Review: ‘The Mindy Project’ – ‘Triathlon’

A review of tonight’s “The Mindy Project” coming up just as soon as we spend eternity together playing doubles tennis with Abe Lincoln and Tupac…

Though “The Mindy Project” was renewed last month, it still feels like a show in flux. They’ve brought in new writers – including “30 Rock” vet Jack Burditt, who wrote “Triathlon” – and continue to tinker with the cast. Xosha Roquemore, who plays the practice’s new singing nurse, was just hired to be a regular for next season. Most first-year series go through some amount of transition and growing pains, but “Mindy” has been through more than average – or, at least, has been through more overt, public changes than average.

I’ve for the most part enjoyed this season, particularly in the 2013 episodes, but I keep waiting for it to settle down into the show it wants to be when it grows up. And the large, ever-changing cast – not just the regulars, but the growing stable of recurring characters like the midwives and Mindy’s boyfriends past and present – has made that tough. Maybe the plan is for the show to always stay this busy, but that seems to be undercutting its strengths and making it hard for any aspect of the show to entirely stand out.

“Triathlon” has some of the funnier individual storylines of the season to date. Mindy Kaling works very well opposite all of her love interests (and potential love interests), and the show does a very good job with romantic banter. Mindy’s superficial exploration of Christianity (including playing Amy Grant at the Bible study meeting) had a lot of fine jokes, the triathlon offered several amusing pieces of physical comedy (Brendan massaging Danny, the payoff to the earlier reference about Danny and Mindy having the same size feet, Brendan’s tantrum), and there were other fine stray gags like the construction workers trying to defend Danny’s ex from Mindy.

But it was way too much – both plot and people – to squeeze into a single episode.

Much as I like Anders Holm as Casey, the conversion story really needed a lot more room to breathe. Mindy’s commitment to her existing religion (or lack thereof) really hasn’t been dealt with previously, so the entire question of whether she would or wouldn’t convert was dealt with on a surface level. The idea of a non-practicing agnostic still having trouble letting go of the faith they were raised in is a really interesting one that could have born real comic fruit, but first we have to have a better sense of who Mindy is and what she’s about on this issue, and the episode was too busy bouncing back and forth between all of its stories(*) and guest stars to properly deal with it.

(*) Also, Mindy’s ability to go from her Bible study class to Casey’s church to the triathlon (which would have to be out in Brooklyn, given the beach setting) in an incredibly short period of time was among the least New York-y moments on a show that’s always done an iffy job of faking LA for NYC. Even with the romantic comedy resonance of the Big Apple, I’m not entirely sure why the show was set there, especially since the original (pre-Tobolowsky) version of the pilot wasn’t specific in its location. 

Similarly, bringing back the midwives – and now suggesting they have a long-term rivalry with Brendan and Duncan that predates the start of the series – in an episode with a lot of Casey, with Sevigny as Christina, and with the usual hints of something romantic between Mindy and Danny, wasn’t an efficient use of anybody’s time.

Burditt’s old show usually operated at this level of controlled chaos, but it could pull it off because “30 Rock” was generally pitched at a more cartoonish level, and because Liz and Jack were so well-delineated at the middle of it. “The Mindy Project” aspires to be more human (even if, through Morgan and some of the ancillary characters, it’s fond of going very big and broad), and it hasn’t even exactly dialed in Mindy herself yet, though she’s fortunately become less oblivious as the season’s gone along.

Again, I liked a lot of separate parts of “Triathlon.” But as a whole, it speaks to a more-is-less issue that “The Mindy Project” has been battling all season. At a certain point, I’d like to see the show really pare itself down, even if only for an episode or three, so everyone (both the people who work on the show and those of us who watch it) can get a firm handle on the central characters, conflicts and the show’s comic point of view. Right now, it feels like a lot of extremely talented people (in front of and behind the camera) throwing everything they can think of at the wall to see what sticks, rather than stepping back to figure out what the whole picture should look like.

What did everybody else think?