Slanted and enchanted

The Mindy Project – “Magic Morgan”

Wow. Sitting here, trying to find the words to talk about this episode of The Mindy Project, and it’s the only one coming to mind. Wow. Last week’s episode ended on a promising note, actually hitting the cheeky, sentimental tone the show seems to be going for, and maybe it’s residual good will from that ending, but for the most part, The Mindy Project delivered on the promise. And most surprising of all, the A story heavily features Morgan, often the most grating character on the show by a substantial amount.

Let’s talk about Morgan. Ike Barinhotlz is a gifted comedic actor and writer, but for almost the entire series so far, Morgan has been The Mindy Project‘s equivalent to later-seasons Kevin Malone from The Office: a bizarrely imbecilic man-child who was much more grating than endearing. But in “Magic Morgan”–which, as baldly stated by Mindy early in the episode, takes some cues from the grossly abhorrent Good Luck Chuck–he’s much more of an affable goofball, and Barinholtz gives his most nuanced performance on the show ever, which, admittedly, isn’t that difficult. That’s not to say there weren’t annoying Morgan moments, as there certainly were, most notably the scene where Morgan plans to sue Mindy for sexual harassment unless she goes with him on a nice date, but in the scenes in Mindy’s apartment and the date they go on later, Morgan is balanced and the humor fits the rest of show much better. Most impressive is their scene at the quarry, where Barinholtz is gently understated and plays off Mindy Kaling in one of the show’s most emotional scenes. (Some of that credit is due to Jesse Novak’s score, which took on some interesting new flavors in this episode.)

Speaking of, Mindy Kaling is a knockout in this episode. While others haven’t nailed the balance between the dramatic and comedic beats, here she slips in and out of each with ease. Perhaps it’s the fact that the rest of the show around her is actually following suit, but Kaling delivers in every one of her scenes, even the less-than-great lawsuit scene mentioned above. The episode is bookended by two of her strongest talents, big physical comedy and big emotional moments, but she keeps it small in between, with some sharp wit (and that pretty-funny recurring gag about her Fat Steps) balancing out the big stuff at the front and back. It’s honestly just a delight to see Kaling be the top-notch performer she proved she could be on The Office, especially when she’s not out-performing the rest of the show.

One of this episode’s best decisions was pairing up Danny and Dr. Reed once again, a pairing that was a saving grace in some of the series’ more dire early episodes. That their story also involves Adam Pally’s Dr. Prentiss is even better, as the three of them actually make a great team. As assumed, Danny and Jeremy have opposing opinions of Peter, and seeing Ed Weeks and Chris Messina spar, both with each other, and in Messina’s case, with Pally, is a treat. The centerpiece of their story, the locker room scene where Peter grabs Danny’s package while recounting a “chap story,” is played wonderfully, and the three actors have great chemistry and complementary comedic styles. (Pally’s more broad, Messina is reactionary, and Weeks is quick and quiet.) I was worried that Pally wouldn’t fit in with the world of The Mindy Project, but it’s working so far, even though he and Kaling have yet to share a story, or any really scenes worth mentioning. And while I’m still flummoxed by the show’s inability to convincing and consistently make Ed Weeks look like he’s gained weigh, since, you know, it’s his character’s major arc this season, it’s still encouraging to see them continue to deliver on the promise of his increased role.

And of course, how can I not mention the episode’s big guest, none other than Glenn Howarton (Dennis on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) as Cliff Gilbert, an attorney whose office is in the same building as Mindy’s. Though he’s only in a few scenes, he seems to be filling the role Mark Duplass’ Brendan Deslaurier did last season, and like Duplass, Howerton keeps his tent-pole character’s smarmy demeanor but tones it down and injects it with a bit of levity. Unlike Duplass, however, Howerton feels immediately at ease in the world of The Mindy Project, and as a new love interest for Mindy, I’m optimistic.

The Mindy Project has never felt as assured as it does in “Magic Morgan.” The show’s come close, but this actually feels like the successful blend of rom-com and workplace comedy only hinted at before. My only hope is that The Mindy Project can keep it up, instead of wildly veering into a completely different show next week. With more episodes like this, it could actually be the New Girl companion it always should have been.

Stray Observations:

  • Funny, a surprisingly good episode of The Mindy Project without a single actual line from Beth Grant. I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.
  • I don’t know what it was about that Fat Steps gag, but it really did get a chuckle from me every time it came up.
  • Setting the opening montage to “I Dreamed a Dream” was an inspired choice.
  • “Smiling, Serious, Kissing, Charlie’s Angels: Classic photobooth Big Four.”
  • “If somebody gets an interesting-looking mail you don’t open it to see what’s in it?” “No, I don’t!”
  • “Is this anybody’s sandwich? Because I’ve eaten half of it and I don’t like it.”
  • “Danny, you smell delicious, like a cup of cider I can’t wait to sip!”
  • I was so glad that the fact that Danny and Mindy ran off willy-nilly last week wasn’t ignored.
  • The photo versions of Casey and Mindy talking to drunk Mindy was weird, in the good way.
  • Peter, after volunteering to help Danny with a tub birth: “Great, we got a tub birth to do, and if I may quote most of my t-shirts, ‘Let’s get wet, ladies!'”
  • Seriously, Jesse Novak’s score was lovely in this episode, with lots of keyboard percussion and strings, and it really helped the tone of the episode immensely.

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