May 6, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “The Mindy Project”


After two full seasons, it’s become clear that Mindy Kaling’s THE MINDY PROJECT may never be a “well-made show.”  Characters pop in and out–it was recently announced that receptionist Betsy (Zoe Jarman) is the latest regular who won’t be back in the fall–or they change randomly–was it ever clear why Jeremy (Ed Weeks) needed to be in a fat suit for the first half of the season?  The writers are more enraptured with wacko nurse Morgan (Ike Barinholtz) than they should be, possibly in part because the actor is also a member of the writing staff.  Other characters come perilously close to cliche, like sassy nurse Tamra (Xosha Roquemore) and ever-horny woman of a certain age Beverly (Beth Grant).  The show has taken a long, long time to even start figuring out how to best use Adam Pally’s Peter, a relatively recent addition to the central medical practice (after wasting some time with him as an overgrown frat boy, the recent episode where the only-technically-Jewish Peter tried to get the practice some business from a rabbi suggested that the writers are finally starting to get it).  Its tone wavers between sophisticated humor and sometimes wince-inducing dumbness, and even the structure of the series–workplace ensemble or star vehicle?–has shifted several times.

And yet when the stars are aligned, The Mindy Project is just sensational, largely because it features two of the best-drawn and most fully-realized characters in any TV comedy, Kaling’s own Dr. Mindy Lahiri, and Chris Messina’s Dr. Danny Castellano.  The two characters make no sense together, Mindy an enthusiastic proponent of fast food and faster pop culture, and Danny a cranky 60-year old in a young man’s body, but they connect in a senselessly perfect rom-com way, and Kaling and Messina, very funny individually, are gold together.  After fighting against the tide for a season and a half, Mindy Project finally caved in with the 8-episode arc that followed its winter hiatus and moved the show to a new level.

Tonight’s season finale, written by Kaling and directed by Michael Spiller, luxuriated in the self-conscious rom-com cliches Kaling and the show adore.  Danny, who had broken things off with Mindy a few episodes ago and regretted it, had taken to a You’ve Got Mail campaign of sending her e-mails masquerading as the man of her dreams, before arranging to meet her Sleepless In Seattle-style on the roof of the Empire State Building (dressed like Bradley Cooper), a journey that required interventions from the rest of the cast to each one of them, and scored by 1980s pop tunes.  (Prior to the climax, Danny had narrated an Annie Hall-ish montage of the two of them strolling around New York.)  It all achieved the desired level of satirizing the silly tropes and yet demonstrating why they work anyway, and it ended exactly as it needed to, with Danny and Mindy already amiably squabbling about their nonexistent children.

It would be nice if The Mindy Project operated with more logic, and perhaps Season 3, which will at least start with Mindy and Danny officially together, will continue with the more ordered style of these recent episodes.  That might help the ratings a bit, which are anemic at best (although they’re not that much worse than they were in Season 1, and the lead-in Mindy gets from New Girl has fallen by half over the course of the season.)  Even if it doesn’t maintain that focus, though, the show has demonstrated that perfection is less important than inspiration, and on its current scatter-shot basis, Mindy is working better than most comedies on the air.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."