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The Mindy Project Recap: Holiday Heartbreak

THE MINDY PROJECT: Danny (Chris Messina, C) dances with Mindy (Mindy Kaling, R) during her Christmas party in the all-new holiday-themed "Josh and Mindy's Christmas Party" episode of THE MINDY PROJECT airing Tuesday, Dec. 11 (9:30-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. Get a room!

Mindy may not have gotten what she wanted for Christmas, but she gave us one hell of a gift: an episode to hang our hopes on for the future of her show. From the romantic/funny beginning of the show at the Fairview municipal skating rink — where Josh slipped a guy $100 to let them on the empty ice before they were engulfed by hockey players — to the bittersweet ending, it delivered. And that was a particular relief after last week’s disjointed, subpar episode.

This half-hour also hinted strongly at a return to the real tension as well as the romantic tension between Mindy and her cute/cranky co-worker foil, Danny. “I don’t need to be in the mood for things,” he griped when she played holiday music for their party-planning meeting. “I just do them.” He would not make a party playlist: “I did that once and there wasn’t enough Rihanna on it, then suddenly I’m Party Hitler.” There was, in fact, no Rihanna at all, just a bunch of “Jakob Dylan’s dad,” as Mindy called him. Mindy said fine, she’d handle the party, and in fact she and boyfriend Josh would host it.

We knew we’d be treated to a bunch of party high jinks with the whole gang thereafter, but we didn’t know what a genuine emotional wallop it would pack. They all gathered at Mindy’s place. (Side note: I know she’s a doctor so she has some money for a decent-size place, but this does not look like a New York apartment to me. Spiral staircase? I never believe they’re in New York on this show, do you?) The karaoke machine that Morgan brought only played songs in Spanish because he found it in the trash behind a Mexican restaurant. Shawna brought her hot cop boyfriend. And Danny “surprised” us all by showing his goofball sensitive side (we, the audience, know about his Thanksgiving Billy Joel playing, but no one at the office does!) with a perfectly crafted gingerbread house. (The insulation was made of cotton candy, so it’s winterized!) Mindy gushed, “You’re, like, cool to me now. At least until you say something stupid.” Would he please stay for at least one drink even though he had some mysterious other date to get to? Why, of course he would!

Then my world was completely blown apart, just as that gingerbread house would soon be, when Mindy accidentally heard a message on Josh’s phone from an apparent other woman: The woman thought he was away on a business trip, and she was lying in bed without him, and she loved him. Like Mindy, I searched for another excuse, but none seemed likely. I still hadn’t finished laughing yet at his line from last week: “Indianapolis has a jazz fest? Gross.” And now he could be gone already?

A wonderful, heyday-of–The Office–style dance between pathos and silliness followed. There was more than one hilariously botched lie in attempts to cover up the awkward situation unfolding. Danny accidentally dialed the mystery woman while trying to get Mindy to stop listening to the message, then told her he worked at a flower shop where he took Josh’s phone from him and also somehow he (the flower shop owner) was sleeping with someone else’s boyfriend. Then he quizzed her on the morality of such a situation and asked about her relationship to the phone’s owner. “I’m not going to tell the gay philanderer who robbed him,” she cried. Then Mindy grabbed the phone and ruined the whole thing.

She stalked inside and pulled Josh into a closet to confront him. (There, we also learned that she had a bowling ball because she once belonged to an ob-gyn bowling team called Storks and Stripes.) He explained that the woman was his kinda-girlfriend with whom he’d sorta broken up, but then her dog was having kidney issues and things were really confusing … So devastating.

Mindy marched him out and told everyone he had to leave because of a work emergency. Botched lie No. 2: “Kobe Bryant has been shot.” But before Josh left, Morgan insisted she make her planned Christmas party speech. (And why did he say in his intro that he calls her “the Thunder from Down Under”? Is there a reason she shares a name with an Australian male strip act?) She began a tear-jerking speech entitled “I Love You Guys So Much I Can’t Even Deal,” which started with her thankfulness at having found someone as perfect as Josh. She broke down right around the time Josh’s maybe-ex, Heather — what’s up, Ellie Kemper from The Office? — burst in. Nice use of the lost-phone-finder app as an almost-plausible explanation for her knowing where Mindy lived.

Now Mindy discovered that they both had the same key necklace, but “hers is encrusted with diamonds whereas mine just features diamonds.” And as the women brawled, Josh said the words so many men have unwisely said before: “The bummer is under different circumstances you would totally hit it off.” In any case, Heather was restrained by the cop boyfriend and Josh left while Mindy gave a fairly affecting crying performance in the bedroom. “I guess it was too much to ask that I have a monogamous boyfriend and I throw a great Christmas party,” she sobbed when Danny tried to comfort her. (Nice use of Wham!’s plaintive “Last Christmas” in the background, incidentally.) And she did not find Danny’s presence comforting: “You have this rattle when you breathe.”

Everyone, however, rallied to cheer Mindy up, acknowledging all that she’d done for them. Not only had she encouraged Shawna to be herself and wear short skirts to work, she’d also saved Morgan from “working at that fake Popeye’s on Queens Boulevard.” (Aha! Now, that’s New York.) The whole arc had a far more romantic-comedy feel, calling back to the spectacular pilot rather than these more sitcommy plots we’ve seen of late. Or, I should say, a romantic-comedy-with-a-twist. “If we’re still single in five years,” she said to Danny, “can we make a pact … that we will kill each other?”

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

Photo: Prashant Gupta/FOX