Cheers’ Rhea Perlman as Danny’s mother, Annette, ladies and gentlemen! Sometime in the ’90s — I’m thinking that Friends really popularized this, though other shows did it to varying degrees before that — all sitcom characters started getting parents played by big names of the past, usually from sitcom history. It’s become a kind of TV parlor game: Who will play so-and-so’s mom or dad, whenever he or she eventually shows up? To be clear, I’m not complaining: It means we get to see masters of the form, and it provides a nice little post-massive-fame, pre-retirement income stream for sitcom vets. Everybody wins. And! Fun fact from sitcom history: Dan Hedaya, who plays Danny’s dad, also played Nick Tortelli, the slovenly ex-husband of Perlman’s Carla, on Cheers.
She is particularly welcome in this case, as Danny’s Staten Island single mom shows up at Danny’s to interrupt Mindy recounting her dream about being “in the jungle, and this guy wanted me so badly …” I love the little detail that one of the major benefits of being in a couple is having someone to pretend to be interested in listening to recaps of your dreams. We could guess — those of us old enough to remember Cheers could, anyway — that Perlman as Mrs. Castellano would be overbearing and difficult, so that was no surprise. But she did make a particularly perfect entrance, coming by to drop off some old TV Guides for Danny. (This reminded me a little of George Costanza’s parents hoarding TV Guides on Seinfeld, intentionally or not.) When Danny rolls his eyes: “Are you the King of Siam? You’re too good for an inside look at the fall lineup?” Perfect marriage of Mindy humor and Cheers’ Carla.
Also perfect: Annette’s casual, unapologetic racism, one of those wonderful last-generation hallmarks that Perlman nails. On first meeting Mindy, she confuses her with Danny’s cleaning lady, and she’s so happy he got rid of the other one, who was “always listening to that cucaracha music.” When Annette asks Mindy’s rate, Mindy doesn’t blink: “An eight. A ten in Chicago. A four in Los Angeles.”
When Annette leaves, this confusion sets up our lovers’ conflict of the week, an issue that has taken several forms but has often haunted Mindy and Danny: He hasn’t told his mother about her, while she has told everyone about him. (“I even showed my waxer that beautiful poem you wrote me.” That’s the one called "Brown Orchid," FYI, and it’s quite erotic.) Danny, to his credit, doesn’t flinch when Mindy asks what he was planning to do at their wedding if he’d never introduced the bride to his mom. He simply indicates that he was, as Mindy says, hoping to “run the clock out” and maybe Mom would just die before then. Plus, Mindy would be all covered up in her “religious garb.” (Mindy: “What religion do you think I am?” Danny: “Orthodox something?”)
The next day, Danny tries to make good by bringing Mom to the office to meet Mindy. (Mom: “Shulman & Associates … very New York–y.”) He does just barely manage to introduce them, and Mindy makes a play for hanging out a bit at the frozen yogurt place nearby, though she’s been banned from there for sample fraud. (She was also banned from the Lincoln Center fountain — exactly how many places can Mindy Lahiri not go?) That doesn’t work, though we learn in the crossfire that Danny’s brother makes a web show called Wine Time. Anyone else really, really want to see this? Sadly, it does not appear to be real, though there are these snack bars fortified with resveratrol that are called Winetime, which for me kind of defeats a lot of the fun of wine, but to each her own.
Not to worry, Mindy will ditch her scheduled C-section the next day — I forget what they do in that office these days, so for a second I was like, Wait, Mindy’s pregnant? — and crash brunch with Mom, brother, Danny, and Mom’s best friend Dot. (Don’t know why Dot was necessary in this scene, but I loved her occasional interjections, and she is played by the excellent character actress Jenny O’Hara, who has a long, long list of TV credits.)
Mindy has a foolproof plan for making moms love her, and like her previous man-catching plan, its steps are accompanied by “Blurred Lines.” Unlike her previous man-catching plan, this one is brilliant, and it basically works. (I honestly don’t see how it could fail.) You compliment the mom, even when she’s wearing a jacket from the Janet Reno Collection. You find TV shows you both love, even when her favorite is Castle and you have to sneak away to Google something to say about it. You agree with absolutely everything she says. (“I know, I hate that ethnic group, too.”)
But Mindy can’t stick with it when conversation turns against Danny’s amazing birthday gift for his mother, a new stove that he’s having installed right that second by “a guy.” Mom is a typically guilty, old-world mom — I used to have such unnerving exchanges constantly with my Russian grandmother, even if all I bought her was bubble bath — and Dot then seals the utter stupidity of this gift: “A guy? Now he knows the layout of your house. That is how elder rape occurs.” Meanwhile, Danny’s brother gifts Mom with a teddy bear from Hudson News in the airport and she can’t gush enough about it. (“Hudson News? La-di-da!”) Mindy finally must speak up against Annette, defending Danny’s gift and his generosity in paying all of her bills, even when she runs up debts while playing Candy Crush level 44. Dot’s final pronouncement actually made me laugh out loud: “It’s an impossible level!”
Of course Mindy must fix things, and of course she soon learns that Annette actually grows to like her more than Danny’s previous girlfriends because she speaks up. Mindy just wishes Annette could be more like her own parents, who send her an email every day called “Mindy’s Compliment Corner.” We’ve met her brother, whom I kind of miss; please let us get to meet her parents this season! Alas, casting them from sitcom history could get a bit complicated by the total lack of diversity in said history, but I look forward to some great discoveries.
A brief nod to the pretty decent fix the show has finally landed on for its ongoing B-plot problems: We seem to now focus A plots on Danny and Mindy, with B plots following relationship travails of the secondary characters. This is what the show does best, so it’s great. Maybe we’ll eventually get tired of it, but there are enough secondaries (so many secondaries!) to make it work. Whoever doesn’t have a mate can date, while we also follow those who are coupled — like Morgan and Tamra, who were conflicted over Morgan’s 40 dogs because Tamra’s severely allergic. And I can imagine watching Peter date again could be fun; especially now that he’s the proud owner of Nicole the Pomeranian.
Also can’t wait to see more Annette Castellano — not only because we’ll get more Rhea, but also because it seems like she and Mindy could be on the brink of an interesting relationship. We missed you, Carla Tortelli.