May 14, 2013



THE MINDY PROJECT has spent much of its first season shambling toward what kind of show it wants to be, but its struggles have become progressively more entertaining to watch.

Mindy started with an enormous amount of good will, thanks to its creator/star Mindy Kaling, the terrifically talented writer, comic and co-star of The Office, and someone who refreshingly doesn’t fit into the pigeonhole of TV rom-com stars, either in appearance or in her character of Dr. Mindy Lahiri, who’s perfectly OK with being self-obsessed, awkward, sexual and sometimes obnoxious.  Even from the start, it was clear the show had tremendous potential, especially in the rapport between Kaling and co-star Chris Messina as Dr. Danny Castellano, one of her partners in an ob-gyn practice.  The two of them were instant comic gold together.  The show didn’t really come together, though, and over the course of the season, fellow co-workers were tried out and discarded, Mindy had and then didn’t have outside friends, the show parodied rom-coms in a surreal fashion (the pilot had her in subtitled conversation with a Barbie doll) and then tried to play them sort of straight.  It felt like the series was experimenting with its own concept every week.

About midway through the season, the pieces started to fit.  The turning point was a Christmas episode where Mindy found out, to her horror, that she was the “other woman”  with whom her boyfriend was cheating on his furious real girlfriend (former Office co-star Ellie Kemper, in a showcase stint).  Mark and Jay Duplass were inspired recurring guest stars as smug midwives whose offices were upstairs from Mindy’s, and the show figured out how much to use Ike Barinholtz (who’s both a writer/producer of the show and a cast member as loony nurse Morgan) without letting him overpower everyone else.   A story arc giving Mindy minister Casey (Anders Holm) as a serious boyfriend was more cohesive than anything the series had tried thus far.  Even in unmemorable episodes, there would be hilarious moments, like a recent open that–carefully within network TV boundaries–revealed how unerotic shower sex could be.

Mindy is still uneven, and that was reflected in tonight’s season finale, which Kaling wrote with Co-Producer Jeremy Bronson (directed by Michael Spiller).  The central plotline had Mindy deciding (and then un-deciding, and then deciding again) to go to Haiti for a year of charitable work with Casey, and that was worked out well, with a nice rom-com parody climax that had Mindy yelling at Casey (and his neighbors) from the street.  But the show continues to falter when it goes much beyond Mindy and Danny–the idea of casting Chloe Sevigny as Danny’s ex-wife sounded great, but none of her episodes did much with her.  The same is true even of the regulars–originally the medical practice’s other partner, Dr. Jeremy Reed (Ed Weeks), seemed intended as a comic stud, stand-in for Hugh Grant’s character in the Bridget Jones movies, but once the show’s tone moved on from that, he’s had little to do, and the nurses and assistants other than Morgan are stock sitcom characters.  Sharp lines and hysterical sequences are still followed by lame, pointless ones.

The finale left Mindy in an interesting place.  Although anything can change in a writers room between May and September, as the episode ended, Mindy really was supposed to go to Haiti for a year, which implies some kind of time jump for next season, and gives the characters potential for some change.  Also, the show came closer than it has before to acknowledging the potential romance between Mindy and Danny (about which mixed feelings are appropriate, because the two of them are so great as affectionate sparring partners that it would be a shame to lose that particular chemistry).  Mindy‘s ratings were barely OK this past season, and life will only get tougher in the fall, when it airs against The Voice.  The show needs to figure itself out and come back more confident than it’s been thus far.  The Mindy Project has the guts of a great sitcom; now, it just needs to get its head on straight.


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."