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‘The Mindy Project’ Finds Its Footing (By Occasionally Slipping)

'The Mindy Project' Finds Its Footing (By Occasionally Slipping)

Mindy Kaling’s show, now partway into its third season, is nicely managing the transition into relationship territory, a move which so often inspires viewer backlash (bluntly acknowledged in the title of the season opener: “We’re a Couple Now, Haters!”) 

Personally, I think the sitcom’s just hitting its stride. The first season, while full of good writing, was a little too reliant on the initial premise: that single, successful OB-GYN Mindy Lahiri (Kaling) was obsessed with romantic comedies and determined to find herself living inside one. The second season got a lot better and less formulaic, but was still a little over-stuffed with wacky dating hijinks (though it certainly gave Kaling the opportunity to go nuts with the dishy guest stars: Timothy Olyphant, Glenn Howerton, Ben Feldman, Tim Daly).

Contrary to some viewers, I don’t think there’s necessarily more inherent feminism to be found in a character who’s single and looking to fall in love than there is with one who’s paired up with someone she genuinely likes. Especially not when he’s the gem that is Chris Messina as Danny Castellano (let us not forget his facility with an Aliyah dance routine). I’d be happy to see the show blossom into a sort of dirtier Mad About You, in which Mindy and Danny continue to explore the various pitfalls of coupledom, as they’ve done in recent episodes.

In “I Slipped,” Mindy and Danny deal with the fallout after a sexual encounter goes someplace she wasn’t expecting. Anal sex is definitely out of the ordinary subject matter for a primetime sitcom, and they got some good comedy out of it.

Relatedly, I also really enjoyed the episode in which Mindy couldn’t help spreading the word around the office about how Danny is “good with his mouth” (and that he, in return, tells her that she’s only “meh” with hers, a continuation of the theme in which Mindy is lazier in bed than the men she dates).

On a larger scale, I think Kaling (who was just named one of Glamour’s 2014 Women of the Year) is awesome for continuing to make the show she wants to make without feeling obligated to make her character a paragon of virtue. On the contrary, her fictional counterpart is shallow, narcissistic, and usually involved in altruistic endeavors for all the wrong reasons (“I am mad charitable. I donated two cans of soup to get into a Katy Perry Q&A”). Despite all that, she usually learns the error of her ways by the end of the episode. You know, like the man (often the dad) at the center of so many sitcoms over the decades.

I also like that Kaling seems perennially a little annoyed that she has to keep answering questions about what it’s like to be a trailblazing minority female running her own show. (But also remarkably sanguine about being confused with Malala Yousafzai by some idiot at a recent New York event.)

“I know why people are interested and I know why people want me to speak about it. But I sort of refuse to be an outsider, even though I know that I very much look like one to a lot of people, and I refuse to view myself in such terms,” she told NPR recently. “And I think as women, you know, if you are considered a pioneer in these things, you can get really distracted by these other things — you know, people’s demands of you reflecting on your otherness…. I think that it’s insidious to be spending more of your time reflecting and talking about panels, and talking more and more in smart ways about your otherness, rather than doing the hard work of your job.”

She may refuse to view herself in those terms, but she definitely has a hell of a time sending up all the discussion about her appearance — particularly her body type — on the show. If there’s one thing her character consistently does well (besides delivering babies), it’s outrage.

And though she doesn’t have time to appear on panels discussing her feminism, she does walk the walk: “It’s my responsibility to try to encourage groups that don’t get represented,” she tells Glamour in its new profile of her. “I can’t just hire willy-nilly. It’s important for me to have our eight female writers because my show is about women.”

And every so often she, and they, throw in a little gift for their female viewership, like the moment in this season’s opener when Danny reveals why his name was once Diamond Dan.

Which she can do, because as she has said so memorably, she’s “a fucking Indian woman who has her own fucking network television show, OK?”

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