I’m actually reeling from the ramifications of The Mindy Project’s fourth season. For a sitcom that kicked off focusing on rom-coms, I never thought that this show could tackle the early days of motherhood with such aplomb. Not saying that Mindy Kaling couldn’t pull this off as a single female woman, but she and whoever else she has in her writers’ room definitely know what they’re talking about (Tracey Wigfield wrote this particular episode, probably my favorite of hers so far).

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Last week we explored the nefarious pitfalls of maternity leave. This week, the Solomon-like decision faced by many parents: whether or not to go back to work. As Mindy herself has pointed out, this is a decision mostly faced by moms who can afford it (although there is an ironic disparity when you make so little money that the childcare appears to just cancel out your own salary. Then, why not stay home?). Mothers (or parents, we should say, for the stay-at-home dads out there, although I will lean toward moms here because of Mindy) at home worry about whether or not they’ll be able to ever get back into the workforce, while those at work are racked with guilt over whatever viruses their baby is picking up in daycare. As someone told me when I went back to work: “The baby is fine right where he is. You are a mess.” Mindy uses the word “agonize” in this episode to describe this decision, which is wholly appropriate. I got so desperate that I posted the “stay home or not” question to an online bulletin board, and received such vitriolic answers from both sides, I couldn’t believe it: The Mommy Wars, right on my laptop screen. The upshot was that the sanest mothers I talked to seemed to be the ones who worked part-time, so that’s what I did. Since then, though, I have met amazing parents from both sides of the spectrum; everyone just has to figure out what works best for their family.

But Mindy doesn’t know what that is yet, and facing that major, life-altering decision is a tremendous fork in the road. Her choice to leave work is made a little easier by the arrival of Jody and Colette, a brother-and-sister team from the south. We just featured Garret Dillahunt in an Inventory about scene-stealers, and his sexist Southern gentleman here is no exception as he pontificates on the beautiful mystery of women and his preference to not see them breastfeeding on the subway. Mindy always works well with a foil, and Dillahunt is perfect for this task, while Fortune Feimster’s sweet-natured Colette is less-developed as a character so far.

But speaking of characterization, The Mindy Project often skirts the line between acceptable and absurdity, and it’s tough to know where that line actually is. For example, I was totally down with the predatory raccoon a few seasons back. But Mindy is so over-the-top in this episode—squirting breast milk in Jody’s face (accidentally, but still), kissing a patient on the mouth, flirting with Colette when she obviously is in love with her husband and baby—it’s enough to actually take us out of the scene for a moment.

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But when Mindy scales it back, as in the episode’s last scene, it’s some of the most heart-wrenching work you can spy on a sitcom. Danny tearfully, finally admits why he wants Mindy to stay home, to give Leo the security that he never had. Mindy, at this point, is clearly still wrestling with her decision, but Danny and his new tattoo make it even harder for her to go back to work. So it looks like Mindy will be facing playdates and coffee klatsches, even though her decision-process will undoubtedly continue. The way this season has been handling this particular topic, I say bring it on. Honestly, I groaned when we found out Mindy was pregnant last season; I never thought I would enjoy this plot path so much.

Granted, I have a vested interest in it. When I ride my bike to work, I always pass a slew of stroller moms, getting coffee from Starbucks or walking through the park. It’s hard not to feel a small pang for that time period I’ll never have back with my kids again. And that time is far from all singalongs and cupcakes: There are public diaper disasters and tantrums and days when you’re basically just counting down the seconds until naptime. But there was a strong but fleeting feeling of you and this baby against the world, which The Mindy Project is ably depicting here.

Stray observations

  • Nevertheless, I doubt that Mindy will stay at home forever because what about the rest of the cast? Beverly’s one-liners, Morgan’s Leo hatred, Jeremy’s tossed-off lines like, “I see your point about the new speculums…”
  • But in line delivery, Tamra killed it this week as she helped Danny shop for a push present. It’s a tie between: “A turtleneck is like what you get your aunt when she graduates from court reporter school” and “Jay Z’s so rich he throws his car out when it runs out of gas, and he doesn’t stop his wife from working.”
  • “Do racism next!”
  • Mindy’s best outfit: Like all new moms, Mindy’s getting a little less fashionable, so I have fewer outfits to choose from now that aren’t pajamas. But that blue sweater in the above picture was really flattering.
  • Thanks for all your comments last week about when you’re watching this show. A look at this morning’s “popular” listings on Hulu shows The Mindy Project right up there with Gotham and Blindspot, so I suppose that’s a good sign.

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