runs with some of the choices.

The core is strong; Mindy does a great job of playing with rom com tropes, and particularly making stereotypically sexy scenes seem as silly and ridiculous as they should; her attempt to have airplane sex with Danny was a classic example of Mindy humor. The humor is a brand all her own and the show is very funny frequently. Mindy is a strong female character, but she’s a very different strong female character than her closest antecedent Liz Lemon. TV needs more strong female characters who are not necessarily just like any other existing strong female character and Mindy is a welcome addition to that growing group. The Mindy Project can do pathos as well, and its easy for viewers to connect with Mindy even through all of her (and Danny’s) ridiculous positions.

The core makes me return to Mindy, and it’s the most important part of what makes a show a success. It’s a lot better to have a strong core and struggle around the edges than the reverse. That is The Mindy Project’s problem though. It needs to fix those edges.  Comedies should get time to get the details right, and I can’t think of a great comedy that had the entire product together by day one – while dramas frequently peak with their debut seasons, comedies almost never do. Still, it’s two seasons in, and Mindy appears only marginally closer to figuring that out. Because the core is strong, I’ll follow it as long as it goes, even if it never solves the problems around the periphery. If it does though, it has a chance to go from a very funny show, to a truly canonical comedy, and with the strong writing, that’s a leap that I would greatly enjoy seeing it make.

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