Friday, September 12, 2014

Why I'll Be Watching The Mindy Project Season 3 Premiere this Tuesday (and Why You Should Too)

I came late to The Mindy Project.  I began watching in the middle of season two right before its two-month hiatus, became hooked, and then went back to the pilot to watch it from the beginning.  I'll be the first to admit that I didn't love every single episode (the show does get progressively stronger and really hits its stride in its sophomore season), but the initial something that always brought me back to the show was Mindy Kaling.

Mindy Kaling is currently the only Indian woman to have her own network show.  She is a talented and thoughtful writer.  She has a healthy sense of humility and is willing to make fun of herself for the sake of comedy.  But perhaps most importantly, she feels and looks like one of us.  Kaling often makes fun of the back-handed compliments that she has received about her physical appearance from critics and the public.

Kaling's "controversial" 
Elle cover 
Although this feedback frustrates her since she's only human (see the absurd controversy that erupted over her Elle magazine cover), Kaling has said that she is glad to be portraying a normal-sized woman who dates and has regular sex because you never see that on-screen, even though women of all shapes and sizes are having sex off-screen.  It seems preposterous that this would be true, but she's right.  Can you think of another show where the lead actress is not skinny, yet is shown as sexy and desirable to many men?

If Kaling was my initial draw to The Mindy Project, it is Chris Messina who has made me a devotee.  Chris Messina portrays Mindy's other half, Dr. Daniel Castellano.  He is the perfect on-screen match for Mindy, which is why the pair is currently my favorite couple on television. Their playful banter is also a testament to the great comedic writing on the show, and the writing in and of itself is enough reason to keep watching.  Case in point:

Scene from "An Officer and A Gynecologist"

Still from Episode 3x01 "We're A Couple Now, Haters"
I have been a fan of Chris Messina ever since he played Claire's earnest Republican boyfriend Ted on Six Feet Under.  He is an extremely adept and charismatic actor, which allows the show to let Danny be a lovable curmudgeon.  Danny doesn't know who Bradley Cooper is but he can perform the heck out of the choreography to Aaliyah's "Try Again" video.  He is a Giuliani-loving devout Catholic who doesn't trust the new pope but made sure to teach his younger brother Richie how to shave his legs for his Cabaret performance.  Danny is a beautiful mass of contradictions.  

It is hard to believe that Kaling was unsure whether Danny and Mindy would ever seriously date until the middle of the show's second season.  There was something brewing between them in the show's pilot; the barbs they hurled at each other felt almost like a mating dance and this sexual energy has only increased over the past two years.  If season one was about Mindy and Danny becoming friends who learn to trust, respect and confide in one another, then season two was about them each coming to terms with what the audience already knew: they had fallen in love.  
Still from Episode 2x22 "Danny and Mindy"
Kaling has maintained that she has no intention of breaking Mindy and Danny up, a huge departure from most relationships in TV land.  Let's face it: shows rely on the will they/won't they/on-again/off-again angst to keep viewers gripped.  It's also the reason why most romantic comedies end just as the two characters finally become a couple.  Kaling believes that Mindy and Danny can be as interesting together as they are apart.  I think she's right.  In fact, they might be the twenty-first century's reincarnation of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo (I Love Lucy), especially with Mindy's penchant for drama and scheming.  The key difference is that Danny is more Ethel than Ricky. Even though he feigns frustration with her relationship drama and plotting, Danny secretly delights in them and willingly becomes her partner in crime.  Mindy pushes Danny out of his emotional comfort zone and Danny keeps Mindy grounded.  To quote Danny, "you know you're right for someone when they force you to be the best version of yourself."

If you're still not sure whether The Mindy Project is right for you, try season two's finale, aptly titled "Danny and Mindy," on for size.  Kaling wrote the episode and it is her pièce de résistance: a series of playful riffs on the many romantic comedy tropes to which we have grown accustomed.  The episode also serves as a fantastic homage to An Affair to Remember, You've Got Mail, Sleepless In Seattle, and When Harry Met Sally.  

"Danny and Mindy" Don't Mind Us, We're Just In Love
The final act of "Danny and Mindy" surpasses the more conventional expectations one might have for what a half-hour comedy can deliver: from the beautiful cutaways between Danny and Mindy as Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" plays in the background to a lovely callback to the pilot episode with a hilarious twist, Kaling takes the audience for a wonderful ride.  She understands how enjoyable it is to watch two feisty and stubborn people fall in love almost despite themselves. When last we saw Danny and Mindy, they were lying on the ground at the top of the Empire State Building, simultaneously making-out and arguing about how many children they were going to have.

Where do Mindy and Danny go from here?  What do Kaling and her team have planned next for us?  Whatever the answers, I know I'll be watching.

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