Why ‘The Mindy Project’ Fails at Everything It Attempts

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When Danny and Mindy got together a few episodes ago on The Mindy Project, the reaction from fans rivaled that of New Girl’s Nick and Jess shippers. The difference between the two audiences, of course, was that New Girl fans had earned the Nick and Jess relationship after two seasons that did not rely solely on the “will they or won’t they?” tease to carry them through. Moreover, New Girl fans were given an opportunity to actually enjoy the relationship before — spoiler alert — Nick and Jess broke up. Mindy and Danny shippers got one perfect scene of romantic bliss (the airplane kiss) and a couple episodes rife with drama before the split. One episode later, Mindy is back to guest-star flavors of the week, like New Girl’s Schmidt in tonight’s episode, and Danny is hooking up with Peter’s sister. A show has not made me feel so much like I’m doing dating in New York wrong since Sex and the City. Hell, even Girls gets it right more often than Mindy.

Why did I invest a thoroughly frustrating season and a half in The Mindy Project? Mindy Kaling. Mindy Kaling is the only good part of The Mindy Project, with the one small caveat that she is not even good on The Mindy Project. Kaling is a smart, funny person, but the same cannot be said for her character. In a similar way that Tina Fey showed the most pathetic side of herself in 30 Rock‘s Liz Lemon, Kaling’s Mindy Lahiri character softens her career success by shamelessly owning her “hot mess” side. The difference is, Kaling is not wearing a Snuggie and “working on her night cheese” like endearing Lemon. We rarely, if ever, see Lahiri in a professional setting where she is taking care of business. She’s so unstable, I’m not sure how she puts together such fashionable outfits each day.

In one of last week’s episodes, “Be Cool,” Mindy smashes a wine glass with her bare hand when she sees Danny’s ex-flame flirting with him at a party, due to the fact that Danny has not gone public with their (very new) relationship. Mindy’s solution is to threaten decapitation, curl up in her room with a bottle of wine, and try to make Danny jealous by pretending she hooked up with their co-worker Peter. Then Mindy is surprised when this outburst ultimately leads to Danny ending things before they even got started. Oh, and Mindy is convinced this has something to do with her not having a perfect body. (Sidenote: fat jokes are not any funnier when they’re written by someone who has unfairly been deemed fat by ridiculous Hollywood standards.) The only redeeming part of the episode is Danny’s break-up speech, which brings the rom-com realness in a way that anyone who’s tried dating their best friend can relate to.

“Crazy” is a word that gets tossed around too often in conversations about women’s emotions and how well they control them. I don’t use it lightly, but here we go: Mindy Lahiri is batshit crazy. If the show’s demographic were comprised of more straight men, I would worry that the character is offering up a damaging portrayal of the modern career woman. I suspect Kaling thinks of her TV counterpart as “crazy in a fun way,” like the friend who gets too drunk at brunch and snags the waiter’s number. The thing is, “crazy in a fun way” requires self-confidence — something Lahiri lacks at every juncture, except when being constantly undercut by her male coworkers. And yet, as we saw in one of last week’s episodes (“Girl Crush”), Mindy doesn’t have quite enough cold-hearted self interest or, yes, confidence to trade her ragtag medical practice for a gyno-to-the-stars gig. The logistics of having a lead on a workplace comedy leave the workplace are tough; even Matthew Weiner, with a far larger budget that Kaling and co., brought Peggy Olson back into the firm on Mad Men after barely a season. But why even toy with the plotline if Mindy can’t make a career change? While Kaling may think it’s an endearing show of loyalty on Lahiri’s part, it makes the character look weak yet again — and it makes the show look like it’s not really a workplace comedy. No, let’s get it straight: this is a show about a single woman trying to get — nay, keep — a boyfriend. I thought Mindy was better than that.

The Mindy Project leans too much on male guest stars — from James Franco to It’s Always Sunny’s Glenn Howerton — brought in to hook up with or briefly date Mindy. This is a woman, mind you, who was engaged to someone she had known for the hottest of moments when Season 2 began this past fall, played by Workaholics‘ Anders Holm. In tonight’s episode, “Think Like a Peter,” Mindy takes her Danny-rebound efforts to a new level by allowing Peter teach her his scumbag dating tricks. In return, she scores with a hot teacher (played by Max Greenfield) who dips out before morning and — spoiler — turns out to be married. When she shows up unexpectedly at his workplace, Mindy is more offended by the fact that he asks if she’s the parent of one of the children in his classroom. Jokes about a woman’s age: real groundbreaking comedic territory.

I see what’s happening, and I think the audience does too. Before Danny and Mindy got together, Peter and Mindy were getting close, as best exhibited in the “Wedding Crushers” episode earlier this season. (And as we saw in the “Indian BBW” episode two weeks ago, Peter is sexually attracted to Mindy.) The purpose of Mindy being emotionally destroyed by some random hook-up is so Peter can be there to comfort her. The Mindy Project is setting things up for a workplace love triangle starring Mindy, Danny, and Peter, in which Mindy will have to choose between her two pals. Just like the love triangle between Mindy, Danny, and Cliff (Howerton) that took shape right before the show went on hiatus for two and half months, I suspect this new love triangle will come to the fore in the season finale. I can’t blame Kaling and co. for trying to shake things up — the show’s been renewed for a third season, but the ratings are abysmal and The Mindy Project remains the weakest corner of Fox’s Tuesday lineup. They have to do something to build interest. I’m just not sure a revolving door of boyfriends, an underdeveloped supporting cast, and weak jokes will be enough.