The Mindy Project has just never gelled for me. I want to like it– I want to love a snarky comedy about a professionally successful woman whose love life isn't a total catastrophe, a show written by a woman of color so that she could finally a play a role other then sidekick, comic relief and best friend to a skinny white heroine. Mindy Kaling seems deeply charming and admirably driven, but I've never been able to like Mindy Lahiri quite as much. It could be the unevenness of the ensemble that surrounds her– there were some cast shakeups early on, and the show still seems to be finding its groove– but I also just always walk away from an episode feeling like I've watched a series of semi-successful standup routines instead of a solid half hour of comedy. The brilliance of now-departed favorites like 30 Rock was its ability to weave two or three stories into a tightly packed, super clever, almost mannered single show; The Mindy Project has always feels loose and thready by contrast.
The first episode of the second season, which is now available to preview for free on Hulu, sits comfortably in the space opened up by last season's finale; it's full of familiar humor. Last time we saw Mindy she'd chopped off all of her hair as a sign of her committment to her pastor boyfriend, Casey, and her determination to join him on his trip to Haiti. Now she's in Haiti and loving it– mostly. She gazes sadly at pictures of the New York skyline. Casey proposes, Mindy accepts, and a convenient case of gallstones has her back in NYC for surgery. Nothing's changed there except that Dr. Reed has stress eaten himself into a little paunch– fat jokes, always original and hilarious!– and they've hired a Dr. Leotard, played by James Franco, in Dr. Lahiri's stead.
I'm also, to be fair, kind of sick of The James Franco Guest Appearance– speaking of 30 Rock, he'll never top that one, and he should quit trying– but this one falls particularly flat. When Casey kind of randomly decides that Mindy should stay in New York and work so that they can afford a fancy, expensive wedding, it's obvious that we'll get another two episodes out of Mindy's rivalry with Leotard before he departs for another role somewhere else, that Danny's divorce from his wife Christina and Mindy's newfound pseudo-selflessness will develop into a problematic flirtation, and that though it seems like Mindy is getting everything she's ever wanted, she's going to find out that what she needs is something else entirely. It's not terrible but it's also not original, and it's not funny enough to justify its tired plotlines. I'm hoping for sophomore successes for The Mindy Project, but so far, unfortunately, it just looks like more of the same.