Monday, September 16, 2013

The Mindy Project Season Premiere Review - "All My Problems Solved Forever..." - Sophomore Season

Mindy Kaling and company return for a pivotal sophomore year of "The Mindy Project"

Sitcoms are notoriously difficult to get right from the start.  Even the best comedies usually take 15-20 episodes to really find their footing and their voices and start cranking out the funny.  Parks and Recreation, The Office, 30 Rock, Louie, How I Met Your Mother, New Girl, and Community are all examples of recent comedies that either peaked in their sophomore years or didn’t hit their comedic stride until about 20 episodes in.  So when The Mindy Project struggled creatively in its first season, it wasn’t exactly a surprise, nor it was it a sign of a bad show.  Mindy was, after all, at times very funny. 

There is no doubting the talent behind The Mindy Project.  The Office veteran Mindy Kaling, apart from starring in the show, is the executive producer and head writer, penning one-third of the first season scripts.  She was joined by a number of veteran staff writers including, perhaps most notably, Chris McKenna, fresh off his Emmy nomination for writing what may have been Community’s finest half-hour “Remedial Chaos Theory.”  Charles McDougall, also a veteran of The Office and the man behind the pilots of both Desperate Housewives and The Good Wife, directed the pilot and a half dozen other episodes.  Emmy winner Michael Spiller and five-time nominee Beth McCarthy-Miller were behind the camera for another eight episodes.

The cast is fantastic as well, though it didn’t come without issues.  Stephen Tobolowski left after the second episode with Anna Camp and Amanda Setton following late in the season.  That isn’t to say that they weren’t doing good work, they just didn’t have enough to do.  It’s incredibly difficult for a 22-minute show (after commercials) to properly service a cast of eight.  Just look at how The Office handled things.  For the first few seasons, the featured characters were almost always Michael, Jim, Pam, and Dwight.  It was only once they had been fully established that the rest of the cast (who had been there all along) started to get fleshed out.  The Mindy Project, on the other hand, tried to service every character from the start.  There were just too many and the show definitely improved when it culled things down to the core four (Mindy, Danny, Morgan, and Jeremy) with a handful of regulars and recurring characters filling things out.  

While everybody involved with the first season of the show was great, it never quite came together.  Mindy struggled to find its focus, jumping back and forth between Mindy’s work life, Mindy’s home life, and the antics of the supporting characters.  It also seemed to a lack a sense of place.  It was ostensibly set in an OB/GYN practice in New York City, but so much time was spent out of the office and what other time wasn’t spent in an apartment didn’t really feel like it was uniquely New York.  One of the things all of those shows I mentioned in the first paragraph had developed by the end of their freshman years, with the exception of Louie, was a single location (or occasionally two) to which our characters could comfortably return.  Parks & Rec, 30 Rock and The Office had their offices.  HIMYM had MacLaren’s Pub and Ted and Marshall’s apartment.  New Girl had the apartment.  Community had the study room.  The doctors’ office seems like it would be that place for Mindy but, for some reason, the characters never really feel comfortable there.  Perhaps it’s because so much of what goes on in that office is unrelated to the actual practice.  I’m not sure.  But Mindy needs to find a setting to which it can come back time and again and have its characters feel comfortable and at home.

The second season premiere, “All My Problems Solved Forever…” doesn’t fix all of Mindy’s problems, but it gives me hope that the writers and actors have finally gotten enough of an idea of who these characters are and what they can do that the show will have a solid, if not great, second season.

The episode takes about two minutes to get Mindy back to New York from Haiti and­ it’s really for the better.  Not that the Haiti scenes were bad, just…predictable.  And Mindy and her fiancĂ© (spoiler) Casey aren’t particularly interesting together without a supporting cast to cause chaos.  It’s not really a spoiler, though, to say that Mindy and Casey get engaged since it happens while they're still in Haiti.  The story that follows is really great and, above all, feels true to the characters.  I won’t get in to how everything shakes out, but everything that happens feels like it’s exactly what should happen, and fits perfectly with the characters’ personalities. 

Any scenes not involving Mindy are still a bit problematic, most notably the relationship between Danny and his ex-wife.  Their relationship has progressed to living together though not, apparently, doing (ahem) other things.  Thankfully, the doctor they’ve brought in to replace Mindy is James Franco, Sex Therapist.  It’s tough to distinguish between the moments when Franco is really trying to be an actor and when he’s just being James Franco, but he’s actually pretty good here, landing most of the episode’s best lines and establishing a bit of professional competition for Mindy moving forward.  I can only guess as to how long he’s going to be on Mindy, but his character is well-established enough and interesting enough that I’m happy to have him around for as long as it stays that way. 

The Mindy Project isn’t a great show.  At this point, I’d say it’s just a good show.  But it makes me laugh pretty consistently and it feels like everybody involved has really figured the characters out and has the ability to put on a great season of television.  If you haven’t watched so far, I’d say now is as good a time as any to pick it up and I would certainly recommend you watch, not necessarily because of the past, but because of the potential future.

So thoughts?  Comments?  Just want to tell me my blog sucks?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.

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