Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Mindy Project 3x12 "Stanford" [Contributor: Ann]

Original Airdate: January 6, 2015

The Mindy Project is doing something more ambitious this season than it’s ever done before, and that is to finally and fully discuss the idea of the “project” that gives the show its title. I mean, obviously it’s called The Mindy Project because it was once called The Untitled Mindy Kaling Project, but we are given what we’re given and that is what we will analyze and review and enjoy and be disappointed by.

In this episode, the idea of there being a “project,” or a movement towards self-betterment, was clear in Mindy balancing her fellowship and her relationship, Tamra balancing her complicated feelings for Morgan and her performance in the basketsball game, and the show itself, balancing workplace and relationship, balancing the new (Stanford) with the old (NYC). For the first two cases, the question this episode raises is how we should let our relationships affect us as individuals. Should Mindy ask for Danny’s help, or should she forge forward on her own? Does she even have the faith necessary? And should Tamra demolish Morgan spitefully, or should she take the high road so that she can heal?

And for the third case, a similar question of relationship and self is raised: should I let my years-old adoration of The Mindy Project and my (very secure) knowledge of its success in the past affect how I felt about this episode and the upcoming arcs of 2015, or should I try to separate the two? Is it even helpful for me to continue comparing the show to what it once was, or should I try to let each episode stand on its own? In other words: how should my relationship with the show’s past affect what happens from here on out?

Because for the things I liked about this episode and the things I didn’t like, one thing was made certain to me and it is that I am not watching the same show I was watching two years ago. Maybe it’s the focus on the “project” that makes that the case: that this show has gone so many places from its pilot. It’s growing and progressing. Whether you love or hate the changes to the show, the Stanford arc and what follows will change the show in a very major way. I mean, Peter Prentice has, like, one episode left, not to mention the other changes we’ll see coming up.

So that is my takeaway from “Stanford” — this is not the same show I started watching. Here is what is better and worse about this new show:

This is a very, very funny show, with increasingly “?!?!” gaps of logic, broad humor, and infuriating inconsistencies for the sake of making a joke. This is a show with a ton of potential that the first two seasons didn’t tap into—in this episode, the use of the other doctors in the hospital (not just the practice), the incorporation of other doctors from Stanford, and the first/second generation discussion were all threads that were more interesting to me than what Mindy and Danny were going through. In that way, the show has become better and worse: now that the thing that got me watching the show has been usurped by the thing I never really thought this show would be about. And this is a show about characters that have been so much more than I thought they would be, but also a show where the characterization is subject to change from week to week, because it really doesn’t matter in the short term.

Let me explain.

This is a funny show. My favorite thing about this episode was when Tamra was talking about her relationship troubles to Peter and didn’t realize Peter had gone through literally the same thing. I loved Mindy’s attitude towards Neepa. I loved the discussion of Brown Bear and Rosie the Riveter/Taylor Swift (although, as The AV Club commenters informed me, that’s not really Rosie! Go figure!). I loved Jeremy being a doof. I loved Mindy monologuing and Rob asking her who she was talking to. I loved Danny complaining when his gate changes. (I loved a million other little things, too.) Mostly, I love when this show makes jokes about characters clashing with one another and/or demonstrates its knowledge of what a character would say and what a character would do. It feels smarter and is somehow therefore funnier to me when this is the case—the joke feels like it has roots, I guess, rather than being there to fulfill a quota. (Oh—though I did love the shoe puns. I loved Mindy referring to it as “fertile ground.”)

Where do the jokes fail? When the show tries too hard to the point of disbelief, or is too broad to truly land. Too caricature. For me, this can be enough to temporarily take me out of the show's universe. This happened (at least) twice this episode, but both times were so significant to the plot that I was irritated. It wasn’t true to the characters because something else was more important to shoehorn, whether that’s a quick laugh or a plot point or both. The first was the confusion of the BASH and Mindy’s attitude upon entering the lecture hall—like, I’m sorry, but did the flyer not have words on it? Would there really be a panty-less party worth going to in a lecture hall? Would you continue to make a scene after being yelled at, really? It just made Mindy seem so unfairly clueless.

The second was the dinner scene with Barb. Sigh, ugh, ick. Look at it this way: the scene wasn’t totally unfunny—that wasn’t the problem, that it offended me or anything. What really removed me from the scene (and, actually, from really liking this episode at all) was that this scene, this goof, immediately followed Danny’s sweet and sincere statement of belief in Mindy, and completely overwhelmed that sentimental moment, including when the consequences of the foot job led to a fight that made no sense. To me, the shoe scene was a perfect example of this show choosing a (not great) joke over its characters and the plot. There had to have been different ways, better ways, to get Mindy and Danny into a fight—something more closely related to the MAJOR SACRIFICE of these two separating for a very long time, instead of related to Danny’s belief in Mindy. (I mean…. he wrote the letter of recommendation for her, how could he not have faith in her?)

So you see that, for how many examples I had of this show succeeding in being funny, the two examples I had of it failing were more detrimental than the jokes were helpful.

This is a show with a ton of potential. I don’t want you to think I am writing off Mindy/Danny or Stanford based on my tone—like the love triangle between Jeremy and Peter, I like in theory this Stanford arc because I am excited to see Mindy and Danny grapple with some real big questions that are consistent with what we’ve seen so far in them as characters. And I’m excited to see Mindy and to see Danny without each other. I’m excited to see an episode end without Mindy and Danny in their apartment or in their bedroom because I am pretty confident every episode has ended that way this season. I’m excited to see Mindy and Danny grow as individuals, and I’m excited to see Mindy/Danny evolve from its mostly stagnant place this season.

Not only that, but this show has made some really good B-plots lately, and I’ve loved to see the new members of the cast in the show. One of my favorite, small moments in this show has been when Mindy talks about Carolyn being drunk at a conference. I want to see that! I want to explore these people and how they relate to our people! I want these newbies to help our old-bies grow—like how TJ will mean something to Tamra’s development.

But, GOD, Mindy and Danny this episode. This has been coming for a while, but this is the first episode where it wasn’t just that I was disinterested by what I was seeing between the two of them—I actively disliked what the big conflict between them was. I thought it was boring, contrived, and silly. And it ultimately made me mad because the fight Mindy and Danny got into wasn’t fair to them as characters, especially Danny. Mindy’s self-doubt is interesting because I have been dying to see Mindy’s character explored (Danny got the brunt of the development the first two seasons) but I wish so much that this all could have been done differently. I hate that Mindy blamed Danny for the foot job and I hate that somehow that argument became one about Danny’s belief in Mindy and I hate hate hate that Danny said he didn’t have faith in Mindy because Mindy didn’t have faith in her and I hated that he packed up and left and then, for some reason*, came back. I guess that they did this plot because we were meant to examine Mindy’s faith in herself, but they threw Danny under the bus to do so.

What I want to say about the characterization has pretty much already been said, if not in this review than others: that I loved to see Tamra and Mindy stretching out a little bit, (as I’ve loved to see Jeremy and Peter—sometimes—doing) but how annoying it can be that plot points are thrown at us with so little explanation or reason. For Mindy and Danny’s plots, it’s often that within an episode what happens is resolved doesn’t matter in the long run, which means that I don’t care because once the 22 minutes are over, I know Mindy and Danny are going to reunite. For Tamra and Morgan’s plots, it’s that the writers have no idea whatsoever what they want to do with these characters and don’t really care. There is no trajectory for either of these plots and so much disregard for the big picture it’s frustrating.

I want you to know that I love this show and I’m tired of saying the same thing (or at least thinking much of the same thing) week after week. It’s weird, though—for a show that is about progression, for a show that is progressing (in the Stanford and future arcs), I feel in many ways that we’re going backward. For me, I couldn’t fully enjoy this episode because the big backwards outweighed the many forwards. But it is up to you to decide how you feel about this new show, because whether or not you think we’re going backward or forward, we are going somewhere, at least.

  • I didn’t talk much about Peter the Sage this episode, because all I have to say is Peter is a Sage. Who will be the new sage when he is gone? (I hope it’s Jeremy!)
  • I am told by my sister that Ana Gastayer was in this episode, who was the mom in Mean Girls. Well, that’s dope!
  • OH. I really hated that Mindy benevolently gave Neepa the right to do the surgery. First off, how do you know she’s qualified? Second off, how could you possibly say to Rob that all you want to do is be treated like everyone else when you are the reason he didn’t treat you like everyone else (more than once—how many other people get to choose whether or not they do the surgery?). Mindy didn’t earn this week, and I’m mad Rob gave her the responsibility so she could give it to Neepa. She might not have earned this week but she got the authority of someone who earned the week…
  • Don’t you think the Lisa Simpson voice actress is so cute? I love her, man.
  • I go back to school tomorrow! This is less a note about the show and more a note about meeeeeee!
  • I know this review is negative and harpy, but my grade for this episode is probably a solid “meh.” Perhaps the most egregious sin and most amazing blessing of this season is that episodes are more likely to be “meh”s than they are to be “!!!!!!!!!!” or “UGH!!!!”s. A sin because it means they’re not as good at getting me invested, but a blessing because watching The Mindy Project last year really got in the way of my finals.
  • * Yes, I understand, the “for some reason” was that he didn’t want their last conversation to be a fight. It’s weird, though, that THIS instance of Danny turning back happened off-screen, but in pretty much every other episode this season his turning back took up space and required Peter or Niecy Nash or Carla to get him to his senses. Do you think they’ve realized we get the point and they just won’t show that plot point anymore?
  • I’m watching Friends right now. Monica and Chandler clearly are better than Ross and Rachel, right? [Jenn's Note: INFINITELY BETTER. Chandler/Monica always > Ross/Rachel]

1 comment:

  1. 'Meh' just about sums it up for me. Hilarious one liners aside, why such silly, absurd story lines, when this is the same team that wrote season 2? Still, there have been some episodes where they have redeemed themselves surprisingly well. So here's to hoping that trend continues for the rest of the season.