Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Mindy Project 4x04 "The Bitch is Back" (Having it All) [Contributor: Anne]

"The Bitch is Back"
Original Airdate: October 6, 2015

I didn't like the stupid breast milk-spraying joke.

I really, really didn't like it. It was stupid and slap-sticky and should have certainly gotten Mindy fired.

Now that I got my biggest grievance out in the open, let me talk about the rest of this episode of The Mindy Project, which has given me a lot to talk about. Yes, I was so worried about not having enough to talk about, but silly me. I always have something to talk about.

What struck me about this episode was that it was the first well-done ensemble episode of the entire series, or at least in my memory. This show has always had a complicated relationship with its ensemble; when they carry B-plots, they're mostly boring, and when secondary characters intervene in the main plot, they more frequently hurt than help.

I'm not saying that every episode with a focus on the ensemble failed –– not at all –– but that this episode was an ensemble episode, one that made me understand how this show could be the things it has always wanted to be. As a show whose focus is on one character (maybe two), there's always pressure on which elements are going to be the focus. Mindy's "friend" life wasn't sustainable, for example, and Danny's "ma" sometimes worked and sometimes didn't.

But in the fourth season we're seeing so many of these elements being toyed with in a pretty perfect measure, whether you've got Mom Mindy, Friend Mindy, Co-worker Mindy, Entrepreneur Mindy, Daughter Mindy, or Lover Mindy. You've got the Mindy who can't solve Dora the Explorer mysteries, the Schemer Mindy, the Feminist Mindy, the Friendly (and then Flirtatious) Mindy.

Basically, you've got a fully-developed main character this season. You "have it all." Thank goodness.

I know I've said this before, but Mindy was always hard for me to peg down in the first couple of seasons. Early Danny and Mindy plots emphasized Danny's redemption-by-love more than Mindy's own change of heart; Mindy Kaling says as much in her book Why Not Me when she describes the show's premise as "Boy meets Girl. Boy hates Girl. Girl is not crazy about Boy either. Eventually Girl wears Boy down with friendliness. Boy grows to love Girl but can't express it." And so on. There's always been an emphasis on Danny's warming towards Mindy and his inner conflict over it*; this is frankly the case in most romances (Pride and Prejudice, anyone?) and frankly is something I love in my romantic comedies.

But in a show like this one, having a focus on Mindy is an asset in the long-term, because this is her project, not Danny's (though he is free to share the spotlight from time to time). And what ended up happening as a result of how the first two seasons were structured is that the third season had to reconfigure. Danny had been redeemed by Mindy's love –– not made perfect, mind you, but redeemed in perfect rom-com formula. So the question lingers: now what?

What the third season did, and what I always made clear that I appreciated, was really outline Mindy Lahiri as a character for me. Maybe it was because Danny was such a tremendous jerk, but at some point during the third season I began to root for Mindy rather than Danny. I never thought this would happen! Hardened, cynical men with a heart of gold are my bread and butter, after all! But I am so happy that I came to appreciate the potential of Mindy Lahiri, and I'm happy that the fourth season continues to paint the picture of who she is as a character. Mindy Kaling once compared Mindy Lahiri to Michael Scott –– both main characters, both incredibly flawed, but ultimately complex. I can totally see that here.

I've been yammering on about one character when I promised that this was the first well-done ensemble episode of the show. Why?

Because the ensemble lifts Mindy up! A good ensemble creates situations for the protagonist (Mindy, of course) to react to –– whether that's through direct interaction (conflict) or through indirect interaction (parallel stories that inform the main character's). But a great ensemble can do those things while getting you to care about them, too.

I am so sorry, Peter and Jeremy, but Jody and Colette are more interesting in their first episode than you will ever be. I love them so much and so immediately. Jody, like Peter, is sexist and charming and brushes up against Mindy in an unfavorable way; Colette is grounded and cool, which makes her more interesting to me than almost anyone else in the office. They are ridiculous but are grounded by the fact that they have compelling strengths and flaws in their personalities. What a novel concept! (But considering Betsy, Shauna, Peter and Jeremy, it kind of is, though.)

But the best thing about these two new characters? They have a relationship with each other that is so interesting. They're so different, but also compatible, and I'm excited to see that relationship play out on my screen. Again, having a real relationship lends a character some plausibility and makes you, as an audience member, care about them. In contrast to someone like Morgan, who plays 99% ridiculous all of the time with his relationship to Dr. L, the demonstration of tenderness (or even lucidity) is welcome to me.

I can also see that these characters will make the show around them better, too. Tamra and Colette are already hanging out. Jeremy knows both of them! For characters who promise to be more but normally don't live up to this promise, Jody and Colette are well-needed (especially because Dr. L is so busy).

Let's talk about the episode. I know Danny shouldn't have been so aggressive about enforcing his idea of parenthood on Mindy –– like, get her a gift, dude, out of the goodness of your heart for once! –– but I also think that this episode, like previous episodes, makes it clear why Danny feels the way he does (not for traditional reasons but for reasons tied to his past), makes it clear why Danny is in the wrong (Tamra's awesome speech to him in the jewelry store), and eliminates hurtful or manipulative schemes of Danny's before they actually happen. And it's not like he's without a point; Mindy is more stressed because she is at work, she does feel like she doesn't belong, she does miss Leo, and he doesn't hear her say that she wants to change her mind at the end of the episode.

I also really enjoyed the weekly sage talk, this time delivered by Tamra. (I do love, love, love, love, love Tamra.) I loved that Danny had to consider all that Mindy's given him and had to try to find a gift that was one fraction of that value. I also appreciated the gift; I think that this show, with the dance, documentary and now this, have really killed "sentimental and beautiful gifts." I also think that a tattoo's permanency is the perfect representation of how committed Danny is to Mindy and actually implies that Danny is becoming less traditional/loosening up as a result of knowing her, which is nice to see.

This episode went by quickly. Being without FOX is the best thing that could have happened to The Mindy Project. While the fourth episode was on par with the third more than the first two, it was the fourth consecutive episode that I loved and the fourth reminder of why this show is on its best season yet.

Stray Observations:
  • But get rid of the breast milk gag! That joke was so in-your-face, I was waiting for the corresponding "bazinga."
  • (Pun intended in the previous point.)
  • I'm being harsh on that joke. I am sorry. Seeing as this show hasn't gone for slapstick that much, it's obviously a nitpick. But it is thus far my least favorite thing in the fourth season, which should at the very least tell you how much I've enjoyed this season.
  • * If you want examples of "Danny's inner conflict gets more focus than Mindy's in their courtship," consider the second season's premiere, "You've Got Sext," the Christmas episode, and the desert kiss, which is initiated by Danny. Obviously, Mindy's feelings get a clearer focus post-kiss, especially "Be Cool," "Girl Crush," and their fight in the bathroom. This all happens after Danny's feelings have been realized, though. And this isn't a bad thing! Fun, carefree, lively characters redeeming tortured, seemingly irredeemable ones through love is a major trope (Hey ARROW fans! Hey THE VAMPIRE DIARIES fans!) and is also one of my favorites (Hey LUKE AND LORELAI fans!).
  • I say this every episode of everything I review: how beautiful everyone is, but everyone is so beautiful in this episode, especially Mindy. #teamlongbob
  • I miss Eliza Coupe already.
  • I am worried that Jeremy needs to go. He did his best service by bringing in Jody and Colette.
  • Morgan was absolutely insufferable this episode. He is normally insufferable to me, but this episode was way over-the-top.
  • I would give this episode a B+. Because my least favorite thing of the episode was hinged on a lot of things I wasn't that crazy for, either, this episode was less enjoyable to me than the one before it.

1 comment:

  1. wow I couldn't disagree more. I think Jody and Collette are terrible and this may have been one of the worst episodes the show ever did. This episode along with MILF (which was on of the the series best) paint Danny as borderline emotionally abusive.

    I loved loved loved Tamara that was fantastic but Jody was terrible, I would trade Chris Messina in a heartbeat for Adam Palley and Peter. Although I admit Danny is important but the this season has really made it hard to want him on the show, he is just inexcusable.

    I did love the B plot but it was so insanely sexist, and I am sorry but in what would would Tamara or Morgan just sign on to that. Also does Danny love Mindy at all? He couldn't defend her when this man made her feel terrible and belittled her?

    Tamara was this episode's saving grace and the fact that 4 episodes in and NO MA. That is fantastic.