When I tell the punchline wrong

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The Mindy Project – “Wiener Night”

Ugh. What in the ever-living shit was that cold open? Well, it was terrible, for one thing. Before I even watch the rest of this episode, I just need to lay out how awful and unfunny that entire sequence was. First of all, what was even the point of Kevin Smith being there? He wasn’t even playing a character! He’s just there for the show to make some of the most tired fat jokes of all time, including the absolute worst: fat people take smelly poops. (Hardy-har-har! Why is this even a joke?! Everybody poops!) There are a million different ways The Mindy Project could have introduced Ben Feldman’s character–whose name I don’t yet know and who really didn’t have any chemistry with Mindy–and they went with one that works zero percent of its running time. Okay, that’s out of my system, I’m gonna finish that episode now.

Well, I’m back, and I’m sad to say that “Wiener Night” never improved much past that cold open. If I had to pick one word to describe this episode, it’d be “unpleasant.” Ben Feldman’s character, the arts and culture editor some trendy, New York underground newspaper named Jason, is a deeply unpleasant person. He’s snooty, judgmental, willfully ignorant of all pop-culture, presumptuous, and patronizing. They go on two very unpleasant dates where he is awful, and even his “redemption,” where he sings and plays Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” on ukelele (Ugh, I just… what?), was unearned and unsatisfying.

One of those deeply unpleasant dates, unfortunately, is the messy center of “Wiener Night.” Danny’s ex-wife Christina, who is a genuine insane person, is holding a gallery opening full of nude photos of Danny. (Ugh.) Of course, the entire office must attend, including both Brendan Deslaurier (Mark Duplass) and Cliff Gilbert (Glenn Howerton). (Uugghh.) And Danny gets drunk and has a public meltdown, right before its revealed that Christina was even more insane than originally thought and made a Lynchian video about being betrayed by Danny and, what, drew on them with some kind of fluorescent marker that only shows under blacklights? (Uuuggghhh.) Meanwhile, Jason is a douche, Mindy accidentally Instagrams a picture of her boobs, and Adam Pally and Ike Barinholtz spend ~3 minutes laughing at the word “penis.” (Uuuuuggggghhhhh.) If this was the first episode of The Mindy Project I’d ever seen, I would hate all of these people immensely. I would hate this show immensely. At this point, I can’t even understand why any of this had to happen.

After what I saw as great progress last week, “Wiener Night” was a slap in the face. (Not like that, pervert.) There’s so little here worthwhile, it’s almost as dire as when Mindy and Danny went to Staten Island, and might even be a little worse. From the bizarre cold open through groan-worthy scene after groan-worthy scene, “Wiener Night” was a Mindy Project failure of pretty epic proportions, and definitely not the kind of episode the show should be airing after one of it’s very best. Or to sum it all up: Ugh ugh ugh ugh UGH UGH ugh uuuuuuuuugggggggghhhhhhhhhhhh!

Stray Observations

  • While it’s a terrible indicator of quality, the only joke in this episode I actually laughed at came from Tamra, of all people: “Rayron [I’m probably wrong about this name] took a picture of me in a bikini once, I was so mad, but then he sent it to this modeling agency, and now I’m on shampoo bottles in Japan!”
  • Cliff is actually a divorce lawyer, which was mildly amusing.
  • One last thought from the cold open: Mindy’s returning from an enemy’s wedding? What?!
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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.

My favorite band, The National

The Mindy Project – “Music Festival”

Dammit, how could I have been so wrong?

I was genuinely excited about the prospects of Mindy and Casey’s long-term relationship, with him in Haiti and her back in New York, but The Mindy Project has another idea entirely. Before the scene between Mindy and Danny in the medical tent, I was astounded at how much of a mess this episode was. Right off the bat, Casey’s back in NYC, and in his first sermon he gives up his life as a pastor, the life he defended with pride when Mindy’s doubts were raised, to become… a DJ? And suddenly, Casey is no longer Casey, instead becoming a weird variation of Holm’s character from Workaholics, and it never quite comes back together until the episode’s final moments. We’ll get there, but let’s see what happened in between first.

Most promisingly, we’re introduced to Dr. Peter Prentiss, played by Adam Pally of the dearly departed Happy Endings. Dr. Prentiss is essentially Happy Endings‘ Max, with about 60% more “bro” and straight, but his laid-back gravity might be perfect for this show. In the office, the other characters are all pulled toward him, and he juggles the insanity as well as Max did in any episode of Happy Endings (which, for those of you who’ve never seen it, is downright impressive). His pairing with Dr. Reed later in the episode, and his subsequent hiring to the practice, should only mean good things for The Mindy Project.

And speaking of Dr. Reed, they finally get around to actually telling his story, and I’m surprisingly on board. Having spent two weeks rolling my eyes at the weird belly padding and lack of any plot or jokes, seeing Dr. Reed actually get put into an extremely stressful situation (seriously, 2/3 of the practice’s doctors, two administrators and the head nurse all leave for a day with almost no warning!) and chow down on those Snickerdoodles was satisfying. I was even okay with Tamra, whose sass played well off Dr. Reed’s British fussiness. And if Dr. Prentiss’ immersion into the show involves he and Dr. Reed becoming BFFs, all the better, as Ed Weeks and Adam Pally have a fun, energetic chemistry. When you say a character has an expanded role on your new season, this is how it should be done.

So where did the rest of the practice skip off to on such short notice? Why, it’s some ludicrously-named music festival where Casey has his first gig as a DJ and Danny’s favorite band The National is playing. Mindy plays along, but is rubbed the wrong way, metaphorically and physically, by the festival scene and a fat man’s sweat, respectively. They part ways, with Mindy promising to be at his set, but unbeknownst to anyone, Morgan has gone to town on some pot cupcakes, and is acting like a damn fool. After breaking his butt bone, Danny and Mindy take Morgan to the medical tent, where they see a desperate need for someone to step in and help these poor party people. Mindy and Danny both begin to miss the very shows they came to see, but Danny tells her to go support Casey, and when she does, Mindy’s surprised to find herself having fun and chooses to support Casey’s new career fully. But what’dya know, Casey’s decided that he wants to go into event planning instead. Back in the medical tent, Morgan, Betsy, and Beth Grant bring The National to Danny, but as Morgan gets down on one knee, he reveals that they only agreed to come because he said he was proposing to Danny. Danny begrudgingly accepts Morgan’s ring, The National play, and everyone claps with joy.

Except for Mindy. Once they’re home, Casey floats the idea of moving to Austin to get a technical degree in event planning, and Mindy’s finally had enough. She can’t keep moving and adapting to Casey’s career journey, no matter how much she cares about him, and she makes the difficult decision to call things off. He leaves a voodoo doll of himself on the bed with a note: “Don’t use too many pins.” The National plays, and everyone ponders their choices.

The strong emotional ending, the great introduction of a character that could’ve bombed terribly, Dr. Reed and Tamra not being the worst, this episode really appealed to so many things I enjoyed, but they still can’t stop everything about Casey’s decision to become a DJ feel superfluous and contrived. “Music Festival” is better than the first two episodes of the season, but it’s a real shame the show had to jump through such a bizarre hoop to get here.

But hey, have I mentioned how great that ending was enough? Casey’s gone, and the show shot for a new tonal shading and mostly nailed it, which could be the start of The Mindy Project really getting its shit together. Then again, next week’s episode could open with Danny deciding that he’s moving to Alaska and Mindy spends the rest of the season chasing his across the country, so why bother even speculating?

Stray Observations

  • Danny’s strange insistence on referring to The National as “my favorite band The National” was a glaringly obvious example of the writers wanting to put a band they love on the show, then realizing that a lot of network TV viewers might not have any idea who The National are.
  • I still have no idea why Betsy and Beth Grant went to the music festival or how anyone thought that would be a good idea for the practice.
  • On the other hand, yay for Betsy getting more lines!
  • “This looks like a Civil War battlefield. Except somehow there are more beards.”

A waffle in the bath

The Mindy Project – “The Other Dr. L”

When The Mindy Project has a problem standing in its character’s way, it knows only one solution: throw rom-com or workplace comedy tropes at it until it relents. Tonight, The Mindy Project had a Dr. James Franco problem, so the only real question was what they’d use to get him out of the picture. And amid all that, Danny plays basketball with Bill Hader and Kris Humphries, because why the hell not?

We open on Mindy in a Skype chat with Casey, attempting to recreate the whipped cream bikini from Varsity Blues. Of course, being Mindy, it goes terribly, and she finds herself being attacked by ants, and there’s an implication that there’s a gummy bear in her vagina, which makes the whole thing a little disturbing. The next day at work, Mindy attempts to reclaim her office from Dr. James Franco, but he won’t go down easy, and being handsome and charming, he’s got the whole office on his side. Danny’s even letting him stay at his apartment! Mindy is relegated to a closet (with a hot pipe, where Morgan dries out his swimsuits), has no patients, and is ignored by the rest of her office, who happen to be her only friends.

Mindy, desperate to find a solution, begins plotting once she learns that Dr. Franco is a huge lightweight. She challenges him to a shots-off where the winner takes back the office, and she beats him without mercy. As a gesture of goodwill, she takes Dr. Franco back to Danny’s apartment, but can’t find the keys, so she leaves him in the hallway to sober up (but not before stealing a weird, goofy drunk kiss). But who should arrive shortly but Christina, Danny’s once-again-ex, who helps a now-pantless Dr. Franco into their apartment for hot, steamy revenge sex.

The next day, Dr. James Franco comes clean to Mindy about having sex with Christina, and wants to come clean to Danny, but opts to just tell Danny he’s quitting the practice to join the army instead when confronted. Danny is suspicious, and accuses Dr. Franco and Mindy of having sex the night before, and Dr. Franco finally comes clean. Danny pounces on Dr. Franco, causing him to leave the practice for good, and restoring order to The Mindy Project for at least another week.

Last week I was worried that James Franco wouldn’t be properly utilized in his time on The Mindy Project, and I was glad to be proven mostly wrong by this episode. Every scene he and Mindy share is fantastic, most of all the shots-off, and his affable energy felt very much at home in the show. And then, the show did something weird: at the end of the episode, they gave him a voice-over (a recording of his resignation), and play it over a montage of life returning to normal in the office (and Danny burning his sheets), intercut with slow-motion scenes with him from last week’s premiere. It was one of the episodes weirdest moments, and remember, this is an episode where Danny plays basketball with Kris Humphries.

I was disappointed to see such a poor story for Danny this episode. Apparently Danny’s having trouble coping with losing Christina again, so he joins a single-men-only support group/basketball team, which also includes one of Mindy’s former flames, Tom (a returning Bill Hader). It’s a silly plot that never goes anywhere, and Bill Hader is strangely muted, except for when he gets ultra-creepy with Mindy at the bar. Along with the bizarre appearance of Kris Humphries, the story just felt like an undercooked mess cluttering up the sides of the episode.

But overall, I’d say “The Other Dr. L” was an improvement over last week’s premiere. At the very least, it was funnier (the whipped-cream-bikini bit and the drinking contest were both great set-pieces, something The Mindy Project excels at at it’s best), and with the megastar out of the picture, maybe the season can start to pick up some real momentum. I’d cross my fingers, but I’m just going to eat a waffle in the bath instead.

Stray Observations:

  • No mention of Dr. Reed’s weight problem this episode, minus the one mention of the waffle, which, okay, whatever. If they’re going through with the story, I at least want them to do it instead of stalling. We’ll see what happens.

  • Tamra, Betsy, Morgan, and Beth Grant are all mostly non-entities in this episode, each getting a couple of lines at most. Of course, Beth Grant’s is another funny-cause-she’s-middle-aged sex joke, but I’ll be honest, if she’s there, she might as well make ’em, cause they’re always good for a chuckle.

  • We actually got to see Casey in “Haiti,” aka a very sparse “int. cabin” set. This is the kind of involvement I’m okay with for right now: pop up for Mindy to do some physical humor in front of the webcam, then disappear. I don’t know if it’s a sustainable model, but I hope they’ll hold off on putting some drama between them.

  • Let’s be honest, Mindy blowing the smoke ring was pretty awesome. That whole segment was top-form Mindy Kaling.

Rien n’arrete nos esprits

The Mindy Project – “All My Problems Solved Forever…”

The first season of The Mindy Project was wildly inconsistent, more so than just about any other show on television. Week to week, episodes would vary so greatly in quality that it made it difficult for me to get invested. It also made it impossible for the show to figure out just what it wanted to be. It wasn’t a catastrophe, but it also never achieved the quality that a Mindy Kaling project should have.

Season two begins with a huge voice-over/montage full of information that could fill an entire season itself. Mindy is still in Haiti with Casey, and actually enjoying herself, which prompts him to propose. Then Mindy passes out from abdominal pain and is flown back to New York City. Now, okay, I knew going in that Mindy had to get back to New York in this episode, but I wasn’t expecting a completely random medical emergency. It’s a weird element that feels out of place and underdeveloped, but I digress. Back in New York, we get the lowdown on the rest of this ridiculously over-sized cast: Jeremy has taken on more responsibility in the practice, and is gaining weight; Danny is back together with his ex-wife Christina, but they’re not having sex; there’s a sassy nurse, Tamra, but I honestly can’t remember whether or not she was in the first season; Morgan, Betsy, and Beth Grant (as I shall always refer to her) are still the same. Oh, and James Franco has taken Mindy’s place.

Mindy and Casey decide to get married before returning to Haiti in a week. Danny and Christina see Dr. James Franco for sex therapy, and then she finds porn on his laptop. Dr. James Franco continues to be very liked by everyone. The solutions are simple: Mindy and Casey will have a small ceremony in Mindy’s apartment; Danny will propose to Christina; Dr. James Franco will continue to be handsome and charming. Well, that’s not really a solution to anything, it’s just what happens. Anyway.

At the impromptu ceremony, Mindy and Danny have a heart-to-heart about what it is Mindy wants out of life. They have these discussions a lot. But she knows she loves Casey, and since he peed on her dress earlier, she walks down the aisle in her scrubs. But Casey calls it off, saying that he wants to give Mindy the wedding she wants, but that she needs to stay in New York for this to happen. Status quo mostly restored, minus the little issue of Dr. James Franco, but that can wait.

Overall, not too shabby. There were a lot of things that worked in this episode, chief among them Chris Messina as Danny. He’s great in every scene he does, most of all when he’s paired with Mindy. The guest stars for the episode also work fairly well. ChloĆ« Sevigny doesn’t get much to do as Christina, but her scenes with Messina work well, and when she breaks Danny’s laptop in two (right after revealing the porn to the rest of the office), it was one of the night’s biggest laughs. James Franco also does good work here, though it’s not for nothing that I’ve been referring to his character as Dr. James Franco. It’s essentially just him in a lab coat being goofy, but he integrates himself into the world of The Mindy Project with much more ease than some other guest stars. (Yes, that means you, BJ Novak.) Anders Holm doesn’t quite gel as well as the others, but I place that more on the Casey character than anything else. (I’m also assuming that we’ll only see him through Skype windows for the rest of his arc on the show, which is a shame.)

But there was plenty that didn’t work quite as well. Morgan is a character that the writers for this show obviously love, and think is the end-all, be-all of funny, but Ike Barinholtz is best used in small doses, as opposed to essentially the show’s only supporting character. On The Mindy Project, Morgan often becomes the comedic crutch of the show, and since the character is so over-blown, it becomes taxing. Conversely, Betsy literally does nothing in this episode (if I’m not mistaken, she didn’t even have a single line), and Beth Grant only got in a weird (but kind of funny) line about masturbation. Betsy was used well a few times in season one, and I enjoy Zoe Jarman, so I’m worried to see her pushed so far to the margins from the get-go. And while I tend to love any appearance from Beth Grant, her crazy middle-age fountain of weird just doesn’t really have a place on the show. And perhaps my biggest issue of all comes from Ed Week’s Dr. Jeremy Reed. Jeremy didn’t have much to do in season one, but worked well as a foil for Danny at times, and though kept on the edges, he was always a presence in the series. I was excited to see an expanded role for him here, but was immediately turned off when it was revealed that his shiny new role was “fat,” and extremely unconvincing fat at that. The problem here is two-fold: 1) “Fat” is not a joke. Or rather, just making a character fat does not instantly equal comedy, and 2) Seriously, they couldn’t find a better way to make it look like Ed Weeks has put on weight? It looks like someone stuffed a couch pillow up his dress shirt and they called it a day. C’mon guys, invest in a semi-decent fat suit, or, I don’t know, Ed Weeks could just actually gain some weight. It worked wonders for Mac on Always Sunny, and I bet it’d work here too.

So here we are, starting off the season on a passable episode, but the show still desperately needs to work on bettering itself. A lot of these issues could be fixed if the show could just choose between workplace comedy or rom-com, but I’m worried that’s not going to happen, which is fine as long as the show puts in the work to balance those elements. Instead, we get good-but-not-great versions of both, and too many cast members with nothing to do, which is a bad place to stay for too long.

Stay Observations

  • First off, I’m not going easy on The Mindy Project this year. I know what Mindy Kaling is capable of at her best, and I would love nothing more than for this show to be that. But when it comes short, I’m not going to just ignore the issues. Consider this fair warning, in case things go south.
  • It’s disappointing to see Casey go like this, though it opens up some potential outside of “Mindy dates guest star for 2-4 episodes before breaking up.” Besides, I look forward to lots of Skype chats with Anders Holm in front of Generic Haiti Background.
  • As much as I enjoyed James Franco here, the fact that the role was filled by such a high-profile star takes a lot of wind out of the sails. There’s obviously zero chance of Franco joining the cast, even on a supporting level (especially on the supporting level?), and Mindy has to get job at the practice back. I’m hoping they make the most of the scenario, and Franco, before he leaves.
  • Okay, Tamra got me with the “Glob” line, even if it does reek of a joke only a comedy writer would come up with.
  • Dr. James Franco pulling up the slide of his sperm, with cheesy music and flashing lights, after Danny’s lifeless boys, was pretty funny.