Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Mindy Project 3x01 "We're a Couple Now, Haters" [Contributor: Ann]

"We're a Couple Now, Haters"
Original Airdate: September 16, 2014

The Mindy Project is back! The Mindy Project is back!

After four-plus months of being without our fix of America’s favorite OBs, I watched the episode “We’re a Couple Now, Haters” with absolute heart-eyes. There is nothing quite like Min-day, and I was so excited to see what had happened to everyone over the summer that during my first viewing of the premiere, I thought everything was perfect.

On my second viewing, I realized that just calling an episode of TV “perfect” was probably not the best use of my writing capabilities. Also, it wasn’t "perfect." Even with this strong a showing out the gate, I know that The Mindy Project has the potential to be better. Interestingly, that might be the very best thing for the show and the most apt answer to how I would describe my feelings towards “We’re a Couple Now, Haters”: it was an episode that contained promise for the upcoming season. Color me excited.

When we last saw Mindy and Danny, they were discussing their future children and he was grabbing her tush atop the Empire State Building. That’s exactly where this season picks up, with Danny providing a voiceover (!!!) recounting his relationship with Mindy. “There were ups and downs, but we finally found each other,” Danny monologues. “Shut up and do me,” Mindy says in response.

Which, in a nutshell, is what the Mindy and Danny monogamy looks like: equal parts anger, sex, and love. What more could we expect from them? What I loved about this new dynamic was that, though Mindy and Danny have both found the love of their lives, they are not different people. Mindy still makes dramatic declarative statements during staff meetings and gesticulates like nobody’s business. Danny still wears his goofy red glasses.

Just because they are not different, though, does not mean they have not changed. In my season 3 pre-game I said that one of the things I wanted in this season was the development and expansion of character traits we had already known. When the past is alluded to in a television show, I get so excited—both because it makes the characters realistic and because it indicates to me that the writers treat their show’s mythology with care. (Take Mindy, who in “Wiener Night” professed Katy Perry was her favorite singer and, almost one year later, would donate soup cans to see her at a Q&A).

Or, of course, take Danny. We’ve known he could dance since “In the Club,” the third episode of the first season. We've known about his early money concerns, and his deadbeat dad ever since “Danny Castellano is My Gynecologist,” the fifth episode of the series. When the big reveal of the episode came (that “Diamond” was a reference to “Diamond Dan,” handsome stripper at Exquisite Butts’ Guy2K party), I was surprised at first, but as I thought about it, I realized that this reveal made sense. Despite being a private person, Danny is highly sexual, proud of his body, frugal, and would do anything for the people he loves. It is new information about him, but it is familiar information.

The writers flexed their knowledge of past Mindy events during this episode—I think because the episode was written by Mindy Kaling, who knows these characters better than anyone else. We had Danny’s piano playing (he sounds much better!), Peter’s sexual ineptitude, and some familiar-looking outfits from Beverly Something. As someone who has spent thousands of words analyzing this show, even small callbacks—either to flesh in the background, as Beverly’s wardrobe shows, or to be used as plot points, like Peter’s sex life—gives me confidence that this show will continue to remember its past.

Speaking of remembering the past, remember the classic Danny line "you know you’re right for someone when they force you to be the best version of yourself"?

Of course you do! As I commend The Mindy Project writers for expanding on their characters’ pasts, I have to also commend how the characters themselves influence those around them to grow and develop. This is true of almost all of the characters we see, but is especially so for Mindy and Danny.

In this episode, both Mindy and Danny are forced to confront flaws in their character. Mindy is too gossipy and Danny is too closed-off. These are problems that you would expect to arise in a couple that once broke up because of the stress of keeping a relationship secret. These are even problems you would expect based off of the most superficial elements of their personalities: think of Mindy storming into the office in “Be Cool” talking about her apartment being robbed, or of Mindy bragging about her relationship with arts and culture editor Jason Richmond in “Wiener Night.” Or take Danny’s “at work, you work” philosophy from “Hiring and Firing,” or his anxiety when Mindy checks out his room in “Pretty Man.” That the show has found real characteristics, rather than contrivances, to base conflicts off of proves that the show has grounded its relationships in reality. This is an aspect of the show that is surprisingly not often seen in television, and one of the reasons this show is so special to me.

What is great about the Mindy and Danny relationship is that we are not promised that Mindy and Danny will change overnight. Mindy stresses when Danny asks her to “change the very core” of who she is, and they both yell at each other more than once, for equally valid reasons.

The fire escape scene in this episode has to be one of my favorite The Mindy Project scenes ever. Another hope I voiced in my season 3 pre-game was that Mindy and Danny would retain their affection for each other—the affection that is responsible for them being together at all. The entire fire escape scene is enriched by their last fire escape scene in the season 2 premiere. Heck, it is enriched by their long-term past with each other – the past we have been privileged enough to share with them as we watched them fall in love. When Danny says “this is real” to Mindy on the fire escape, it’s more than a cheap callback to this couple’s most lasting sentiment; it’s true, and we know that it is. He says “it’s real” to Mindy with the weight you would expect from someone who, not that long ago, got hit by a car in his pursuit of her and did not stop running. Or from someone who kissed her on the plane. Or from someone who heard those same words at the exact moment he first realized it, too.

And that is really why Mindy and Danny’s display as a couple was so successful to me. It is silly, and it goes new places, but it explores coupledom with total acknowledgement of the past. Mindy and Danny love each other. They want to kill each other sometimes, too—but, driven by love, they continue to better each other, which is really what the “project” is all about.

Speaking of the “project,” I found that “We’re a Couple Now, Haters” in general succeeded in establishing a new focus for a show that had previously been preoccupied—sometimes to a fault—by one person’s dating life. What was once just Mindy’s project of self-improvement has now been expanded to include the rest of the cast. The Jeremy-Lauren-Peter love triangle excites me for that reason; it gives both Jeremy and Peter the opportunity to acknowledge that they need to improve upon themselves. (And it makes them both relevant!).

Everyone in the cast really impressed me. Not that I had ever doubted their acting abilities—but, with material that is now streamlined (bye bye, Betsy), these characters have distinct roles to fulfill. At one point Tamra was only defined by her sing-songy-ness, at another by her inability to distinguish Dr. L as a woman. In this third season premiere, I admit that there’s so much more I do not know about her, but now I feel that what characterizes Tamra is not going to be just an idea on a whim. She is starting to make sense—same with Jeremy, who in his involvement with Lauren will hopefully become an interesting character.

And same with Peter, who has come so far since suggesting that Mindy was a plus-sized model. The development of Peter’s character over the second season, as well as his relationship with Mindy, is so admirable to me because it happened so incrementally, but I love that this premiere shows that he is not done developing—that now he is the one that has to navigate the dating world. (P.S. I hope we get to meet Becca this season!) He has never been more sympathetic or relatable than he was in this episode, and none of that occurred at the expense of what makes Peter who he is.

As I talk about the ensemble, I want to address the one problem I found with “We’re a Couple Now, Haters.” While the cast was pretty well-integrated in this episode—the charity event made sense, Lauren’s inclusion made sense, and the office dynamic was used alongside the romantic one—I was a little bit disappointed that the title didn’t really coincide with what we saw on our screens. Who are the haters? In fact, what is the office’s reaction to Mindy and Danny getting together? The office gossip plot is not bad, but it’s also a strange note to begin the season with when there are so many questions that want to be answered from the second season finale. What does Jeremy think of Mindy and Danny finally getting together? Do Mindy and Danny act differently in the office because they are together? Outside of the cold open, the events of this episode could have happened at any time, not necessarily being tethered to the start of their relationship. (In contrast, think of the pilot—which begins this story at one of the lowest points of Mindy Lahiri’s life, and think of “All My Problems Solved Forever,” which begins with Mindy’s return to Haiti).

It’s so strange, because, as I’ve mentioned, The Mindy Project writers know their characters and are so good at detail work, but often they will ignore major events because they doen’t tie well enough into the main plot, even when the audience still holds questions about those major events. (Betsy’s disappearance, like Shauna’s and Gwen’s, will almost certainly not be mentioned).

As a result, there is still a chance that The Mindy Project season 3 could be more aimless than what I want, because I have no idea what arc the show is building. But I’m not worried. This episode is the beginning of a new era for Mindy—its end goal may not be apparent yet, or may not even exist, but if the show continues to be this funny, thoughtful, and streamlined?

Screw it, I’m sold.

Some little additional notes: 
  • I loved “More Than a Feeling” and wish it were the theme all the time. I did not realize how annoying the original theme was until Boston was playing. 
  • Speaking of the theme, however, how much did you guys love the new intro?! The kiss was in there and everything! 
  • I also loved: the playing of Frozen, Rob McElhenney who, though only just mentioned now, KILLED IT as Cousin Lou (“I’m taller, I’m jacked, I got calves that could crack nuts”), Pink Shirt Danny was out of control hot, and… am I forgetting anything…?



Here’s to a great season 3! Can’t wait to see where it goes! :)


  1. I appreciate your article. A critique that a lot of people have about TMP stating that TMP is inconsistent. With some minor things, I think this show is very consistent compared to other comedies that treat every episode like a new series. Your article was able to present that very well and how the premiere does relate to the show as a whole. When I first watched the episode, I felt like I was missing a lot of things. In the office everyone is basically "they are a couple, now get back to work." It's almost like no one acknowledged that they were a couple. Even Morgan was selling his cousin Lou to Mindy. Also the promos stated that it was about them getting together for the first time but it seems that storyline ended up on the cutting room floor and the episode ended up being about office boundaries. I felt like we've fast forwarded to an established Danny and Mindy who already have a rhythm in place until something (like Danny's Secret) get's revealed. I can get past it so whatever. The title did seem off. It's a great title for a different type of episode. That's why I feel that the premiere should have been an hour long to fill in some gaps but it can only be 22min. Besides the choppy editing, it was a good episode. Some things I did feel weird like the braces rant and playing Frozen but I like randomness so I'll let it slide. Frankly, the one thing I can't forgive is Peter thinking Jeremy is gay. Peter has seen Jeremy with two women in his apartment. It didn't make sense. Writers Fail. Lastly, we can't judge how the series is going to turn out by just watching the premiere. We have to move past the premiere and see what happens next.

  2. Enjoyed your review - I haven't watched the episode yet (tonight!!) but I couldn't resist reading.

    I'm dating myself, but I watched Mad About You in the 90s - Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt navigate the world as newlyweds. Because they were already married from the outset, there was none of that "will they or won't they" tension. Nonetheless, there was plenty of angles to explore in their relationship. I really enjoyed the first several seasons - it went downhill when they added a baby to the mix. I mention this because I think there is plenty for the writers to explore with the Danny/Mindy relationship. Actually, just thought of how much I enjoyed the developing relationship between Chandler and Monica on friends - that's probably a better example. I thought their story was far more enjoyable than Ross and Rachel's.

    1. Interjecting because Mad About You was SUCH A FANTASTIC SHOW so thank you for mentioning it. I was young when it was on, but I remember loving it. And their dog.