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The Mindy Project Season-Premiere Recap: James Franco

The second season of The Mindy Project is looking strong from here — which is to say, from Haiti, where a short-haired Mindy is working alongside Casey and receiving bra-filled care packages from Morgan and the gang back home. It’s also looking good from the office, where guest star James Franco as Dr. Paul Leotard (is there a name more perfect?) is manning the fort and doing business as an OB/GYN, nutritionist, and sex therapist.

The Mindy Project isn’t the first sitcom to fearlessly pursue serialized story lines, but the show weaves them together well, and with total confidence. Case in point: Casey waking Mindy at 5 a.m. to watch the Haitian sunrise (“It looks like a douche ad,” grumbled Mindy, a non-morning person) and so that he can propose. Suddenly, Mindy’s mood changes: “I wanna Vine this!” (Technical question: Could she actually Vine it, even if she had her phone with her? Would a person have the right Internet services to beam Vines from Haiti to America? I don’t know much about Haitian Vining.) Casey delivers a Mindy-appropriate proposal speech: “When I first met you, I thought this would probably be just a fling, based on your body type alone.” Aw.

But the romantic mood is punctured by a searing pain in Mindy’s abdomen as she and Casey try to have celebratory sex. Next she finds herself waking up in a hospital bed with Morgan’s hand over her mouth. Don’t worry, though, it isn't all a dream or anything; she is only being rushed home to New York for emergency gallbladder surgery.

Also in New York, Danny and Christina are in sex therapy with Dr. Leotard, which can’t be a good sign for their future. However, I loved the iPad slide comparison of Danny’s “listless” sperm and Dr. Leotard’s sperm (“They’re like kids playing in an open fire hydrant in the seventies”). Dr. Leotard suggests Danny and Christina try his Come With Me sex CD, which is also a Grammy-winning sex CD (in the Outstanding Sex-Aid Recording category, perhaps?).

Because of the sex therapy session, Danny is a little behind on the news about Mindy’s return. He asks our new-ish nurse, Tamara, why no one was in the office. “They all went to visit that Indian doctor that used to work here,” she says. “What’s her name again? I wanna say Glob.” I’m getting the feeling that the office staff will truly be supporting players this season, there just to fill the office and say random funny things occasionally rather than to have their own story lines. It’s possible Jeremy is headed this way, too, since his only job this episode is to show up shoveling shredded cheese into his mouth straight from the bag (nothing wrong with that!), because, apparently, he’s been stress eating. Danny’s freaked-out concern at seeing Mindy in the hospital was adorable, but so was Mindy’s comfortable banter with Casey (e.g., “Prescription dandruff shampoo — I got ya, babe”).

But because this show is a long-game romantic comedy at its core, we know it means something that Danny and Christina are having sex problems just as Mindy returns from Haiti engaged. To combat this, they're listening to Dr. Leotard’s CD, which, naturally, begins, “Let us now begin our 55-minute erotic adventure.” (Danny’s totally fair response: “55 minutes?!?”) Alas, we only had time to learn that “the earlobe is the clitoris of the head” before Danny escapes to the multipurpose room to check e-mail.

Mindy and Casey are having much different kinds of trouble as they sit in bed. “We’re going to have to fly in all my extended family from India,” Mindy says of their wedding. Casey counters, “I can’t wait for them to meet my racist family from Pasadena.” The solution, Casey suggests, is to get married in New York that week. “Don’t you think that’s kind of rash?” Mindy says. “It took me longer to get my permit for my handgun.” (Oh, Mindy, such a refreshingly complicated mess of politics you are.) Nonetheless, it's decided that they will have a small wedding in her apartment that very week.

Mindy doesn't meet her replacement, Dr. Paul Leotard (yes, I’m going to say his name as many times as possible while I can), until the next day when she comes to the office. (Tamara, thrown by the new do, quips: “Uh-uh, I told you, we don’t want no candy bars here, little boy.”) Mindy is at least momentarily smitten by Dr. Leotard’s wavy locks and exquisite cheekbones, for which Danny chastises her. “Is this the Taliban?” she snaps. “I can’t look at a man?” Lest we think this means brewing romantic conflict between Mindy and Dr. Leotard, Mindy puts it right out there: “If I may say, you are, like, crazy bangable hot. Why are you a doctor? You could be a model.” Luckily, Dr. Leotard takes this as an invitation not to sue for sexual harassment but to tell the story of how he had been a model once, but fell off a runway when he was high on Ecstasy and was caught by an eight-months pregnant woman who was in ad sales at InStyle. That's how he decided to become an obstetrician. No word on the sex therapy and nutrition.

But it isn't all fun and games and crazy drugged-up model memories at the office — though it is pretty much all inappropriate sex talk. Next Christina barges in to confront Danny, in front of the whole office, about his porn habit. (He’d been searching for “topless Kate Upton” and “topless Rita Moreno.”) She'd apparently broken his computer in half and ended things in a huff, leaving Danny lost and confused. “Who’s going to explain Colbert to me?” he wonders. “I mean, is he a real guy?”

That relationship now on its way toward demise, we have a wedding to get to. In a wonderful echo (or something) of the bit last season when Casey knocked Mindy’s glasses off with his penis when he stood to head into the forest for a bathroom break, this time Mindy surprises him by staring at herself in the bathroom mirror and narrating the significance of their impending wedding. (Incidentally, also a nice continuation of that trope from last season: You think she’s narrating like an overeager romantic-comedy heroine, but she’s actually talking, usually in a semi-ridiculous scenario.) This time, Casey turns around, startled to hear her there, and accidentally pees on her wedding dress. Once again, Mindy pulls off a scenario we have definitely not seen before.

As Mindy sits outside on the fire escape pondering what to wear instead, Danny joins her for one of their increasingly sweet interactions, filled with both insults and affectionate compliments. “I like the way you write letters,” he says as they bicker over who wrote to whom more while she was away. “You don’t ramble on like you do when you talk.” And, finally, the kicker as they discuss what she should wear in place of her pee-soaked wedding dress: “You know what I always thought you looked nice in?”

The sweetness of this is brought home in the next shot of Mindy walking down the “aisle” toward Casey in her regular old scrubs. (Message: Danny likes how she looks in her regular old scrubs!) Suddenly I got a little choked up; the Flaming Lips’ haunting cover of Madonna’s “Borderline” helped. Casey ups the stakes by declaring he doesn't want to marry her — that is, not like this. She should have the big wedding she wants, he says. “You want to come out of a pumpkin carriage carried by, like, four gay dudes like Cleopatra,” he says. She seems to have some quarrel with this particular vision, but agrees on the overall concept: She should stay in New York and work to make money for the wedding while he goes back to Haiti. They say a super-sweet good-bye at the airport, and I was truly sad to see him go. I like Danny, but I think I love Casey.

The set-up for the next episode comes in the final moments as Dr. Leotard sneaks up behind Mindy. “You have a very light tread,” she says. Leotard: “I’m part Cherokee.” Where's she going to work now? In the office, she tells him. So, where will he work? I’m down for a serious-silly Lahiri-Leotard showdown.

Photo: FOX