After a so-so ratings debut last week, Fox’s Tuesday night sitcoms are back for Week 2, which sees new series The Mindy Project and Ben and Kate offering up their first non-pilot episodes and The New Girl continuing its second season. Here’s how it all broke down:
Ben and Kate - “Bad Cop/Bad Cop”
Bradford: Sitcom pilots tend to be clunky and filled to the brim with exposition, so second episodes are often a more accurate example of what a series will end up looking like. In the case of Ben and Kate’s second episode, all of the back-story was out of the way, and we got a way funnier episode than the pilot because there was a lot more room for jokes. “Bad Cop/Bad Cop” follows Ben and Kate trying to keep up a sitcom-y ruse by pretending they’re living in Tommy’s parents’ house so that they can keep Maddie going to the same school. The sham culminates in a scene at Tommy’s parents’ home that really sees the ensemble gelling as the whole gang desperately tries to cover for each other with increasingly-absurd lies. It’s a sweet and well-executed scene that scores a lot of laughs while showing how much these characters care for one another.
“Bad Cop/Bad Cop” was written by series creator Dana Fox, who also penned the pilot, and it sees the show packing a lot more humor in. It’s also the first episode under the reign of new showrunners Neil Goldman and Garrett Donovan, who used to be Dan Hamon’s right hand guys on Community. That show, like Ben and Kate, finds a lot of strength in mixing humor and heart, so they seem like well-suited for the gig. TV series often improve a lot after their pilot, and Ben and Kate is no exception. I’m looking forward to seeing how Neil Goldman, Garrett Donovan, and Dana Fox continue to experiment and use these characters over the next few episodes.
New Girl - “Fluffer”
Samantha: Jess and Nick ‘shippers (let’s be honest, pretty much everyone, right?), get ready to experience a “Taylor Swift-like range of emotions” this week. But first, feign surprise that Jess’s sex-only situation with Sam isn’t quite working; turns out she needs something more substantial than dirty texts to get her going. Schmidt suggests the guys take her out to help loosen her up, then bails, leaving Jess and Nick alone to share a bowl of soup and a Thermos full of liquor; the unintentional friend date has all the signs of a date-date – smokin’ red dress and all – except it ends with Jess in bed with another man. While Schmidt finds out whether his life would be better as a Romney – pretending to be lesser-known son Tugg and scoring a date with a sorority girl – Winston’s worried that his active imagination is making him “cheat” on Shelby, in a storyline that comes out of and goes sort of nowhere.
Cut to the next morning, as Jess skips into the bathroom with an announcement: “I just want to say that I had meaningless wonderful sex last night, with Sam, and that sex would not have been possible without the efforts of one Nick Miller.” Aww / eww. Winston rightly labels Nick an “emotional fluffer,” warning him that he’s doing the job of a boyfriend, without the benefits. When Nick points this out to Jess, she asks point-blank if he wants said benefits (confessing that she thought of it, once, while watching him weep into a bowl of bar nuts); after an immature mini-meltdown, he blurts out, “You need me to have sex.” Oof. But here’s where it gets complicated: He assembles her Ikea dresser. After Winston insists it’s strictly forbidden, because furniture implies permanence, and therefore an inevitable future together, Nick does it anyways. And then he tells Jess he’s attracted to her. And then… he gives her a copy of his Sexy Mix. So she can sleep with Sam without his help. And she does! The end. Can people really just acknowledge attraction and move on that easily? For the sake of the show, let’s bet no.
The Mindy Project – “Hiring and Firing”
Bradford: Fox’s other new sitcom, The Mindy Project, also debuted its first non-pilot episode last night, and it saw the show making some slight tweaks. “Hiring and Firing,” written by Mindy Kaling, adds a new recurring cast member in Ike Barinholtz (Eastbound and Down, MADtv) and focuses more on Mindy’s relationship with Springsteen-lovin’ Danny Castellano than hers with charming, British guy Jeremy. Barinholtz is a funny guy and a welcome addition to an ensemble that, despite being seven cast members deep, felt like it was missing something. “Hiring and Firing” involves Mindy and Danny struggling to decide who to hire as a new nurse, while Jeremy tries to fire the old nurse but can’t because he’s too charming and British.
The pilot featured two big guest stars in Bill Hader and Ed Helms, and this week sees Mindy Kaling bringing in another impressive NBC comedy figure in Seth Meyers. Meyers has a three-minute extended cameo at the top of the episode that’s funny but, like the Hader and Helms appearances felt a little structurally weird. Meyers was confined to just one scene, whereas I was expecting him to pop up late in the episode. Mindy Project is really using its guest stars in an unusual way for sitcoms by just confining them to one scene, but as long as they keep bringing in funny people who are then funny, it’s fine by me.
Bradford Evans is Splitsider’s Associate Editor.
Samantha Pitchel writes about and watches comedy in Austin and Los Angeles.