It’s morning round-up time, with quick thoughts on last night’s episodes of “New Girl,” “Happy Endings” and “The Mindy Project,” coming up just as soon as I look like an example photo at a barbershop…
All three of these sitcoms paused from the jokes a bit last night to focus on pathos and relationships, but the two veteran comedies handled it better than the rookie, I thought.
“Santa” wasn’t the funniest “New Girl” of the season – though I laughed so much at Winston’s “Begone, honky!” rant when he was pretending to dump Jess(*) that I had to pause the recording for a moment, and there were other good gags like Jess running into the glass walls, and Nick and Schmidt’s lap dance attempts – but the character work and the way the gang dealt with their various relationship and holiday problems was excellent. I’m really impressed by how well the show is able to make all the characters feel this three-dimensional even as they exhibit completely ridiculous character traits, and all the conflicts built nicely to the moment where Black Santa makes them recognize that sometimes people do tell the truth, and that they should do whatever it takes, including posing as Christmas carolers (Schmidt’s version of the lyrics of course include “menorah”) so Jess can reunite with Sam. (Why Sam is working a hospital shift on the same night he was going to multiple parties is a question for another day, but the episode was so strong otherwise that I’ll allow it.)
(*) That’s two episodes in a row where Winston and Jess are paired together. Clearly, the writers have finally recognized that the fastest way to fix the Winston problem is to define his relationship with the main character.
“Happy Endings,” meanwhile, didn’t suddenly cut out the jokes, but “To Serb With Love” was one of those episodes the show occasionally does – and arguably needs to do – where the laughter pauses from a bit so we can be reminded that these are actual people with actual feelings who hang around with each other for reasons beyond how much fun it is to pile on with the insult (like the opening scene where Max becomes Roz from “Frasier”). Both Dave and Brad’s conversation outside the party and, especially, Penny and Max laughing over how she once again sabotaged a good relationship felt like real scenes with real emotions, which wind up enabling the sillier stuff like Jane turning into Gallagher to impress her dad or Dave being weirdly popular with 15-year-old Mexican girls.
“The Mindy Project” brought an end to Mindy and Josh’s relationship with some help from Mindy Kaling’s old office pal Ellie Kemper. But, like a lot of “Mindy” episodes so far, “Josh and Mindy’s Christmas Party” felt like it was trying to do too many things, and service too many characters, to really accomplish what it was trying for. All the big beats in the episode’s second half, whether comic (Mindy and Heather brawl in the kitchen) or dramatic (Mindy crying under the blanket while Danny awkwardly tries to comfort her) felt rushed, almost like we were getting some of those scenes in outline form (“And now Heather rips off the microwave door… and then Mindy is impressed…”) rather than as fleshed-out scenes.
Paring down the ensemble (Shulman’s already out, Shauna is going, and Gwen is being demoted to recurring character) will help, certainly. But I think the bigger issue – and it’s one that a lot of first-year comedies deal with – is that the writers still don’t entirely have a handle on who these characters are. Danny’s personality changes wildly from episode to episode, for instance, and I’m still not entirely sure why Jeremy does any of the things he does. Morgan is very clearly defined, and Mindy for the most part is – though, like Michael Scott, she has varying degrees of Mindy-ness – but after them, the show’s strongest, most consistent character was Josh, and he just got pushed out the door because it’s too early in the series for Mindy to have a long-term love interest. (And because we’re waiting for the inevitable moment, I suppose, where Mindy and Danny realize they’re weirdly made for each other.) And because the characters are so fuzzily drawn at this point, a big emotional climax like Jeremy leading everyone in Spanish-language karaoke doesn’t quite click.
What did everybody else think?