This week marks the return of some of our favorite TV shows (“Justified,” “Girls”) for new seasons. Well, most of us love “Justified”; we’re divided on “Girls.” Because I probably can’t convince Lena Dunham detractors to tune into her sophomore season, let me try to implore the Pajiba readership in general to give another debated show a try: “The Mindy Project,” which returns tonight on Fox.
Here are a few reasons:
For the Way the Writers Regrouped
Mindy Kaling’s creation was met with resistance from the beginning, largely thanks to her slightly caustic character Dr. Mindy Lahiri. But already she has evolved. Just as Jess (Zooey Deschanel) was toned down on “New Girl,” Mindy has been slightly recalibrated to be less rude and more relatable. She is still flawed, and that’s great — who wants to watch a show about bland, practically perfect people? But I would argue she’s a touch more lovable.
We’ve already seen some shifts, but the new year brings even bigger changes not only in the makeup of the cast but in the characters themselves. Stephen Tobolowsky is out as the elder statesman of the OBGYN practice; Amanda Setton (as office assistance Shauna) is leaving; Anna Camp has been bumped to a recurring role as Mindy’s best friend, Gwen; Mary Grill is joining the cast in a recurring role as another friend of Mindy’s; and crazy, pot-smoking nurse Beverly (Beth Grant) is becoming a series regular. The only downside to this shuffling is Camp’s demotion, but although she is delightful, her character isn’t. Even by removing some characters only to add others, Kaling and crew are tightening the cast — getting rid of excess co-workers and honing in on Mindy’s relationships.
Ed Weeks (Dr. Jeremy Reed) has been the biggest beneficiary of character changes. In the pilot, he was Mindy’s sex buddy and not much else — a pretty boy with nothing interesting to say. Now, there’s still a touch of Zoolander to him, but he’s off Mindy’s radar and holding his own amid the office antics and playing well with the ditzy office assistant Betsy (Zoe Jarman). He’s no longer a careless cad; he also is the guy willing to sing “La Bamba” on karaoke to enliven Mindy’s Christmas party. Truly, all the characters are more lovable.
For “The Office” and “SNL” guest stars
Ellie Kemper, Ed Helms and Bill Hader have all had roles (with Kemper stealing her scenes as Mindy’s boyfriend’s other/original woman) and more friends are scheduled to come around — the first season is already set at 24 episodes. Even Seth Rogen is going to make an appearance next month.
For Ike Barinholtz
His ex-con male nurse (who lives with his grandmother and has a tattoo on his stomach that reads “No more stealing cars”) Morgan Tookers is the most random and hilarious of the cast. The comedian actually started out as a writer and story editor, but Mindy wrote the role of Tookers for him. Think Andy Dwyer (“Parks and Recreation”) plus Andy Botwin (“Weeds”) — a sweet and eccentric guy whose allusions to crazy past adventures are always unexpected.
For Jay and Mark Duplass
The team of brothers and indie darlings joined the show for a recurring role as midwives in a holistic center that serves as competition for the practice. (Note: I am in no way commenting on the actual depiction of midwifery or the topic in general because A) I know nothing about having kids and B) I’m terrified of wading into this argument.) Previews for tonight’s episode indicate that Mark’s character, Brendan, may even be a love interest for the newly single Mindy. Perfect.
For Chris Messina
If you don’t like Chris Messina, you’re in trouble. He’s in everything. Just in 2012, he starred in “The Newsroom,” “Damages,” Argo, Ruby Sparks, Celeste & Jesse Forever and 28 Hotel Rooms. You can’t escape that lopsided grin. Messina is great as the grumpy Dr. Danny Castellano, Mindy’s part-time office adversary and sure to be future love interest. They’ve got chemistry, and I’m glad Messina has dedicated his busy little self to the role.
She’s smart, funny and talented. She both has it together and doesn’t. She’s normal, and we need more of that on TV.
Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio.