When last night’s episode of The Mindy Project began, I feared it was moving away from the strategy that’s worked reasonably well for it this season: the A plot that follows Mindy and Danny’s relationship travails, and the B plot that follows others’ relationship travails. But what initially appeared to be an episode about a strict new department chief at the practice’s affiliated hospital and the loss of Peter’s partner in the Dartmouth alumni beer-pong tournament ended up being two relationship-based stories in disguise. I see this as a rather clever evolution.
We also got our sex-related cold open, another common and successful Mindy trope. Mindy gets out of a speeding ticket by crying and claiming to be “rushing away from this devastating funeral.” Even though the cop notices the strip of photo-booth images of them wearing fake mustaches, he lets them go because Mindy reminds him of “the demented aunt” who raised him. As a reward for her crafty aversion, Mindy gets apparent oral sex from Danny in the car. (She, too, has picked up Danny’s climactic catchphrase, “Whoa, Nelly.”) I know it’s way more common than it used to be to see cunnilingus references on network television — thank you, guest-star Shonda Rhimes — but I always appreciate them.
It’s particularly welcome after the minor controversy caused by last week’s anal-sex story line; some fans were upset not because it went there, but because it didn’t address the issue of consent. It’s an interesting question that didn’t come up for me in watching the episode, I suppose because, like Kaling, I viewed it as a long-term relationship spat rather than a violation. To me, seeing Danny give her oral sex on demand illustrates the equality of their relationship, though I appreciated the discussion that last week’s episode engendered. I look forward to more of these sex-preference story lines, which Mindy has clearly decided to own in a way no network sitcom before has done. A little controversy isn’t always bad.
Onto the two major story lines of the night: First, Peter’s frat buddy, “Pube,” drops out of the annual alumni beer-pong competition because he has to go to his father’s funeral. But Peter’s in a bind because he’s dying to beat last year’s champion, Shonda Rhimes, class of ’91. As if Shonda weren’t dominating our televisions enough already. This is possibly my favorite cameo of all time, due to its randomness. And also maybe because I’ve been brainwashed by bingeing the entirety of Scandal over the past few weeks. Rhimes really did go to Dartmouth, if you hadn’t guessed. (And so did Kaling.)
The second major story line involves the new department chief, who gives Schulman and Associates the graveyard shift after all of them except Jeremy show up 16 minutes late to her staff meeting. To make matters worse, Mindy’s phone goes off in the middle of it, complete with “Fancy” ringtone. (Mindy: “I told Jeremy if he ever wants me to go anywhere, he has to trick me into believing that Pharrell is doing a meet-and-greet.”) The chief, Dr. Jean Fishman, is played with great understatement by Niecy Nash of Soul Man and Getting On. Mindy’s solution to Dr. Fishman’s hatred of their practice is to propose a Girls’ Night Out with the doctor to smooth things over. What could go wrong, right?
Mindy opens her gambit by bringing Dr. Fishman an “apology cactus.” As Mindy explains brilliantly: “Cactuses might seem prickly, but really, deep down, they’re little gentle creatures … Ow! Stupid bitch.” Mindy suggests she and Jean bond since they’re “just two women trying to make our way in this female-dominated industry.” Jean claims to have been spending every night at the Statue of Liberty because she’s new in town and doesn’t know anyone, so she agrees to hang with Mindy. By the end of their outing, however, Mindy has a different problem: Jean kisses her, and Mindy doesn’t protest.
Soon, Schulman and Associates is off the graveyard shift, and Mindy is claiming she might be gay. Peter does not buy this: “Mindy, you’re not gay. You asked me to help you mail yourself to Chris Hemsworth.” Tamra claims everyone’s a little gay sometimes: “I once kissed my cousin Sheena to get invited on Air Force 2.” (I love a good 30 Rock–style non sequitur that brings up more questions than it answers.) As they discuss the matter at the office, Jean calls Mindy, which this time elicits an “I Touch Myself” ringtone. (Has Mindy just changed ringtones, or did Jean already get a special ringtone on Mindy’s phone?) Mindy bungles it again, saying Jean can come over to her place that night: “You can bring a bottle of wine and we can curl up by the fire.” When she hangs up, she deadpans, “That snowballed rather quickly.”
Danny insists Mindy set things straight (ha-ha), but when they go to Jean’s office together to do so, they get another surprise: Jean is married. I could’ve lived with a less stereotypically “masculine” wife than Deb, though Mindy and Danny’s opposite protestations about Mindy not being “butch” and Danny just happening to be an effeminate man helped a little. Soon, things snowball again, and Mindy tells her ultimate lie (in this situation): As Mindy tries to empathize with/top Jean’s declaration that her wife is thinking of leaving her, Mindy claims Danny is threatening suicide. It almost looks like Danny will draw a line and finally refuse to go along with Mindy’s lies to get out of trouble — nice callback to the cold open — but instead, he gives a tour-de-force performance when Jean and her wife arrive to talk Danny down. Channeling Brando in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof while chugging wine straight from the bottle, he gives a mostly incoherent sob speech while trying to follow Mindy’s coaching via mime. (Her attempt at “hanging” is interpreted as “Statue of Liberty,” another nice callback.) He ends this monologue in desperation by spouting Mindy-isms: “Excqueeze me? I can’t have a baby!” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Chris Messina is a national treasure, and so is his comedic chemistry with Kaling.
Finally, Danny and Mindy sit down with Jean and Deb for a slightly more sober lying session, and Danny agrees to forgive Mindy for her transgression with Jean as long as she helps him build his Adirondack chairs, cooks him dinner every night for a month, and wakes him up with a little … [suggestive noise here]. “Fine,” she says, “I will do the thing I hate the most to you.” And with this, I am officially sure I know almost as much about Mindy and Danny’s specific bedroom preferences as I do about Beyoncé and Jay Z’s.
Beer Pong and Shonda
Meanwhile, Jeremy volunteers to be Peter’s partner in the beer-pong tournament, and perhaps for the first time since season one, really comes into his own as a character. This season he’s had a lovely streak of plaintive references to his sad British upbringing that have finally given his character a hook. To wit, his explanation of his exceptional beer-pong skill: “As a child, it was actually my job to put ice in Father’s drink, and if I got too close, he’d swat me away.”
The true Jeremy magic begins when he shows up properly decked out in Dartmouth frat-boy regalia, declares he “pregamed” with “a very subtle Pinot Grigio,” and then switches into a flawless American-dude accent while he and Peter talk to those guys from the ‘Sploders porn site. (Yet another perfect callback, this one to an episode last season.) Jeremy becomes “Barf” to Peter’s “Lefty” and explains to the ‘Sploders guys that they don’t remember him from Dartmouth because he “had to take three years off. Sexual harassment thing.” One of the guys even thinks he remembers going to some “benefit” for good old Barf and his legal troubles, a quick, uncomfortable send-up of frat culture in one line.
And yet these are also frat bros who embrace Shonda Rhimes’s presence. Yes, she is really there! Jeremy must stop himself from gushing too much, curtailing himself to one very American and masculine “Scandal’s my jam!” We learn through the course of the evening that Peter’s known as “Lefty” because his girlfriends always left him for his friends. I love how even Shonda seems to know about Peter’s love-life difficulties: “I wrote a TV pilot about him once. The network said it was too sad.” (Who wants to see that pilot very badly? I know I do.) At last, the boys are victorious. They unseat Rhimes as the champion, finally seem to be friendly again despite their fight over Lauren, and win Peter the right to give himself a new nickname. Jeremy suggests “turtleneck” since he’s uncircumcised. (Yet another great callback to a previous episode.) He blurts out “Diarrhea.”
But, hey, it beats the melancholy of “Lefty.” Not to mention the disgustingness of ‘Sploders.