Here is a scenario you have probably heard before: a single, 30-something woman, who is a diehard romantic but unlucky in love, wants a change in her life. This tried-and-true formula has helped many a romantic comedy earn box office success, encouraging audiences to root for a genuine, if flawed protagonist as she sets out to improve her life and get the guy.
The episode starts strong: title character Mindy Lahiri voices over a brief montage of her childhood, which was full of Meg Ryan romantic comedies, and into the events leading up to her giving an embarrassing speech at her ex-boyfriend’s wedding. She has been arrested for fleeing the wedding drunk, on a bicycle, and then crashing into a swimming pool.
“I’m not that person,” Mindy assures a skeptical police officer. “At least, I won’t be anymore. I’m changing.”
There are many things Mindy wants to change: she is bullied by her coworker Danny Castellano (a caustic Chris Messina) over work ethic and her weight, is having sex with her other coworker, randy Jeremy Reed (Ed Weeks), she drinks too much, and has a bad habit of stalking potential dates online (one of the funnier scenes showcase her cavalier attitude toward this habit, when she tells her flustered date that she knows about his career and college life because, “I looked it up online, alright? Relax!”)
But though Mindy declares repeatedly throughout the episode that she wants to change, there’s very little evidence to back the assertion. When she tumbles into bed with Reed at the close of the episode (her third encounter with him), there is a sense of vague disappointment in Mindy, rather than amusement at her antics.
The scenes with the immigrant mother and her young son seem out of place with the rest of the show, and jar the pace. They appear to have been placed there to show the ‘other’ Mindy, the caring, efficient OB/GYN who takes on a patient even though they don’t have insurance and then delivers a high-risk breech baby. But their placement feels forced, and her coworker Betsy’s (Zoe Jarman)comment about taking on “more white clients” sounds stilted and unnecessarily callous.
That weak comment aside, though, where the show does find sure footing is in the dialogue. Characters converse, snipe, and badger each other the way any coworkers, friends or rivals might. Mindy’s ripostes with Castellano were the high points of the episode, and the two have genuine chemistry under the insults they sling at each other.
“The Mindy Project” has the potential to be both funny and a thing of substances, but right now it fails to deliver a crucial point: conviction. If Mindy doesn’t appear to believe she actually wants to change, the viewer can’t really believe it, either.