Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Mindy Project 3x15 ("Dinner at the Castellanos") & 3x16 ("Lahiri Family Values") [Contributor: Ann]

"Dinner at the Castellanos" & "Lahiri Family Values"
Original Airdates: February 10, 2015 & February 17, 2015

I’m so sorry that I am just getting to these reviews now! School has been crazy and unfortunately that means that all of my free time is devoted to napping and worrying. It’s cute, I know.

Luckily for me, these two episodes work well together anyway. “Dinner At the Castellanos” and “Lahiri Family Values” both serve a lot of similar purposes—they move the plot forward (which has been the case pretty much since “Christmas”), they incorporate cool guest stars who I love (John Cho! Dan Hedeya!), they are both about family, and they are both post-pregnancy episodes, a development which in both cases has given the narrative some of the structure that I’ve been waiting for all season. However, the execution of both of these episodes was very different and as a result, I liked one more than the other. Although, spoiler alert: I have liked both of these episodes a lot more than I’ve liked other episodes this season.

Let me just talk about them briefly, if that’s cool—what worked and what didn’t work and what I felt the purpose of each episode was (because, spoiled high-maintenance me loves to identify the purpose of television shows).

"Dinner At The Castellanos"

I loved this episode so much because it was very "Desert"-reminiscent, which is one of my favorite episodes of the show. I wonder why the inclusion of Alan Castellano and Little Danny is so successful; Annette has been hanging around all season but has never clicked so much as she did here. Seeing Danny’s family fully-fleshed (sans Richie but plus Dot!) was very informative to me of Danny’s character, and in an episode that followed the season 3 CLASSIC formula of ‘Danny disagrees with Mindy in a way that is kind of rude,’ at least this time I could understand why he was the way he was. 

Neither Mindy or Danny are totally right, and I love that; you shouldn’t be able to identify a “good guy” and a “bad guy”: you just need to identify the motives behind the characters’ decisions. 

Mindy slapped Danny’s sister, which is highly inappropriate, and she instigated a decades-in-the-making dinner. I don’t blame Danny for being pissed at her for having to unnecessarily confront all of his family drama in a dinner not of his choosing, nor do I think it’s fair to get angry at Danny for treating the mother of his child pretty badly—he doesn’t know she’s pregnant, and I think it’s a lot more justifiable to treat a non-member of your family that way (I like to compartmentalize the people in my life, too, and I have a lot less reason to be that way than the guy with the messed up family). I also think it’s important to note how Danny is compared to his father; Danny isn’t the best of guys, and you can see shades of his father in him (and the effect of his father on him), but what makes Danny important is that he doesn’t run away from the situation. He acknowledges that they are a family at the end of the episode. It took a lot for him to see that, and to me I think it is because he is afraid to see it, especially with Mindy in San Francisco. I hate to write this, but a baby is a binder, and it should prove that Danny has always been committed to Mindy, just unconvinced that he would obtain everything he wanted.

But… Danny is unforgivably selfish in "Dinner At The Castellanos," which makes me so thankful that Annette gives him a rough time. Again, Annette has never been cooler than when she acts as the voice of the audience, verbally bitch-slapping Danny for his “Stockholm Syndrome.” I like that she points out the tragedy behind Danny’s behavior—that he feels stuck as the caregiver of only those he knows will stay with him, his family—but she also makes it very clear that sometimes the tragedy is not enough to erase bad behavior. I mean, he kicked Mindy out! Not cool. His willingness to take in Little D, much like his buying Mindy a house without asking, was equally uncool, and hints that these two have a slew of problems waiting for them.

But what I loved most was Mindy’s behavior. I said that slapping Little Danny was highly inappropriate, but I understood why she resorted to those lengths, and I thought her comfort in disciplining Danny hinted at how much of a hard-ass she’ll be as a mother. I loved that she went all-in on the eel thing, I loved that she was desperate to prove herself—an emotion that is so realistic and so often misrepresented—and I loved that she was mostly the voice of reason, because the way Mindy the character is represented it is sometimes hard to forget why she is the way she is. Maturity is one of my favorite things to see from either of these characters; I’ve mentioned this in every review, but a bunch of jokes is absolutely nothing compared to a realistic, emotional heart behind the show. Mindy and Danny both exhibited that this episode.

The Castellanos helped Mindy and Danny express themselves best. The absence of a B-plot meant the absence of useless (Morgan) or unfleshed (Jeremy) characters and the characters that we were instead stuck with showed Danny at his worst (with Alan) and Mindy at her best (with Annette). Little Danny provided a template of what a parenting situation would look like—Danny being the selfless caregiver and Mindy being the hardass. This was the first episode that took that to task, and I can’t wait to see more situations that indicate the type of parents Mindy and Danny will be and how they will work together. I still think that the show abandoned a lot of interesting plots by knocking Mindy up, but right now I think the pregnancy has helped the show be better. This episode was the start.

"Lahiri Family Values"

Heeeeere’s the thing, though: "Lahiri Family Values" kind of dropped the ball in terms of focus, though I don’t think previous episodes helped it at all. Can you imagine if Mindy went to Stanford earlier? That we got to know Neepa more?… Or Rob, the guy we’re apparently stuck with?

A major strength of this show is that it can construct cool minor characters at the drop of a hat and bring them in and out depending on the guest star’s schedule. John Cho is beloved and Big Murder was a far and away favorite; Rishi, who we haven’t seen since season 1, was equally hilarious.

What I hate about that strength is that I don’t want to sacrifice these guest characters to those in Shulman and Associates. The previous episode also made it clear that a show could be constructed around Mindy, Danny, and the Castellano clan, and in this episode I really could see how the show would be better in San Francisco. Annette, Dot, Alan, Little Danny, Richie, Rishi, Big Murder—hell, Cliff—they are all compelling characters, and they all have more motivation behind what they do than Jeremy, Morgan, Tamra or Beverly. 

The reason this episode lacks focus is because the show refuses to pick a lane on where it wants to go or what it wants to do. Or, to be clearer, this show’s lane is “Shulman and Associates,” and that lane is slowing it down in a major way. The amount of time on the B-plot made it implausible that Mindy would drop Rob, drop Stanford, and rent office space in New York City within twenty minutes’ time, all so that the rest of the practice could figure out Mindy and Danny were expecting a baby? I appreciated that the first episode was streamlined by eliminating the B-plot, and I think this episode would have been better if that same case applied. [Jenn's Note: I was busy in my kitchen unloading the dishwasher and had my bedroom door open so I could sort of still see the episode. I kid you not, I knew exactly what the B-plot was without having to watch most of it or hear any of it. The trope of "Someone tries to tell their friends that they are moving and other characters misinterpret and think Character A is dying" has been done so often that it's eye roll-inducing and I had hoped the show would be better than resorting to that trite well. ANYWAY.]

I know I gave props to Rishi and Big Murder before, and I do love them, but another problem with this episode focus-wise is that they didn’t give me any clarity on Mindy’s situation at all. (I’ve mentioned how supporting characters should actually SUPPORT the mains, right? Or at least be periphery humor? Yes? A million times? Okay!) Rishi was truly only present to provide (half-assed) justification for Mindy’s move back to New York, and I can’t help but think there was a better way to utilize him. And Big Murder might have only been there to give John Cho an excuse to make me miss Selfie and to hit on Mindy. It felt like an unnecessary detour that took up too much time and made the end plot development unearned.

Of course, this episode was funny, as was its predecessor—though I think with this show that is always a given. What I want to see from it is a direction forward. The A-plot-only format really benefited the first episode, as did the inclusion of characters that had a satisfying purpose, whereas the second episode faltered from wearing too many hats. 

I know that both of these reviews are a bit scattered, which is ironic considering what I talk about is focus. Life imitates art, I guess? But I hope that you understand my point, here. I like both of these episodes, and as I mentioned I am loving that they are giving these characters some cool things to do and putting them in the paths of John Chos and Dan Hedayas. I just wish they would be more deliberate and thoughtful about the steps they took forward. Unlike the first half of the season, this half has a lot going on for it: San Fran, a fertility clinic, Little Mindy, a proposal. At the very least, that makes this better than the tired formula of the first eight or so episodes. These characters have decisions. They have opportunities to grow. Don’t get preoccupied by the jokes—this is a show about people. So let them be people!

Stray Observ’s:
  • "It’s only stalking if it doesn’t work! You make her love you" is unfortunately not funny because Peter will literally follow that advice. Why is he stalking her? Wasn’t she into it?
  • P.S. - Peter the Sage makes a guest appearance!
  • Rhea really looked beautiful with blonde hair, and really did win over my heart with her tough love for Mindy. It did feel like a family.
  • I will miss Neepa a lot. I will miss the potential for Stanford a lot. I mean, what was the end sum of Stanford? “Mindy goes, visits New York pretty much every episode since, is apparently bad but becomes SO good she is planning on opening a fertility clinic with her professor.” This is something that should happen at least over a half-season, not a handful of episodes. I WOULD WATCH THE SHOW OF ALL OF THESE PEOPLE! 
  • I sound rough on the B-plot, but for how farcical it was, it was executed fairly well—mostly because I like seeing Jeremy and Danny interact.
  • P.S. - I really, really love when Danny and Mindy are in their own plots, and I think “Lahiri Family Values” is the first episode all season that doesn’t end with them snuggled together. My dream is for a Mindy-Jeremy A plot and a Danny-Tamra B plot. Cross your fingers?
  • Cliff looked hot as hell, as did Big Murder. Did I mention that? I was thinking it!
Does anyone else not like Rob all that much? I don’t see his purpose other than ‘average looking brown-haired white man,’ to fill in the apparent gap left by Adam Pally.


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