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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Mindy Project navigates the perils of maternity leave

Illustration for article titled iThe Mindy Project /inavigates the perils of maternity leave
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What makes the Danny and Mindy relationship such a fun one to explore on The Mindy Project is that they are such total opposites. This has led to many ups and downs over the course of their relationship, but never as much as the ones they will have over child-rearing. You can disagree with your spouse about how to hang the toilet paper or where to go for dinner. But the decisions you make when you have a kid get amped up 11-fold, because everything appears to have life-changing consequences (even when it doesn’t), like whether to use cloth diapers or whether your kid believes in Santa.

Which leads us to only the first day of Mindy’s maternity leave. In an extreme twist, Danny has removed all the screens from the household, which is an exceptionally cruel thing to do to someone like Mindy, faced with a super-cute baby who will likely sleep away many hours of the day. The baby brings out sides neither knew they had: Danny’s (hilarious) Italian one, Mindy’s maternal one, as the show lets the development of the baby lead to development in these well-established characters as well.

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But even a couple comedy like The Mindy Project needs an ensemble to take some of the heat off, and we know that the show has had problem integrating its B plots in the past. This is the first episode in season four that has spent any length of time with the other staff at Shulman & Associates, as the show continues to elaborate its secondary characters. Even as those characters appear to be dwindling, as Dan Bakkedahl heads to Life In Pieces. Godspeed to him, but honestly if Adrian had Irish-goodbyed the cast and just disappeared, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed.

With only a few players left to choose from, we’re left with the unlikely duo of Jeremy and Tamra, hot on the sitcom-trope trail of the misunderstood phone call heard by eavesdropping! To this tired act’s credit, Cristin Milioti is a blast as Whitney, Jeremy’s high-powered and apparently nose-candy-loving girlfriend. A few seasons ago or so, The Mindy Project got some grief for stunt-casting: Remember Kendra Wilkinson as the girl at the wrestling match? Probably not, because there’s no need to. But this episode shows how well the show has grown into its guest stars, which help fill out the cast. Eliza Coupe’s delivery is always fiercely amazing, and she adds an interesting element here as the polar opposite to where Danny and Mindy are now, by having sex with randos. Then she turns into a sorely needed Ethel for Mindy’s Lucy, who climbs over apartment terraces after attacking Gyllenhaals at the book signing for their new cookbook, Grilling Haul.

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So Coupe blends seamlessly into the snappy dialogue, Milioti brightens up every scene she’s in as a character completely unlike her HIMYM heroine, and Laverne Cox, playing Tamra’s cousin, manages to charm us even through texts from the White House (“That’s what I keep saying about Syria!”). A few of these are repeat visitors, and it’s a testament to the show and its staff that they are able to juggle these temporary players as deftly as the regular cast. With few other players, Morgan again pays a bigger role, and I’m tangentially still enjoying his blind devotion to Dr. C and Dr L. But just like his full-frontal exposure at the end of the episode, I suspect it could all be a bit much in a short time frame.

So far The Mindy Project is mining more from Mindy’s maternal status than I would have thought possible. Because we have the base of Mindy and Danny’s relationship to work off of, there are no limits to how this baby is going to affect their relationship, and the multitude of parental conflicts to come.

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It saddens me that just when this show is hitting an absolute stride, it has moved from Fox to Hulu, so I suspect its audience has dropped. I have no concept of how many people are watching it (unlike network ratings, say), or how creative control has changed, although I suspect Hulu is giving Mindy Kaling more free rein, which is all for the better. (Let me know in the comments: Are you watching Mindy as soon as it posts at midnight? The following morning? The next night when you get home from work?) I just hope it’s enough for Hulu, because I’m invested in the success of The Mindy Project now more than ever.

Stray observations

  • I got so bored on maternity leave that I scheduled my kids’ naps around my then-rediscovered college soap.
  • This exchange sums up Danny and Mindy’s relationship in a nutshell: “Go out and make us some money, okay? I have very expensive habits.” “I’ll call you in five minutes.”
  • Turning my ill-informed mommy blog into a book of stolen recipes = my dream as well
  • Ed Weeks nailed this delivery: “As happy as a prawn in sauce.”
  • Mindy’s best outfit: Totally going for the cuteness factor here, as the pineapple pajamas that matched Leo’s baby cap and outfit was next-level adorable. People complain about maternity leave, but the freedom to live in your pajamas for awhile is pretty awesome.
  • A care package that’s all package and no care
  • Thought Danny calling Mindy his “wife” in his rant at Morgan and Chelsea was a bit telling. Why not fiancee?
  • Mindy’s inspiration: “Matt Lauer does this all the time!” I love Charlie Grandy scripts just for completely rando references like that one.
  • A sandwich with all the leaves inside of it
  • I joked on Sunday about Once Upon A Time’s baby Prince Neal, who I suspect is just a butternut squash in a blanket. The Mindy Project is showing us how to cast babies. Granted, Neal isn’t a major part of the plot like baby Leo is, but Leo is adorable, and consistently nails all his giggling lines.
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