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The Mindy Project Recap: Thanks for the Shamelessness

THE MINDY PROJECT: Gwen (Anna Camp, L) and Mindy (Mindy Kaling, R) get in a fight in the "Thanksgiving" episode of THE MINDY PROJECT airing Tuesday, Nov. 20 (9:30-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.

Mindy is earning her place in the pantheon of single-girl sitcom heroines for one reason: Her total lack of shame is something to behold. Never have we seen a woman so psychotically sure of herself, and for a girl who claims to emulate romantic comedy leading ladies, that’s no small feat. The Drews and Kates and Katherines of this world could learn a lot from a woman who tells her new boyfriend that his romantic dinner sucks. Go figure, tilapia made on a panini press with a Red Bull glaze is not as good as it sounds, apparently.  Side note: Love Josh’s offer to let her borrow “one of the panini presses off the cluster” to help cook Thanksgiving dinner at Gwen’s, and that was a smooth bit of exposition to boot. Scriptcraft, landed.

No sooner had Mindy told him — forgivingly enough — that he couldn’t cook that she was also making an even gutsier move: Instead of trying to seem chilled out and cool and detached, like so many women struggle to do in their dating relationships, she ruined a romantic dinner by calling him out on his implication that he didn’t want to be exclusive. Mindy doesn’t worry about seeming like the Crazy Girl. She revels in it, and I adore her for that. The cluster, however, caught fire before they could finish the “convo,” as Josh called it (how I don’t hate him yet, I don’t know), and it was hard to argue with his assertion that “This feels like the beginnings of an emergency.”

Alas, British Doctor and Mousy Secretary continued to be marooned in their own dead-story-line purgatory together for the second straight week, with Jeremy (I still keep having to check his name) and Betsy (hers, too) heading to Betsy’s family’s place for the holiday. Their exchange about how her “ancestors got beat up on the Mayflower” and his “ancestors financed the Mayflower” was the extent of the excitement for them. They are both lovely actors and characters — I’d be perfectly happy to know them — but so far they keep sucking the momentum out of good episodes. (Too bad Anna Camp’s the one whose role as Gwen is downgrading.) And what’s with Betsy’s family’s intense Midwestern accents (did Betsy and Jeremy drive to Wisconsin somehow?) and clichéd lameness? The “family seems embarrassing when you bring your cosmopolitan friends home” bit has been done far too many times — and it was surprising not to see a Mindy-worthy twist here.

In the “better supporting characters” camp, Danny held down his story line all on his own, as befitting his wounded-soul archetype. For a second, I was annoyed that he was about to do the “poor me, I lied about having Thanksgiving Day plans when really I am lonely and friendless but pretending it doesn’t bother me” thing … until his smirk showed he was psyched to have the office to himself for the day. He just wanted to practice his keyboard, with the color-coded “learn-to-play” stickers, so he could master beginner’s-level “Piano Man”! Pretty endearing, or maybe I just have a soft spot for bad Billy Joel. The mouse he befriended was adorable, too, even if it wouldn’t take the food he offered. (“Whatever. Jerk.”)

Danny’s studied emotional control continues to make a fine foil for Mindy, who loves to make a complicated train wreck of herself. When Ed Helms reappeared at Gwen’s Thanksgiving gathering as Dennis, the guy Mindy went on a disastrous date with in the pilot, we knew things would get messy. For starters, he took an extended tumble down the stairs, prompting Mindy to quip, “Speaking as a doctor, you should be dead, but as a person, that was hilarious.”

Turned out he was now dating another (gorgeous) Indian girl, though she was no match for Mindy. When introduced, new girlfriend Gita asked Mindy if she was Indian. “Yeah, big time,” Mindy said, before taking Gita down for thinking that was interesting when, in fact, Indian girls are everywhere, duh. It didn’t matter, because Gita wasn’t Mindy’s problem per se; it was the fact that Gwen had introduced Dennis to Gita at the “Doors of Greenwich Connecticut Tour,” which, Gwen pointed out to Mindy, “if memory serves, you referred to as ‘honkypalooza.’” Mindy’s rejoinder: “That is hilarious, but I don’t think I said that.” It’s further testament to her character that I remain convinced she did say it; though I’m a little surprised she wouldn’t take credit anyway.

In any case, the New Indian Girl situation sparked an epic fight between Gwen and Mindy when Gwen said there was good reason for Dennis to have moved on: “I’m not saying you’re a mess, but I’m not saying you’re not.” This is as real as one can keep it with Mindy. She emerged from Gwen’s bedroom wearing Gwen’s sparkly, form-fitting dress, ready to seduce Dennis, whose Other Indian Girl had to leave early. “Dennis,” she whispered seductively as they stole some alone time in the study, “potatoes.” I love potatoes enough that this would, in fact, seduce me, but I’m guessing Dennis simply didn’t care — he’s either one of those guys who love crazy girls or he’s totally into Mindy. (I felt it, somehow, with him, how a guy could be really attracted to Mindy. That confidence is intoxicating.) She continued her seduction with a bit about how happy-go-lucky she is — as if we had thought she was holding back before — as proven by her reaction to a globe in the room. “Ah, the Earth. Where should I live next?” she pondered, giving it a spin. “India? Oh, God. Do-over.”

Things soon got physical between Dennis and Mindy, but Gwen arrived in time to stop them from going too far. Then things got physical between Gwen and Mindy as they had their traditional every-few-years brawl (egged on by Mindy’s mocking of Carl’s signed, framed photo of Governor Pataki, of course). Downstairs, the guests were unfazed, choosing to spend the down time watching Morgan do 100 push-ups. The fight was defused when Josh called from a strip club in Atlanta to say he did, in fact, want to be exclusive. Sigh.

The end of the episode struck me as surprisingly touching: Once the girls made up, they snapped a group photo and texted it to Danny, Betsy, and Jeremy. Betsy texted one back. Danny texted a simple “Happy Thanksgiving,” and suddenly we knew: He was a little sad to be alone after all. It looked like a schmaltzy smart-phone commercial, and yet it worked for me. Or maybe it was that damn Billy Joel song again.

If you want to talk more Mindy, follow me on Twitter: @jmkarmstrong

Photo: Beth Dubber/FOX