Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Mindy Project 4x23 Review: "There's No Crying in Softball" (The Lineup) [Contributor: Anne]

"There's No Crying in Softball"
Original Airdate: June 14, 2016

I know I very, very recently made a point about the pointlessness of The Mindy Project. I don't attempt here to rescind or in any way change that opinion, first because it was a fun opinion to state, and second because I still believe that there is not enough evidence that the show is committed to a singular vision one way or another. If this episode is the vision it settles on, however, I will be so pleased.

It's weird that following last week's absolutely lackluster effort that we get this: my favorite episode of this half-season and one of my favorite episodes of the season. It's an episode that fully commits to the new format of the season by addressing it, dissecting it, and giving us reasons to sign on to this new chapter of Mindy Lahiri's life — not limited to handsome Drew (Mad Men's Stan!) but certainly including him.

What made this episode better? How can I even show my face around here when I turn face so quickly? Well, to answer the second question, I kind of do whatever and I'm a really big fan of Jenn, so that's how. But to answer the first question, let me show you my line-up of reasons:


Mindy's hesitance with Drew throughout the entire episode stems from a real place — the place that was created whenever she and Danny split. It actually kind of reminds me of how Danny was always the one in the first two seasons getting the emotional heat. Because he had such a devastating past to mine, he could carry so many conflicts plausibly, and he did. I mean, that was his whole thing in the beginning: he was a closed-off jerk, but those negative qualities came from a good, if damaged, place.

What I like about Mindy's issues is how well she is at handling them, and how the show refuses to dismiss them. Mindy's going through so much professionally and personally and to get little manifestations of that in different settings is meaningful in the long term, as opposed to making me tolerate moments when they stretch credibility (with her intelligence) for the sake of a joke. Her vulnerability and insecurity exists somewhere real and is consistent, un-eraseable. Sometimes other conflicts with Mindy weren't that way, and I think that for whatever lasting problems I do have with this season, Mindy Lahiri has been blossoming as a character throughout it all.

I also think — while this doesn't fit under the title I've placed above — Mindy has become meaningful in just fleshing out characteristics that are neutral or comedic, too. I loved how Mindy was so forward in wanting sex from handsome Drew, and I did love how in last episode she was so forward in her disdain for sports. I think Mindy is becoming such a multi-dimensional character, which is definitely a point in the case for this season.


I'm skeptical about the longevity of this relationship still, but I've loved Drew's normalcy so far and hope that he stays that way even if he and Mindy meet their end. I often repeat myself in these, but for how much I liked Casey and his initial arc (Mindy Kaling's description of him as a "college boyfriend" kind of love), I hated how Casey and Glenn Howerton (and maybe a little of Danny too, haha) — Mindy's longest-term boyfriends — lost their normalcy to kind of justify the break-up in the long-run.

Drew has a stabilizing presence for a show that is often inconsistent; it's charming to both Mindy and myself how patient he is with her repeated snubs (toward the baby and toward the day), and how patient he is once he realizes where she's gone. He's even patient when she throws out the NY itinerary in favor of sex, basically hiding him from her friends. He understands these steps, and is pleased when he gets the chance to meet her friends on her terms rather than the way that he got jerked around during the day. It's so mature. It's a breath of fresh air both on this show and in general. I don't know how many sitcoms would have played with the "you don't want me to meet your friends/baby?!" conflict, and I'm so happy this show didn't have to do that because the male lead was so cool with Mindy. When Mindy finally does confess her root anxieties then, it feels like a moment where the relationship deepens rather than a concession in an argument. It's opening up rather than shutting down, and that's a big difference from when Danny used to run the show.


This episode might have shown more than any other episode what magic can result when Morgan, Beverly, Tamra, and Jeremy share the stage together. And they often do share the stage, because The Mindy Project shoves the coworkers together for B-plots. This was honestly the first episode where I saw how each character serves such a distinct and useful purpose to the show's comedy, as well as understood how much time needs to be allocated to each for me to be satisfied at where they are as characters (two-dimensional, which can be okay if they are just filling B-plot and not expected to carry anything that hefty or emotional).

This was most surprising to me with Jeremy and Morgan. Jeremy, I've always loved more than the show seems to love him; I wish he had more plots all of the time. I wish he and Mindy talked about their tryst more or had a relationship more — he's the only one who has really stuck around since the beginning, even when Amanda Setton and Gwen said their goodbyes. But in this episode, I actually felt some warmth and coziness that justified why this show about one woman's life has an ensemble of her co-workers rather than her friends. When Mindy groans to the Deslauriers about Jeremy getting stung by a bee, there's a sibling-like vibe. And even though she has ragged on him and continues to rag on him a lot, that sort of eye-roll "ugh" banter from her proves that there is an undercurrent of love at Schulman and Associates, no matter what barbs they exchange. It was nice.

With Morgan, I'm just surprised that he has evolved past his utility as a Deus Ex plot device that accidentally blurted secrets out or caused action to happen. I think that, as is the case with Jeremy, he and Mindy's relationship has some plausible and real backbone to it. I remember thinking at one point (maybe in the third season?) that Mindy was getting too mean to Morgan for how much he devoted himself to her, and I'm happy that the scales are more balanced now, with Morgan being such an integral part of Mindy's fertility clinic and Mindy, you know, giving Morgan the allowance to buy his monthly portion of food.


What this episode had that The Mindy Project has been needing more of for some time is a dose of meta, of conversation with the viewers. I've felt — and have expressed, loudly — that the show is bouncing us around and doesn't know what it's doing or what it has been presenting for so long. The meta is an assurance that I didn't even know was missing until I started hearing Mindy talk about the "colorful cast of characters" at the office and about how they don't need Danny.

I feel like this show likes to brush past events really quickly without any explanation. And to a point, that can be excused. While I don't think the show is pretending Mindy didn't break up with Danny, emotionally or otherwise, I do think that it needed to openly address the greater issue — that Danny is no longer a part of the show, period, and how that means that the initial pitch of The Mindy Project has been altered, either for creative or logistic reasons. By addressing that in some fashion, I was given back some of the confidence in the show that hasn't existed in, frankly, forever.


This episode was actually the first in, like, ten episodes that I laughed out loud — when Jody said that he was telling Courtney "about an ETRADE commercial that he found amusing." I liked that joke a lot.

What I want to say about the humor is that there is such a fine line to toe between humor that takes characters to interesting places and humor that plays it safe. And it's sucky to be a critic when you're criticizing humor because, well, if I think it's so bad why don't I just write it?! But in this case, where the show succeeds, I want to point out why, using that ETRADE joke as an example. It's simple, it's so minor, it tells us about Jody, and it makes sense given what we know about his character — that's all. It's like the red glasses in how it expands on common knowledge. It's finding new avenues for an established character, and though it's so clearly a small joke, it's an idiosyncratic joke, and nothing to me is funnier than idiosyncrasies. Compare those kinds of jokes to ones that we've heard a million times now: ones where Mindy eats too much, ones where Jody says something kind of sexist, et cetera.

It's also uplifting sort of humor. It's sitcom humor, and it's comfortable humor with a distinctive voice. I hope the show continues to take advantage of its strengths and continue to address its weaknesses. If it's anything like this episode, we will finish the season with a home run.

Stray Observations:
  • I should point out that I really dislike Colette. I think that Jody has a distinct voice (I mean; similar to Danny's, but still) while Colette is just another Morgan. I don't understand her purpose.
  • So are we going to talk about Jody and Mindy? I get that Courtney is the annoying girlfriend, but I don't actually think she's all that bad. I do want to see that get addressed like in a conversation between the two of them though. Will it be in the finale?
  • I like how Morgan's coach-riding joke is similar to his joke a few episodes ago. (I also like how Mindy says that she thought the joke was funny. I always think it's weird when sitcom characters don't acknowledge other characters' jokes.)
  • I have cried in softball before, though. I stoved my finger. Now what, The Mindy Project?


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