Tuesday Sitcom Recap: It’s Premiere Night for Fox’s ‘New Girl,’ ‘Ben and Kate,’ and ‘The Mindy Project’

Tuesdays are the busiest night for primetime sitcoms this fall, with three of the Big Four networks airing competing comedy blocks. Last night, Fox kicked off its Tuesday night comedies with the New Girl’s second season premiere and the debut of two new shows, The Mindy Project and Ben and Kate (although those two were released on Hulu weeks ago). Ratings are in for the trio of sitcoms, and like NBC and CBS’s fall sitcom premieres, they’re not great.

New Girl scored a 2.7 rating with adults 18-49, down significantly from last year’s premiere, which got a 4.8. Mindy Project had a decent but still-low debut with a 2.4, holding on to most of its lead-in New Girl’s ratings, whereas Ben and Kate scored a little lower with a 2.0 while facing fiercer competition from NCIS and The Voice. But are Nielsen ratings even relevant anymore in an era when Hulu and DVR are the norm? And who’s ever even met a member of a Nielsen family anyway? I’m pretty sure the head of the Nielsen Ratings Company just randomly assigns these numbers to shows based on a deck of tarot cards he shoplifted from a swap meet.

Let’s dive into last night’s shows, shall we?

Ben and Kate – “Pilot”

Bradford: Oscar-winning Descendants writer Nat Faxon makes his leading man debut in Fox’s new sitcom Ben and Kate, starring opposite Dakota Jackson as Ben Fox, the irresponsible man-child brother of her single mother character, Kate. The introductory episode follows Ben returning to town to break up the wedding of the love of his life, the woman he’s been referring to as “Mrs. Ben Fox,” but he soon finds out that it’s too late and that his time is better spent moving in with Kate to help her raise her adorable daughter Maddie (played by Maggie Elizabeth Jones). The Foxes, probably the first TV characters ever to have the same last name as the network they’re on, are joined by talented supporting castmembers Lucy Punch and Echo Kellum, who play Kate’s friend/co-worker and Ben’s friend, respectively.

The pilot is very sweet with some funny moments scattered throughout, and, as is generally the case with TV shows after their pilots, it should only get better from here. Ben and Kate was created by Dana Fox, a former New Girl producer and writer of Couples Retreat who’s part of “The Fempire,” a quarter of female writers also consisting of Diablo Cody, New Girl creator Liz Meriwether, and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World writer/director Lorene Scafaria. Another solid reason to look forward to seeing where the show goes is that Garrett Donovan and Neil Goldman, Dan Harmon’s co-showrunners and executive producers on Community, take over showrunner duties on episode 2, so the series is in good hands.

New Girl - “Re-Launch”

Samantha: New Girl’s first season was all about sexual tension – Schmidt and CeCe’s secret meetings, Nick and Jess’s increasingly close friendship. While the show’s first 24 episodes had plenty of bad dates and failed relationships, it was Nick’s obsession with on-again off-again ex Caroline that threatened to disrupt the balance of our favorite four friends’ chemistry; the finale found him packing up and moving on, but after a meltdown that left the gang stranded in the desert overnight, everyone ends up learning a lesson. Finding a racy text from a co-worker in CeCe’s phone, Schmidt realizes he can’t handle the baggage that comes with her career and breaks up with her via “White Fang-ing.” Winston spends a night in the wild and confronts his fear of the dark. And when Nick decides he’s not ready to leave the people who clearly care about him the most, returning home with his moving truck in tow, the season closes with a victory dance from Jess, wildly happy in ways her lost, lonely self from episode one would never have anticipated.

Season Two picks up two months later, as an ecstatic Schmidt plans a “re-branding” party to let the ladies know he’s back on the market, both socially (we learn he and CeCe haven’t spoken since their break-up) and physically (apparently, sprained penises take a real long time to heal). While he plans his guest list and ropes Nick into hosting, Jess is excited to start a new year of school – until she finds out, from her sombrero-wearing boss (the brilliant Rachael Harris), that she’s being laid off due to budget cuts. While the guys expect the worst, Jess rejects their pity and takes on a job as a shot girl for Schmidt’s party; and when Nick implies she’s not hot enough for the gig, she takes it to the next level and shows up in costume, complete with a tiny glittered top hat and an off-puttingly deep “sexy” voice. Schmidt also outdoes himself; when CeCe shows up at his party with her maddeningly boring new boyfriend (“There’s got to be an explanation for this, like he’s the Lord of Winterfell!”), Schmidt reveals he has something up his sleeve, despite the fact that his secret schemes never seem to work out. After his impromptu fire dance clears the party and fails to impress, CeCe and Schmidt have a sincere moment, and so do Nick and Jess; at several points during the episode she wavers and wonders whether she’s got what it takes to be a shot girl, or to keep pursuing teaching, and each time Nick responds with the tough love she needs to shake herself out of it. We close on Winston, wasted on the fruity drinks meant to make the girls go crazy for Schmidt, dancing alone, a mini mirror of the season one finale.

The episode has some especially great moments, like not one but two a capella renditions of “Groove Is In The Heart,” plus an amazing cameo from Parker Posey as a shot girl with a PHD – pretty heavy drug problem. (“Honey, what happened to you in your life that made you like this?” asks Schmidt. “I graduated from MIT and then I got into a horrible accident where I lost half my brain,” Posey deadpans.) Jess’s job search will surely lead to plenty of wacky adventures in the upcoming months, and Nick’s unwavering support – even if it means being a bit of a jerk – builds up the will-they-or-won’t-they tension that’s especially heightened now that Caroline’s out of the picture. Hopefully this season will feature a bit more Winston, who was sort of an afterthought in this episode, and while CeCe and Schmidt are definitely not A Thing, their sweet goodbye at the party set the scene for a future reconciliation.

The Mindy Project – “Pilot”

Bradford: It’s cliché at this point to preface a recap of a TV pilot by saying that pilots are very difficult to do perfectly and that some of the best sitcoms ever had less-than-stellar pilots, but I’m gonna do it anyway. The first episode of The Mindy Project, created by and starring Mindy Kaling, looks like it’ll have even less in common with the rest of its run than a typical pilot does, mainly due to the presence of two very funny big-name guest stars, Ed Helms and Bill Hader, who are too busy to ever be regulars on the show. That’s okay, though, because The Mindy Project has a diverse supporting cast including King of the Character Actors Stephen Tobolowsky, Anna Camp (True Blood), Ike Barinholtz (Eastbound and Down), who joins up in a recurring capacity in a couple episodes, and more.

Kaling played a pretty ridiculous supporting character on The Office for the past eight seasons, but she makes a nice transition into playing a relatable leading lady here. Her character, Mindy Lahiri, is a rom-com-obsessed OB/GYN who’s navigating a messy romantic life that includes newly-wedded ex Tom (guest star Bill Hader), handsome British physician Jeremy (Ed Weeks), dissatisfied one-time date Dennis (guest star Ed Helms), and will-they-or-won’t-they workmate  Danny Castellano (Chris Messina). There’s a lot of promise here and once the show has time to develop its supporting cast members and not focus so much on backstory and guest stars in subsequent episodes, it could end up being one of the fall’s best new comedies.

Bradford Evans is Splitsider’s Associate Editor.

Samantha Pitchel does things for HuffPost Comedy and SXSW Comedy.

Tuesday Sitcom Recap: It’s Premiere Night for Fox’s […]