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The Mindy Project Recap: Shoot-out at the Gender Corral

THE MINDY PROJECT

Mindy’s great, of course, at slinging throwaway one-liners like nobody’s business. (“Your sandwich has been in the fridge for like a month. I’m taking it home for dinner.”) But she’s not so great at the fake gun-slinging that has taken over the office now that she’s outnumbered by male doctors, three-to-one. She’s lost control of the posse since Peter joined the practice, and she’s not happy about it: “It is so unfair that it’s okay for you to do all this dumb stuff in the office. And I wanted all the doctors to sing one birthday video for Meredith Vieira, and suddenly it’s a workplace?”

Yes, our favorite girly-girl is no longer in charge, and it’s killing her. Well, fake-killing her, anyway, as Peter holds her “hostage” with a toy gun to her head, while spouting villain-ish lines in a grumbly voice about her being bacon that’s trying to jump out of a pan (or something). Peter redeems his presence on this show for the first time ever when he pushes the bit to its extreme, demanding, nonsensically, that they all say the Pledge of Allegiance “to the flag of the United States of Obama’s America.” As Mindy says, “What character is this?”

This week’s Mindy Project outing does something crucial that looks easy when good sitcoms do it, but is actually quite complicated: It underlines a truth about its characters that we didn’t quite realize before, and it does so while remaining consistent. In this case, that truth is the fact that Mindy had been running the show with the boys from work until now; and that maybe it’s time she learned to pay attention to other people for once. The episode also does that while quietly advancing two romantic plotlines: the through-line with Danny and Mindy, as well as the new spark between Morgan and fellow nurse Tamra. Oh, right, and we also get a random cameo from former Girls Next Door Playmate Kendra Wilkinson.

Peter gets his due this week because he’s the fulcrum around which this particular plot pivots: He doesn’t tolerate Mindy’s girliness the way Danny and Jeremy tend to. So he objects when she proposes the doctors fix up their office roof with a Gazebo Garden and Serenity Space. (Danny has preemptively nixed the idea of a fro-yo machine because he fears Mindy will not remember to change the filter — wait, fro-yo machines have filters? — and everyone will get legionnaire’s disease.) Peter instead suggests a grill so that they can cook up steaks and ribs for patients while they wait for their pap results. (Um, add some chicken, fish, or veggie burgers to the menu, and I am so backing this plan.) But Mindy insists her idea is useful: “For one, you can come here and wait out a rain storm with your one true love.” When the guys still object, she insists: “We’re getting a gazebo, dammit, and maybe a maypole in the spring for dancing.”

Feeling badly about their widening rift, Mindy invites Peter to the most amazing colleague lunch ever: the café at the American Girl Place. Okay, they call it USA Girl to get around infringement issues. Or, as Danny describes it, “that doll place where you tell the period story.” It’s true, Mindy does tell Peter it’s special to her because her mom brought her there after she got her first period. And she does order a pink “friendship cake” with a sparkler on top, which is not exactly Peter’s thing. Luckily, Danny seems pleased enough with it when she presents it to him later.

Peter’s makeover from distracting addition to well-rounded character continues with the revelation that he’s getting over a breakup and has an improbable ultimate fighting hobby. This isn’t so cute at first when he’s rolling around the floor of the office “practicing” with Morgan. (As they explain, ultimate fighting is “like boxing plus wrestling plus strangling.”) “There’s no safe place for a young, hot woman to just walk around watching her Internet videos,” Mindy complains. Like Mindy, though, I switch from annoyance to concern as soon as I see how outmatched he is at a real fight, and how hurt he is by Mindy’s all-too-real attempt at trash-talking by bringing up his ex’s recent engagement. By the time we saw his body fly out of the ring and past Mindy’s head during his impossible match, he’d earned his keep. I mean, I still wouldn’t be heartbroken if he disappeared from the show next week, but this story line clearly marked the first great use of him.

Similarly, the introduction of Tamra’s oft-mentioned “scrub” boyfriend, Ray Ron, paints her as endearing for the first time. For starters, that’s Josh Peck of Nickelodeon’s Drake and Josh as her dumb-but-sweet beau! How it’s these two crazy kids “twentieth anniversary,” unless they met as infants just after birth, I do not know. But her typically loopy lines pack more punch in a somewhat emotional environment. (“Would it have killed him to bring me to a restaurant and buy me a car? I mean, we had a car, but he can’t remember where he parked it.”) Morgan’s new crush on Tamra felt surprisingly real as well, especially since he’s so often used as a repository for silly and absurd story ideas. As long as the show maintains this currently pleasant balance of relationship drama and plain old comedy, rather than letting the couples take hostage of proceedings (as happened sometimes on The Office), I’m all for a little office love.

Speaking of which, we’ve got a bit of Grey’s Anatomy syndrome here, too: Love affairs with outsiders simply don’t stick. And so we bid a subdued farewell to Fred the Angel/Ginsberg/Jason the Culture Snob as he points out that Mindy mysteriously has Danny’s sushi order memorized and a penchant for canceling plans with boyfriends to hang out with Danny. Looks like Danny’s underselling their relationship a smidge when he sums it up this way: “When I first met you, I thought you were annoying, and then I got to know you better and I still didn’t like you. But now I think you’re a nice lady. We’re friends.” Sounds like the plot of every great romantic comedy, and the ending of this episode bodes well for Mindy, too: She may have lost her most recent boyfriend, but she comes out a better person, surprising the guys with a basketball court instead of a gazebo. Aw.

Photo: Jordin Althaus/FOX