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As Sonia Saraiya explores in this awesome essay, the rom-sitcom has a special kind of plight. The rom-com movie? Wrapping up a relationship in about two hours or so? No problem. Stretching a romantic relationship over the course of several seasons? Just ask Sam and Diane, Ross and Rachel, or Luke and Lorelei how that turned out: Loss of tension (S/D), and years of yanking the audience around (R/R), with unbelievable plot obstacles thrown in just to keep the couple apart (L/L).

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It’s a tall order, but a few shows this season are ready to take this romantic hurdle on, and after a few years of buildup, The Mindy Project is leading the charge. The show’s second season ended on an extreme high note with a perfect Mindy-Danny finale: Now the challenge—which very few shows have ever accomplished—will be to keep the developing relationship engaging with the leads as a couple.

The confidently titled “We’re A Couple Now, Haters!” achieves mostly positive results, with its successes tied to the the charm of the overall cast and script. The episode indicates the return to the Mindy form that made it come into its own in its second season, with the new relationship adding to, not detracting from, what makes the show stand out in the first place.

Those stand-out elements still entail: The constant stream of rapid-fire punchlines, most of which need a second viewing to absorb completely. Lines like Jeremy aspiring to be like Woody Allen and Soon-Yi, even though everyone was against them in the end, “and now they’re America’s sweethearts!” Plus the absolute absurdity of a Richard Lewis neck tattoo, or Peter getting into a fight with a tiara on his head, against Jeremy and a bag of peas.

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But The Mindy Project’s main relationship raises the stakes past mere absurdity as the couple develops, so the relationship observations tossed in as jokes contain deeper resonance. Danny wants Mindy to stop telling their coworkers everything about their relationship, and she replies, “I can change the very core of me.” Not that Danny doesn’t have a good point, but keeping silent basically goes against Mindy’s DNA, and when she tries, horrible things happen (like Peter purchasing a tiara). The reasoning for her behavior, which she reveals at the end of the episode, makes sense as well, as the more she tells people about the relationship, the more it will seem like a reality that isn’t going to get taken away from her, especially since it has been taken away before. Danny knows this, so he comes clean about his stripper past, among other things.

Nitpicks that don’t add up: Why would Morgan try to fix his cousin Lou up with Mindy when he pulled for her and Danny to get together? And it was way too easy for Mindy to find out Danny’s secret in a few nanoseconds on a site called Exquisite Butts. Why would Danny even keep that thong around in the first place? (Although I did enjoy how Mindy’s coworkers help her figure out the mystery behind the thong: It’s not just a stripper thong, but a male stripper thong.)

It bugs when The Mindy Project tosses logic for an easy laugh or a quick plot resolution, when the writers are clearly capable of more. Example: The show’s careful buildup of Danny’s previous dance experiences (let us never forget his performance at the Christmas party) easily explain why he would be so successful as Diamond Dan. And with some complaints last year about the show’s inability to land a B-plot or use its secondary characters well, the Peter-Lauren-Jeremy triangle is an extremely welcome development: Writer Tracey Wigfield has been a seamless guest star as Lauren, and it’s easy to see why she would find both of these men appealing. But playing them against each other as opposite types is genius: Peter slugging Jeremy just as he’s bragging about his perfect smile and teeth, for example. This development inspires some hope for these players over the next few episodes: Ed Weeks, particularly, who was barely seen last season.

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Especially when actors like Weeks and the now-fled Zoe Jarman were underused in favor of The Mindy Project’s notorious stunt-casting (coming up this season: Shonda Rhimes and Allison Tolman!), but It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s Rob McElhenney falls on the side of the good here. He helps extrapolate and explain the inherent strangeness of the Tookers clan (“I’m not well-read, not well-traveled, and our family’s trash”: Mindy just nods), while offering key insight to Danny on the importance of coming clean with the people you love. Even Morgan can’t fault Lou for sending him to prison, as it brought them closer together. (And that neck tattoo is brilliant.) Danny appears to continually need to have things spelled out for him by secondary cast members, but he usually comes around eventually.

TV history indicates that pulling off the developing relationship sitcom is close to achieving the impossible. But if Mindy keeps capitalizing on its strong supporting cast and the solid gold of the Mindy-Danny chemistry, these two might just make it after all.

Stray observations:

  • Any chance the show will keep “More Than A Feeling” as a theme song? Because it was pretty awesome.
  • Ditto, everyone calling Danny “Diamond.”
  • I didn’t really need to know that Danny has a tongue like a “thirsty camel at a desert oasis,” although the frequent jokes at his mouth’s expense were pretty funny.
  • Beverly gets her standard one line in about going to witness an execution, and a quick cameo at the party.
  • Please feel free to expand on what the “Staten Island handshake” could possibly entail in the comments.
  • “I don’t want to live in a world where a rude schlub like Peter can lose his woman to a handsome, decent man!”
  • My screener didn’t have captions, so I’m not sure if I heard this correctly, but did Danny actually say to Mindy, “Get your big ass in there now”?
  • “I’m sleepy, I don’t want to look at your coin collection!”
  • And this kicks off the third season of Mindy Project reviews on The A.V. Club (I stepped in midway last season): Looking forward to exploring favorite lines, various rampant absurdities, and rom-com tropes with you this season!

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