Finally, The Mindy Project season-three episode we’ve, well, I’ve been waiting for has arrived: “Caramel Princess Time” (the formerly named “Late, Actually,” which was better) hits on all the necessary Mindy cylinders. Several laugh-out loud moments, check. Successful B plot in some tangential way related to A plot, check. Emotional resonance that plays out before the episode’s end, double check.

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This episode is still not without its stumbles (I get that Danny air-shooting everyone was necessary for Dr. Fishman to think he was greatly troubled, but it was still kind of disturbing, and why did Tamra say she and Abby were twins anyway? Couldn’t she have thrown out that they were like spiritual twins, or something?). And obviously we’ve seen the “Danny gets startling insight about his relationship from someone unexpected, which leads him back to Mindy” resolution before. But I am willing to give all these things a pass because “CPT” flowed so very well (unlike the past two episodes, which were clunkier).

We don’t see Mindy have insight very often, unless it’s related to how awesome she is, but her realization about what’s so awful about other people being late (aided by another fantastic appearance by Danny’s mother and her friend Dot), is nicely mirrored by Danny’s revelation about what people being late really symbolizes for him. An awesome array of supporting players aids these efforts, including Rhea Perlman and Jenny O’Hara as Mindy’s foils to be on time. O’Hara’s Dot is again full of misinformation that makes no sense: She says that she heard that mammogram machines cause cancer, from Jenny McCarthy on The View, so it must be true! Mindy takes a picture of the ladies in their matching outfits, which Perlman’s Annette would like her to email, then print it out, then hand it to her.

Now that we’re in season three, we know exactly what a counseling session with Mark Duplass’ Brendan Deslaurier is going to be like: A new-age arsenal. Morgan adds a lot to the group-therapy mix—“Brendan! I’m not feeling it!”—as does Paul, the guy who steals blood from the blood lab for his own use. The setting makes a perfect pressure cooker for our decidedly non-new age curmudgeon Danny, who gets his advice the old-fashioned way, from an ancient priest who speaks Latin. After Danny rudely sounds off to the freaks in the room, and is pinned down by Deslaurier to find the root of his problem, he realizes that it’s tied to the time his dad stood him up for Ghostbusters, and he had to go see Amadeus instead. Even Deslaurier, who mostly watches Swedish films, shakes his head. Chris Messina has always been able to nail difficult emotionality in the midst of what could be a comic farce (his phone call to his father was the highest point of “L.A.”) and here’s another amazing moment for him, when he realizes that his greatest fear is that Mindy may not show up at all.

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Another actor with amazing moments this week: Adam Pally’s Peter. I love when he breaks from his frat-boy buffoon to show what’s really inside all that disgusting hubris. After cruelly dumping his blind date Abby (the delightful Allison Tolman) with a trumped-up tale straight out of Look Who’s Talking, he heads out to apologize (and Tamra and Morgan’s insistence that he do so is the best kind of Tamra and Morgan: “You think Natalie Portman is sitting in a castle thinking, ‘Oh, I wonder if there are any schlubs out there who wear a bathing suit as underwear?’” “Natalie Portman would throw up if she saw you!”). After Peter reads one of Abby’s romance novels en route and likes it, he decides to ask her out for real. When Abby calls him out for being a jerk, Pally kills me with this line: “Yeah…yeah, you’re right about that,” and slinks away.

Peter’s grand gesture to win her back: Penning his own romance story called “A Titanic Mistake: A Sunken Romance,” which improbably involves a crusty sea captain, that famous iceberg, and magical saving dolphins. Abby acknowledges it’s terrible, but his infiltration of the book group (I don’t know if I liked it better when he just sat on that woman in her chair, or ended the session with a giant white cat in his lap) is enough to win her over. Looking forward to seeing how these two play out, as Tolman’s Abby appears to be an almost perfect match for Peter.

All three of our featured players this week are going through unfamiliar situations, to aid someone else or to better themselves. Danny is forced into counseling by Dr. Fishman, but it actually helps him in the long run. Our famously self-involved Mindy covers Danny’s errands with his mom because she got him into trouble in the first place (and, she sweetly points out, he doesn’t have any other options), but it’s an unusual path for her to take. It ends up with Mindy making both women cry and getting locked out of the house, but hey, she tried, and even got a fancy new hairdo in the bargain. Peter also breaks out of his usual wheelhouse to get back into Abby’s good graces. The juxtaposition of all of these not only adds to the humor but enables welcome character insight: Danny in therapy, altruistic Mindy, our frat boy Peter in a book club.

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The Mindy-Danny relationship is offering so much comedic fodder that now that we’re on the other side of the will-they/won’t-they hurdle, the fear that their relationship would harm the show appears almost ludicrous from this angle. The Mindy Project has proven that much can be mined from exploring an actual relationship, down to the smallest details. It’s cute to see them be together, but it’s almost more fun to see them fight, with Mindy explaining out loud that she’s giving Danny the silent treatment or the conflict on the street when he realizes she’s trying to make him late: “Betrayal!” “Oh boo hoo!” Yet she knows him well enough not to push him at the end when he mentions his dad. Again, I could not be happier that these two are turning out as well as they are.

I would never say that it’s easy to pull off this kind of episode: one that balances humor and insight, laugh-out-loud moments with a few that can choke you up. But this week, The Mindy Project nailed it.

Stray observations:

  • Mindy’s best outfit: the cute blue cheetah dress with matching blue headband.
  • Was Jeremy asleep in the break room?
  • The couple in Peter’s story is of course saved at the end, “propelled by love and the dolphins set up in chapter three.”
  • E! recently reported that Beverly is now wearing random outfits of Mindy’s from early seasons. Not sure what that’s supposed to signify.
  • That was Yeardley Smith, a.k.a. the voice of Lisa Simpson, as Carolyn the blackmailed mammogram technician. Wonder what her aside to Mindy about Peter was about?
  • “Maybe I just like stealing the blood.” “Not now, Paul!”

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