Wednesday, January 08, 2014

The Mindy Project "Danny Castellano Is My Personal Trainer" Review: Working Out for the Future


Rating:  ***

Season: 2
Episode: 12
Original Airdate: Jan. 7, 2014
Director:  Rob Schrab
Writer: Charlie Grandy
Starring:  Mindy Kaling, Chris Messina, Ed Weeks, Ike Barinholtz, Adam Pally
Guest:  Glenn Howerton
Channel: FOX
Genre: Comedy

It appears the writers have decided to blow past the subtle hint stage of the Danny Castellano (Chris Messina) and Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling) relationship, and start devoting entire episodes progressing to the eventual hook-up.  Of course, this could all be a major tease, and the writers will realize the fun is all in the build and they'll withhold the pay-off this season (though ratings sadly point to this being the final season of one of the smartest and freshest comedies on TV).   The one thing pointing towards the trigger not being pulled is Mindy being in the serious relationship with Cliff Gilbert (Glenn Howerton), but romantic comedy rules suggest the protagonist always needs to be in a significant relationship before the much sought after hook-up.  This series also has proven quite capable of ending any important relationship in a satisfying way right before the opening sequence. 

Castellano and Mindy have been hinted as "destined for each other" in that classic romantic comedy way since the series premiere, but most of signs have either been subtle little moments or one major scene in an episode focused on something else.  This is the first episode that really seemed to be about their relationship and attempting to make major steps toward making it clear their paths are meant to intertwine in the most romantic way possible.  Though the two have a great chemistry together and their scenes with each other are often the show's highlight, I actually think the series will be stronger the longer they remain apart,

Television history points to couples often being far more appealing during the chase period then when they're together.  It is likely the reason Ross and Rachel were only together as an actual couple for what adds up to a little over one whole season.  It is harder to keep the excitement going when the major goal has been met.  I realize there are exceptions to couples having a long episode run together like Jim and Pam or Marshal and Lilly, but for the most part, the TV world dictates the main character is better chasing the soul mate then being happy with them.

I get the impression that Mindy Kaling (both creator and star) recognizes that fact since she is a self-professed lover of rom-coms and this series is essentially one very witty and smart ode to the entire genre.  The most popular and iconic rom-coms tend to keep that much anticipated first kiss or the final major hook-up right to the very end.  As one giant rom-com stretched over years (or at least, I hope it has years left, because this is one of those rare gems in sitcoms that is good even when it is bad), there must be some understanding that the momentum and feel of the series is better served with teases of the inevitable hook-up with constant obstacles thrown in the way than the eventual pay-off.  Of course, this doesn't account for Network meddling that is demanding solid ratings and decides a hotshot romance is what will elevate the show to "buzzworthy."  It also is dependent on how the relationship gets handled in its current stage, because you can't have too many episodes like this one that strongly point to their compatibility without getting the audience restless.  The major Castellano and Lahiri really like each other episodes only work sparingly, and things are much better for the show's overall aesthetic and style if the rumbling of true love is kept to mumblings and the obvious proclamations contained to special scenes.

I'm just armchair quarterbacking now, and admit I have no idea of the actual plans for the show.  Maybe they have incredible ideas for the eventual hook-up and maybe it is all a massive tease (doubtful).  In order to keep Mindy in relationships though, it is going to be constant pulls into the guest star slot, because she has already run through the main cast not named Danny (unless they actually dare to do a Morgan run).  The reality is that even though the Mindy character is obsessed with relationships and I fully embrace this as a romantic comedy series, it is actually often way more than about hook-ups or who Mindy is with.  The magic of this show is how it plays and twists common comedy tropes and clichés of all kinds.  It is also one giant play on the small girl in big city trying to survive with all the crazy people in her life.  It is an ode to New York life, but also to the value of work relationships.  So, even though I spent almost this entire review analyzing the chances of a romantic relationship, it is far from what really makes this series so special (darn it, this is a special show even if I'm championing it all by myself).

The major story of the episode was Mindy panicking over Gilbert seeing her in a bikini, because she has managed the art of her boyfriends never seeing her naked.  She is self-conscious of her body, because despite being a beautiful and full-figure woman, pop belief has deemed her unworthy of flaunting her stuff.  This is a constant theme played in this series, which not only shows the confidence and strength of Mindy Kaling to be so self-deprecating but also sure of herself, but has also been a smart critique of society's wrong views of woman.  The Mindy character isn't aware that this view is vile and nasty, and decides it is time to stop being the big bad wolf consuming many meats or having her very own coffee cake, and instead try this thing called exercise.  One of the funnier bits is her actually using Morgan (Ike Barinholtz) as her personal trainer and complaining he is being too kind, which then leads to him going the other extreme resulting in spitting in her face.  This all leads to Danny fulfilling the title of the show and constant gags where he keeps on seeing her naked (something even her boyfriends haven't done, thus one of the massive flare guns shots to signal their future).

I assumed the episode was largely going to be about Danny pushing Mindy too hard or at least, the bonding coming from the training sessions.  This show specializes at pointing in the obvious direction and u-turning in another.  There was only one scene where Mindy was trying to work out while Danny egged her on, and the other scenes where more about Mindy's self-conscious view of her body.  The episode was able to hit some great gags like the owl luring Danny into Mindy's office when she was naked, Mindy's hair being stuck to Danny's watch in the steam room leading to her getting a rather revealing view of his body, and Danny obsessing over his ugly feet after Mindy's criticism.  The jokes were fresh and gut-busting (and my own gut needs that busting), but it was also an insightful critique of society's misplaced value on body figures.  It wasn't done in a preachy way, but you could see how the view hampered Mindy throughout her day.

It all lead to one of the sweeter moments between Danny and Mindy, where he revealed she doesn't need any work on her body and she is great as she currently is.  It was a sincere proclamation of his feelings, and an obvious moment that will be referred to when they kick-off the push towards the relationship.  It was a good scene, because Danny spoke for many men who actually do enjoy women who don't get snapped in half with a light breeze.  It also worked because it didn't come out naturally, and you could sense his discomfort, though that may have also been due to his decision to talk about pubic hair.

The other significant story was Peter (Adam Pally) needing to fill-in as the supervisor as Jeremy (Ed Weeks) was playing hooky (and nookie) with some apparent nurses.  There were some fun gags as Peter totally failed at keeping order and allowed the recently mentioned owl rule over the office.  The most important thing was it actually crafted Peter into a bit more of a serious character.  The office is already brimming with goofballs, and he was going to struggle to stand out if he remained the way he initially arrived in the series.  The series is finally beginning to flesh out the characters more and give them some needed dimensions.  This was an important step in giving Peter something more than just the guy who believes he is a hit with the ladies.  He now has respect for Jeremy, but also a bit more authority over the staff.

Morgan is the obvious comic relief and man-child of the show.  There isn't any reason to offer him depth, but two man-children are too much.  The Tamara character (Xosha Roquemore) has become opinionated and feisty rather than silly and unaware like she initially started.  It really was left with Peter as the last character that needed to move out of the pure silly territory and leave that fully for Morgan to play with.  Morgan definitely played there just fine this week as he tried to start a comedy bit with the owl by making it say "hoo" but it didn't want to cooperate.  Though he did finally get to lovingly swaddle it in towels.

The cast is pretty bloated, especially if you start counting in the huge line of recurring characters.  It is important to have secondary stories that actually form individual characters.  Hopefully, this is the start of Peter being a bit more relevant.  It also will allow Morgan to continue bringing stray animals into the practice and constantly annoying Mindy with his misguided (and failed) attempts at kindness.

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