It’s a big week for Fox’s Tuesday night sitcom block, as newcomers Ben and Kate and The Mindy Project both just got picked up for a full first season. Ben and Kate’s first season will now be 19 episodes, whereas Mindy Project’s will be 22. Both shows seem to almost be celebrating the good news this week, with Mindy spending its third episode at a nightclub, while Ben and Kate central duo participate in a fun scavenger hunt. Elsewhere in Tuesday night sitcoms, New Girl’s second season marches on, with the latest episode revolving around the gang’s dealings with a new group of young, hip neighbors. Let’s take a closer look at last night’s shows, shall we?
Ben and Kate - “The Fox Hunt”
BRADFORD: This week’s Ben and Kate sees the titular sibling squaring off in an elaborate scavenger hunt called “The Fox Hunt” that’s been a tradition in their family for years. Ben teams up with his buddy Tommy (taking him away from teaching a country club tennis lesson, mid-lesson) to take on Kate and her pal BJ. Kate never won the competition as a kid, so she’s gung-ho about pulling off a victory now, and Ben is willing to secretly let her win until he realizes that if he loses, he’ll have to do all of her housework. From there, Ben and Tommy become just as competitive as Kate and BJ, resulting in a fun, silly scavenger hunt that’s full of solid gags.
Like last week’s episode, “The Fox Hunt” is a low-stakes episode that gives its characters a lot of opportunities to get into ridiculous situations. From Ben chasing (and later running from) a pigeon to Ben and Tommy’s crazy inventions (“the office sleep system,” a waterbed lounge chair), there are a lot of strong bits here that show off the talented cast by letting them get silly. With the recent news of Ben and Kate getting picked up for a full season, there are plenty more absurd episodes like this to look forward to.
New Girl - “Neighbors”
SAMANTHA: In what absolutely counts as personal progress, over four episodes we’ve seen Jess go from miserably unemployed (“I’m going off the grid!”), to enthusiastically exploited (“I can be a shot girl!”), to comfortably under-employed (“I love working at the Casserole Shanty!”). Jess says she’s satisfied by her job, but when the guys come home to find her watching Mr. Belvedere in her bejeweled uniform, again, they give her a tag-team lecture about goals and aspirations. Schmidt only has a moment to revel in the glory of Crushin’ It on a Daily Basis before a new pack of neighbors – ultra-hip Chaz, Fife, Sutton, and Brorie – backhandedly uninvite him from their party by suggesting it’s “just going to be a bunch of young people.” As quickly as their bratty boredom sends him into a self-consciousness spiral (“We don’t hate you because you’re old – we hate you because you’re a viciously unbearable asshead”), their unexpected approval is a temporarily salve to Jess’s hurt feelings. But when her part-time gig at the Ass-erole Shanty puts her in the same social bracket as a bunch of kids who think her 90s references are hilarious original jokes, and who are too self-involved to philosophically handle the concept of appliances, she realizes she’s got to hold herself to higher standards. In the end, the friends both learn lessons: Jess admit she misses the challenge of teaching (“Can you imagine how much we would get done if we just focused our energy onto something a little more worthwhile?”), and Schmidt finds a silver lining (“They don’t hate me because I’m old – they hate me because of my personality! I can totally change my personality!”)
Meanwhile, Nick “Gran Torino” Miller is at work on a series of elaborate pranks meant to make the age-sensitive Schmidt feel even older, tricking him into thinking he’s losing hearing, height, and control of his bladder. Nick’s wildly fluctuating maturity is alluring; he’s at once elderly (he wears Old Spice, and cherishes a Frisbee he confiscated as a kid) and childish (he peed on Schimdt’s bed), with a loyal heart of gold (see: last week’s very meaningful Ikea assembly). Plus, the face he makes at Jess’s butchered Urkel impression is priceless. While the rest of the gang is grappling with mortality at home, Winston takes Schmidt’s life expectancy chart a bit too seriously and ends up at work, giving a Jerry Maguire-inspired speech about seizing the day. What begins as absolute certainty of his impending death ends with him getting his own early morning sports show, so, everyone wins! Except, of course, for the new neighbors, whose artichoke / hula hoop / sitar parties sound like they are the worst.
The Mindy Project – “In the Club”
BRADFORD: One of The Mindy Project’s greatest strengths is its ensemble, and last night’s episode made great use of the diverse group of performers who make up the core cast while keeping them all together in one location. New cast member Ike Barinholtz (who also writes for the show) proves to be a fine addition and has some very funny moments here. The story begins with Mindy asking hip young co-worker Shauna to take her out to a club, only to have the whole rest of the office tag along. “In the Club” finds something for everyone in the cast to do, with everybody having their own little mini-story arcs. Mindy gets hung up on a sleazy but charming sports attorney, Danny shows off his dance moves, Jeremy tries to bed a newlywed, Betsy accidentally orders bottle service and gets to drunk, Shauna pines over Danny, and Morgan finds a new career as a volunteer bathroom attendant.
In previous weeks, the main cast has lost airtime to big-name guest stars like Ed Helms and Seth Meyers, but it’s nice to see the ensemble front and center this time around. Like Mindy Kaling’s previous series, The Office, this show’s better served by focusing on its regular characters than on impressive guest stars. “In the Club” is the first episode of the show not written by Kaling. It was written by Matt Warburton, a longtime Simpsons writer and one-time Community writer. Warburton’s script succeeds in bringing the main characters together and finding plenty of funny stuff for each of them to do.
Bradford Evans is Splitsider’s Associate Editor.
Samantha Pitchel writes about and watches comedy in Austin and Los Angeles.