Evening TV Round-Up: ‘Selfie,’ ‘New Girl’ & ‘The Mindy Project’

Senior Television Writer
11.04.14 35 Comments

FOX

It's been a while since I've done a comedy round-up post, but I happened to see tonight's episodes of “Selfie,” “New Girl” and “The Mindy Project” in advance, and this seems a good opportunity for a quick check-in on each, coming up just as soon as I put you on a waterslide between two obese people…

I really didn't like the “Selfie” pilot, and the next few episodes didn't seem like an enormous improvement. Karen Gillan got more comfortable delivering jokes with the American accent, and Charmonique's son was an unexpected goldmine, but the show as a whole felt wildly imbalanced and clumsy, despite my inherent like of both Gillan and John Cho. But tonight's episodes – airing as a double-feature after “Manhattan Love Story” went where all awful, low-rated sitcoms go(*) – felt like a much better use of all the resources available to Emily Kapnek and company. Gillan continued to demonstrate her facility with physical comedy with the bit about Eliza forcing Henry to look at her, Henry's difficulty fitting in at the retreat provided a welcome and plausible role reversal between our leads, and both episodes got good mileage out of David Harewood and Samm Levine, even if I still need an explanation for how Harewood is playing someone named Sam Saperstein. Henry's dramatic arrival on horseback at the end of the first episode was a good beginning to the inevitable Henry/Eliza romantic tension, and the mood dissipating as soon as their phones got signals was by far the show's best (and most understated) joke about technology getting in the way of human interaction. These two (particularly the first half-hour) felt much more like what I'd been hoping for, given all the talent involved.

(*) To get relationship advice from Bruce from “Mixology.”

With “Background Check,” “New Girl” continued its season-long mission to breathe strange new life into hackneyed old sitcom plots – mainly by using them as the barest of outlines on which to hang whatever weird bits the writing staff wants the cast to do. Jess mistaking the aquarium rocks for meth and trying to hide the stash from the cop (played by the ubiquitous Cleo King) was stupid, yet the pieces of business that surrounded it – a lot of Zooey Deschanel physical comedy, Nick confessing ridiculous sins (“My 16th year, I didn't get an erection”) and mangling the lyrics to “Landslide,” Schmidt again saying “crack cocaine” as only he can say it, etc. – were funny enough that I ultimately didn't mind(**). Ambivalent about the new main title sequence: we only ever saw the briefest version of the original these days, and the new one at least has Damon Wayans Jr. and Hannah Simone in it, but even the five-second version of the original had personality in a way that this one doesn't.

(**) One exception: Coach trying to pick up a little boy from the playground and only belatedly realizing he seemed like a pedophile was already the third time this fall that a sitcom has done that exact joke. (“Black-ish” was the first, and “Big Bang Theory” the second.) I understand why so many shows (including this one) have done Tinder plots this fall, but how on earth does this joke crop up so many times in short order? I asked a comedy writer I know, and he told me, “That pedophile joke, I swear to God, a version of it is pitched in every room every year. I think it's just coincidence, but there are these premises that just float around from room to room, nobody really stealing from one another. Like, every single room I've ever been in, someone has pitched a story where a character has somebody call them by the wrong name and they don't correct them, and then they have to go by that name. Every. Single. Room. There are a lot of premises like that.”

“The Mindy Project” has gotten off to a strong start this season thanks to the Mindy/Danny pairing, which has given the show a focus and direction it hasn't always had in the past, and allowed me to overlook the usual wobbliness of the B and C-plots with the supporting cast. “Caramel Princess Time,” though, felt more balanced between what worked with the main story and the subplots – and not just because the latter involved Alison Tolman from “Fargo” as Peter's romance author love interest. Stories that force Peter to fight against his fundamental douchiness tend to be where the show uses Adam Pally best, and the strange awfulness of his apology novel was the kind of thing the show could have let run on for much longer without troubling me in the least. Mindy driving Danny nuts with her chronic lateness at first seemed like it could be a case of the show pushing their opposite personalities too hard against each other – dating back to the series' earliest days, there's been a danger of Mindy/Danny interactions turning oddly hostile – but the material began to click once they were apart, with Mindy playing the Danny role to Mrs. Castellano while Danny suffered through the group therapy session with Brendan, Morgan and the creepy blood thief. As the show's most grounded (if often ridiculous) character, Danny can spark well when placed into a more cartoonish, Morgan-adjacent context. Not the season's best overall episode, but enough good individual pieces to work.

What did everybody else think?

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