'The Mindy Project' Season Finale: Still Figuring Out What Makes a Good Sitcom Great
The Mindy Project started its freshman year as a good sitcom with the potential to become a great sitcom. Like a freshman in college, its first year was a bit of a roller-coaster as it stumbled it the fall but learned from its mistakes in the spring. The most recent episodes have been some of the strongest so far, reflecting the show’s immense growth since it began last fall.
The Mindy Project started with one of the key elements of a great sitcom: a relatable, funny main character. The title character, Mindy Lahiri, is a successful doctor who struggles in her personal life, whether it’s keeping a New Year’s resolution or falling prey to romantic comedy fairytale fantasies.
The show is at its best when Mindy is onscreen, a testament both to show creator and lead actress Mindy Kaling’s charisma and witty writing.
Unfortunately, the show struggled to find a way to stay compelling when Mindy was not around. I found my mind wandering during sub-plots featuring minor characters (usually Mindy's coworkers at her practice).
The show improved dramatically when halfway through the season, the cast was reworked to narrow the focus on fewer characters. This allowed more time for viewers to get to know each character, ultimately revealing the human side of the characters more. While Mindy had always been easy to relate to, the second half of the season was an opportunity to show the softer side of her sparring partner and coworker Danny Castellano as well as tough guy nurse Morgan.
Danny provides the show with a much-needed straight man character, keeping Mindy (and the other characters) grounded.
Danny also has great romantic tension with Mindy, though so far they mostly argue and date other people.
Morgan is a character that I did not expect to like, but actor Ike Barinholtz has done a great job creating chemistry with pretty much every other cast member. Recent episodes have revealed Morgan’s desire for a close-knit community despite his somewhat juvenile humor.
The paring down of Mindy’s coworkers has also given more airtime to another crucial element of a sitcom: “excellent antagonists,” as blogger Joanna Robinson describes the male midwives that run a competing doctor’s practice.
Focusing on characters like Danny, Mindy, and Morgan that balance likability with strong, memorable personalities and very distinct senses of humor allows the show to flourish no matter which characters happen to be on screen. The more that these actors appear in combination, the stronger the show feels as a true comedy ensemble instead of being driven solely by Mindy.
Despite its progress, The Mindy Project still some things it needs to work on.
It occasionally suffers from far-fetched or distracting plotlines. Such sub-plots have included Mindy “Pretty Woman-ing” a male prostitute, a riot in a women’s prison, and Mindy being offered a job on a local news station. These plotlines usually do little to develop the characters on the show, in comparison with recent plots about Mindy considering converting to Christianity for her pastor boyfriend or Danny firing Morgan from the practice for interfering in his personal life.
Some bloggers have raised questions over the show’s handling of racial issues, particularly with regard to African Americans. Their objections are usually related to one-off jokes that personally usually make me uncomfortable instead of making me laugh. These jokes aren’t central to the show so cutting some of these one-liners would not make the show any less humorous.
As The Mindy Project continues to refine its cast, I would also suggest that it bring back Mindy’s sassy best friend as a regular and perhaps demote the earnest but decidedly less humorous receptionist Betsy to recurring status instead.
None of these issues would be difficult to address for Season 2, which will be a great opportunity for Kaling and her writers to take the show to the next level. The Mindy Project is well on its way to becoming a truly great sitcom, so check out the season finale on Tuesday, May 14 at 9:30 p.m.