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The Mindy Project Recap: A Mitzvah, Indeed

“From the tall and white to the short and white, I’ve sampled an eclectic range of men,” Mindy tells her young new patient in her opening voice-over/lampshade of the continuing criticism of her lack of diverse romantic interests. This precipitates her declaration that she’s planning to give up on love for now, which, you know, would probably be a good idea if she were a real person. Like, she was just totally decimated by the probable love of her life, Danny, five minutes ago, so staying home with the DVR instead of going out with more dudes sounds healthy to me. But I don’t want to watch that show, and this show is always better when Mindy is pursuing her romantic-comedy dreams, which is why this episode was so much fun. Because, of course, it was filled with hints of romantic intrigue despite her momentary dating hiatus. Mindy Project can pull off the occasional non-romantic week, but it’s just not as special when it’s in more traditional sitcom territory.

The show hits on another of its specialties this week, opining on young women’s sexuality via Mindy’s role as a gynecologist. She tells her college-age patient, Jenny, “You and I, as young women, freshly out of adolescence, we cannot let the guys in our lives control our lives.” I think this no-nonsense approach to her work, despite flibbertigibbeting in other parts of her life, is one of the character’s strongest manifestations of Mindy Kaling herself: Don’t we all wish Dr. Lahiri were taking new patients in the New York area? I’d be locking her down on ZocDoc in no time. “I heard that birth control makes you fat and cranky,” Jenny says. Mindy replies, “So does pregnancy.” Word, sister. Going back to that first-season episode when Mindy lectures her young neighbor on sex issues, Mindy’s always had a consistent view of how young women should approach sex: She’s wonderfully pragmatic (yes, you need birth control), but also believes in boundaries (no, don’t let boys rule your life).

Of course, she’s hardly the perfect role model — more of a “do as I say, not as I do” mentor. She needs a weird rhyme to remember to take her own pills (“When I need to take a pill, I look upon the windowsill …”) and, well, she still forgot for the last two weeks. Thank goodness she has Morgan (“Yes, my queen”) to grind her pills up and put them in her coffee every day. This new prescription, however, doesn’t sit well with Jenny’s cop father, played by the handsome — and, it must be said, very Danny-like — Tim Daly. He confronts Mindy about it and even ends up writing her a ticket for “public female hysteria.” Clearly, it’s only a matter of time before sparks fly, right?

Danny, meanwhile, is embarking upon his own circuitous route back toward Mindy, though neither he nor we know it at the moment he goes all Staten on a guy on the subway to get a rabbi his stolen hat back. The grateful rabbi (played by Ally McBeal’s Peter MacNicol) glimpses Danny’s Shulman & Associates bag before he gets off the train, and when the holy man comes to the office to thank him later, assumes he is (the obviously Jewish) Shulman. He promises to refer the “thousands” of women who ask him for doctor recommendations because he’d love to give business to a “nice Jewish boy.” So, in the great sitcom tradition of deception, Danny goes along with it. Jewish high jinks ensue, of course — which, incidentally, brings up one of Mindy Project’s more curious hallmarks: religion-based humor. You guys, I’m pretty sure The Mindy Project is the most religious sitcom on television. I don’t know how that happened, but there it is. I like this, though: It’s a rich, mostly untapped area for humor, at least the way Mindy does it, which is fairly light and cultural as opposed to an intense critique of the power of spirituality. I’ll leave it to the sociology grad students to figure out the grander meaning that links the show’s religious and romantic strands. Surely something to do with transgression or hegemony.

Anyway, Danny’s now forced to play Jew: “That’s a … a mitzvah.” “Definitely, mazel tov, big time.”

In the middle of the episode, we get a lovely little interlude between Mindy and Danny in the hospital break room, wherein they try to be “friends.” She rants about her patient’s father thinking birth control encourages sex. “You know what encourages sex? Alcohol, hotness, black music.” But soon enough, the sex talk gets a little sexy, and she’s wishing she could just be into girls: “How hot would Keira Knightley and I be, snuggled up in a log cabin?” This jumps awfully quickly to a discussion about being able to unhook bras quickly, which Danny insists he can do. “Not in my experience,” Mindy says. He protests, “You had me blindfolded.” And now everyone is thinking about their too-recent sex life instead of anything else. It’s a poignant moment for anyone who’s tried to be friends with an ex.

When Mindy gets home, she finds that Jenny’s waiting on her doorstep, wanting to stay with her instead of going home to Dad Cop. “This feels inappropriate even to me,” Mindy says just before giving in. “And I have no sense of boundaries.” But she can’t resist the chance to be roomies with a college girl, serve as a role model, give us a good story, and enable more interaction with Tim Daly.

And, in fact, Jenny soon invites “a few friends” over, which turns out to be, like, all of NYU or whatever, and they’re making out and drinking at Mindy’s place when she gets home. Jenny has even somehow lured Morgan over and handcuffed him to Mindy’s bed with the intention of losing her virginity to him. “You said independent women need to make some mistakes with men!” Jenny explains. Mindy gives her version of a touching, grown-up talk to Jenny: “A sex party? That’s not for regular people, that’s for couples in John Updike novels,” she says. Then she really gets down to business: “The only downside of being a woman who can make her own decisions is that you have to make good decisions. Guys can get in the way of that.” She even admits that she didn’t lose her own virginity until she was 22. Tim Daly overhears it all and smiles … see, total sparks.

Back in the land of Danny the Jew, he’s recruiting Peter, the practice’s resident kinda-Jew, to attend Shabbat dinner with him. Peter’s impressed with the rabbi’s cred: “Every year he teaches Kathie Lee and Hoda what a menorah is!” And at first Peter does a great job persuading everyone at dinner that he and Danny are both Jewish, employing mainly his wit and charm. (Upon hearing Danny’s terrible blessing: “Harry Connick Jew, everybody!”) Things go perfectly, in fact, until the rabbi’s grandson walks in on Peter in the bathroom to learn that he is not circumcised. I cannot be certain, but I would guess that this stands as one of the few network sitcom plot lines that turns upon an uncircumcised penis.

Both Danny and Mindy are recovering from their respective weekend disasters as they ride the train together the following morning. Mindy’s tangled in her earbuds, a completely understandable condition that must be rectified by physical contact with Danny. Then she notices: “There is a Civil War general who is pointing and waving at you.” Danny goes over to the rabbi to apologize once more, but the rabbi laughs it off: His family will be telling the story of “the lying goy and the Jew with the baggy schneckel” for years to come. And, naturally, he has one magical piece of wisdom to dispense: Danny and that woman he’s with are clearly in love. “There’s nothing more Jewish than dating an Asian girl,” he tells Danny. “Welcome to the tribe, Daniel.” Danny looks at Mindy the way he’s always looking at Mindy that makes us all melt, and next thing we know, he’s getting off the train and telling Sally that they need to talk. (Thank goodness. I love Joanna Garcia, but she’s serving no purpose here.)

But wait! Tim Daly is here to spar-flirt with Mindy once more! As Danny heads off to presumably break up with Sally, Tim Daly causes Mindy to drop her bear claw on the street, and she invites him to buy her another one. He asks if she’s asking him out. “In your dreams, Officer You-Wish.” Besides, she adds, she’s sworn off guys. “I’m not a guy,” he says, before taking off in his police car. “I’m a man.”

“Whoa,” she says, and I think I say it with her. I can’t believe she’s found a man who could distract me from Danny, but it’s possible I’m rooting for him now, at least a little bit.

Photo: Beth Dubber/FOX