Mindy Kaling increased her season episode order when The Mindy Project got picked up by Hulu, going from 21 last season to 26. Starring in, producing, sometimes writing her own show, we can only imagine it’s a lot to take on. So maybe she’s looking for a break, since the vast majority of every episode is centered on her with only the occasional B-plot offering her some downtime. She has been front-and-center since this season started for some striking major and emotional scenes, like giving birth to Leo. That’s about the only excuse we can think of for “Road Trip,” a near-Mindy-less episode, which switches the focus to Danny and Morgan. Unfortunately, all this does is show how much The Mindy Project depends on its star overall.

Season four was on quite a streak before this, but all streaks have to end eventually. The Mindy Project also traditionally does poorly when the show leaves New York; the last episode I felt this lackluster about was the unfortunate “L.A.” from season two.

The focus on the odd couple of Danny and Morgan also only highlights the show’s continued Morgan problem. Here’s the contradiction inherent in Morgan: He’s supposed to be such a repugnant character that no one can really stand to be around him (like Danny constantly making plans with him and always canceling). Unfortunately, that repugnant character is now essentially third billing on this show, definitely the most prominent member of the supporting cast from Mindy’s office. So if no one else wants to hang around with the guy, why should we?

Not saying that some of his lines, highlighting his pathetic status, aren’t funny, like, “Of all the times I have been abandoned at a celebrity pet grave, this is the most hurtful,” or “Are you gay? Are you attracted to me? Why not?” And Ike Barinholtz truly holds nothing back as he cartwheels into a magazine rack or whatever. But does any of this mean that I want to see Morgan throw up in the car? No. No, I do not.

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“Road Trip” balances on such an insane, thin contrivance: Danny is worried about leaving behind his baby, his wife, and his practice, and says he’ll be back as soon as he can. But he still drives across country instead of flying? Even if he wanted to check out Eric, he could have had a stopover in Oklahoma or something, but then, of course, we wouldn’t have a “Road Trip” episode. Unfortunately, the trip is kicked off in a completely lackluster fashion, with all those states flashing on the screen only underlining whatever kind of crazy route Danny appears to be taking. And watching one character give another the silent treatment is like watching a small-screen version of Dumb And Dumber. Like Morgan says, it is agony, and goes on for about the first third of the episode.

Learning the reason for this mysterious road trip doesn’t help: Danny might have another son, a plot hurdle straight out of the soap-opera playbook. To his (and the show’s) credit, here Morgan shows the best parts of his character: the obsessive attention to detail that enables him, not Danny, to read genetics and realize that there’s no way Eric could be Danny’s son. In between, there seems to be such a mean-spirited commentary on the poverty of Eric’s family: pizza from the gas station, the good dollar store, not being able to afford a name-brand superhero on Eric’s birthday cake (okay, that last was pretty funny).

It’s gratifying to see Morgan finally have his moment in the spotlight, saving the day at Eric’s party. And if the family wasn’t painted as quite so poverty-stricken, it wouldn’t make sense for Danny to leave his car there. But now the trip is taking even longer, with Morgan and Danny on a bus to California. Just like in L.A., Chris Messina does nail the way Danny grapples with his father issues. He’s able to talk down Leo just over the phone, in a scene that makes us miss Mindy even more, as she signs off with, “Gotta go, there’s a commercial that I love and I don’t want to press pause.” And Mindy’s commentary about how lucky Leo is makes Danny realize that not every son is that lucky, like himself, like Eric.

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Danny knows to be the best father he can, he needs to work out his own dad issues. So the Eric trip does at least fill that plot purpose. But a Danny stuck out in California with Morgan still doesn’t bode well for next week.

Stray observations

  • Mindy and Danny have really cute chemistry in that opening scene, proving how much the show benefits when they’re together. Every episode, there’s an exchange that perfectly sums up their relationship. This one, it’s: “Our father who art in heaven / Halloween thy name.” “Maybe I shouldn’t go.”
  • Morgan, those red glasses belong to Danny and you know it.
  • Actually, we hear that Eddie was not that beloved on the Frasier set, sorry to say.
  • We are in the middle of pie season, Jack.
  • I like that Castellano men favor either the fist or the foot, but I really don’t need to know how they feel about wearing condoms.
  • “Everyone owns a gun here, so there’s no crime, just accidents and suicides.”
  • I will always hate hearing 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up.”
  • Mindy’s best outfit: With only two scenes, not much to choose from, but that sparkly red robe/nightgown/dress/whatever it is that she wears in the opener is really pretty.

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