Tag Archives: Nora Ephron

The Mindy Project, Nora Ephron and the Many Roads Traveled  

22 Mar

Commenting on Nora Ephron’s influence on Mindy Kaling is not like cracking an undiscovered code as the references to Ephron’s work in style and tone weaves its way through The Mindy Project. The nods come in a variety of ways and yet this is no copycat as Kaling’s voice is clear and her own; instead she uses what are now considered rom-com tropes (some of which Ephron pioneered) as jumping off points to subvert or celebrate.

The Mindy ProjectMindy Kaling’s love of this sadly currently much maligned genre (good rom-coms still exist with indie dominating in the decent stakes) is worn on her sleeve, sometimes also covered in hearts. With The Mindy Project this season we have seen what happens after the credits normally roll on a rom-com movie, as the couple has beaten whatever obstacle split them up mid story and they ask “What next?” This entails crossing into potentially creative choppy waters by turning a “will they/won’t they” couple into Facebook official and with whole new set of plot points to keep the tension high. Other shows have tried and failed with curses being cited to explain why others should be wary of attempting this shift. And of course we know the curse talk is bs; there are plenty of shows which have proved this and The Mindy Project is a shining example of why a “will they/won’t they” couple should take the plunge rather than forever dancing around maybe.

Returning to the influence factor and I recently bought The Most of Nora Ephron – an anthology of Ephron’s writing both fiction and non-fiction – and while I’ve previously read a lot of these pieces (and they’re so worth rereading) some are completely new to me. Quotes stand out with “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim” being one of the defining Ephron sentiments, but it was while I burned my way through this book that I realized I had never read or seen the speech it came from in full. It is Nora Ephron’s commencement address to the Wellesley Class of 1996 which unleashed this inspiring notion (I say this in all sincerity while also eye rolling at myself) and one which is particularly relevant to Mindy’s journey this season.

In it Ephron discusses the dreaded ‘having it all’ debate and she manages to do it in a way which elicits fist pumps, giving the kind of confidence boost I mentioned in reference to Broad City last week. Here is a big, fabulous section which feels like it rather successfully points to Mindy Lahiri’s journey this season.

“Maybe young women don’t wonder whether they can have it all any longer, but in case any of you are wondering, of course you can have it all. What are you going to do? Everything, is my guess. It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications. It will not be anything like what you think it will be like, but surprises are good for you. And don’t be frightened: you can always change your mind. I know: I’ve had four careers and three husbands. And this is something else I want to tell you, one of the hundreds of things I didn’t know when I was sitting here so many years ago: you are not going to be you, fixed and immutable you, forever.”

Mindy faced messiness and triumph in both her personal and professional life this season; she moved to San Francisco to further her career and moved back to New York to create something of her own. With Danny there have been bumps along the way and a bump of another kind changes this dynamic in an unplanned way for the couple. While everything is moving with some haste – which could be attributed to uncertainty about renewal – the confidence with how The Mindy Project has plotted the Mindy/Danny arc reads like the message in Ephron’s address.

For most of this season TV Ate My Wardrobe has focussed on the amazing costume design elements and along with the Mindy/Danny pairing this is where Mindy really shines. Yes there are other elements which are still on the messy side including the supporting cast revolving door – miss you, Adam Pally – and Jeremy’s been through so many tweaks it’s hard to remember which version of this character we are now viewing.

The season 3 finale is tonight, hopefully not the series finale because I want to see how Mindy and Danny will handle the next stage in their life and I want to see how this show will deal with having a baby. Their work place is babies, not their home life and we don’t tend to see any even there. Plus I like the idea of Mindy playing Ephron’s five things game:

“We have a game we play when we’re waiting for tables in restaurants, where you have to write the five things that describe yourself on a piece of paper. When I was your age, I would have put: ambitious, Wellesley graduate, daughter, Democrat, single. Ten years later not one of those five things turned up on my list. I was: journalist, feminist, New Yorker, divorced, funny. Today not one of those five things turns up in my list: writer, director, mother, sister, happy. Whatever those five things are for you today, they won’t make the list in ten years—not that you still won’t be some of those things, but they won’t be the five most important things about you.”

Confidence will bleed through and I’m pretty sure hot will definitely be on there no matter how many different roads present themselves for Mindy Lahiri; I just really want to see this next part of her journey.

The Mindy Project and the Rom-Com Narrative Part 5

18 Sep

A year has passed since the first Mindy Project and the Rom-Com Narrative column and what started as a standalone piece has produced multiple parts and spinoffs (incorporating New Girl and the “What Next?”). The Mindy Project plays with the rom-com formula with direct references to Nora Ephron classics like When Harry Met Sally while using traditional rom-com devices such as voiceover and subverting the genre through a strong awareness of the common tropes. In the first episode of season 3 big steps have been made as Danny and Mindy have progressed from friends, to lovers to exes and now to a couple who are not hiding their relationship from their co-workers. Smooth sailing from here then, right?

The Mindy Project 3.01Well that wouldn’t be interesting would it? There are plenty of obstacles and conflicts ahead for this new couple; the biggest one being how diametrically opposite they are about pretty much everything besides how they feel about each other. Last season Danny went through a stage of not wanting anyone to know about their relationship and then he tried to use the ‘you’re my best friend and I don’t want to lose you’ excuse as a reason to split up. Mindy saw through Danny’s scared BS and she didn’t just take him back when he simply tried to kiss her. This was one heartbreak that really hurt and so it required a little more than Danny simply responding in a possessive manner to the new dude in Mindy’s life.

They are a couple now, haters (bitches) and as I have mentioned throughout this rom-com series the “will they/won’t they” then turns into a “What next?” as they have to deal with what normally comes after the credits of a movie. The story doesn’t just end with smooching at the top of the Empire State Building.

The new season opens with Danny as the narrator mentioning the unlikelihood of this coupling when the show started and his assertion that they are very different is backed up with Mindy’s portion of the voiceover. Mindy likes to share and this is what lies at the heart of their first fight this season; it doesn’t matter that Mindy is very complimentary about Danny’s technique as it still makes him incredibly uncomfortable. Throw in a secret stripping past plus a piece of office gossip and we’ve got our first Mindy and Danny raging argument of season 3 as Danny tells Mindy that he can’t trust her. Trust is a relationship dealbreaker so are things looking precarious already?

[Source]

Far from it and while I am sure that somewhere down the line there will be a string of misunderstandings that might lead to something more contentious, this disagreement ends up with Danny spilling a lot more about himself including his Diamond Dan stripping past (which not only paid for medical school, but also allowed him to pay the mortgage on his mother’s house) and that he does have a middle name. His middle name is Alan after his dad and last season we found out more about his fractured relationship with his father with Mindy getting to witness Danny’s emotionally vulnerable side. The first time Danny kissed Mindy was on the plane ride home after this trip to see Danny’s father; boundaries got dropped all over the place.

Part of the appeal of this couple is the back and forth banter, which on occasion crosses the line with a derogatory remark about appearance such as Danny telling Mindy “get your big ass in there now” in the season 3 premiere. Comments like this cause much furrowing of the brow; Danny does refer to himself “as kind of a dick back then” in his opening narration and these moments do still slip in and on this occasion his annoyance at Mindy’s inability to keep secrets causes this unpleasant outburst. Danny is rough around the edges – not an excuse for his behavior, but an observation – and yet those edges have softened.

The list he has prepared is a big step, as is Mindy’s confession explaining why she has been so vocal about their relationship “I want it to be real and the more real it seems, the less likely it is that it could all get taken away from me.” Mindy wears her romantic temperament on her sleeve, but this level of honesty and vulnerability is rare from this character too. This statement solidifies their commitment to each other and it also signifies to the audience that we shouldn’t expect a break up in the next few episodes; they are at least in this for some sort of long haul. It is a welcome gesture as sometimes with a “will they/won’t they” couple it is easy to feel emotionally manipulated if there is a constant stream of “oh we’re almost a couple, now we’re not, now we are, oops broken up again” shenanigans. You know what else is a welcome gesture? This.

[Source – includes whole sequence]

As I said at the start of this piece conflict and obstacles should continue, but there has to be a reason for it. Danny and Mindy as an opposites attract coupling should provide plenty of material for this, however scenes like the one on the fire escape are important and still offer opportunity for absurdist/dark humor such as the kitchen knife Mindy accidentally drops followed by the sound of sirens. This first episode back is promising and this pairing is the strongest/most consistent on The Mindy Project; now they are a couple there are a new series of challenges and I am hopeful that this creative team will blast any Moonlighting curse nonsense out of the water so we can stop citing this a reason why a “will they/won’t they” shouldn’t progress to “What next?”

The Mindy Project and the Rom-Com Narrative Part 4

7 May

The first part of The Mindy Project and the rom-com narrative started back in September when the show returned for season 2 and it’s sprawled into a much bigger discussion as this year has progressed. At the time I tried to resist the Mindy/Danny “will they/won’t they” set up that was clearly taking place and while I couldn’t deny their super hot chemistry, a really great platonic male/female friendship on TV is the dream (it’s something I elaborate further on in the Felicity chat later this week). The Peter and Mindy dynamic has been pleasant surprise and this does hold the potential to be just this type of relationship.  After the season 2 premiere I was pretty conflicted about the Danny and Mindy coupling and as the season progressed it became impossible not to jump on board this ship.

The Mindy ProjectFor all of The Mindy Project’s creative stumbles and constant changes, the one aspect that has been stable throughout is the exploration of rom-coms that both Mindy Lahiri the protagonist and Mindy Kaling the creator know so well. The Danny/Mindy relationship is the other constant since the pilot episode and despite my reservations about the romance angle, the plotting this season has been magnificent. After the incredible first kiss, the first obstacle came in the form of keeping the relationship secret and it’s all part of the TV dilemma of “What next?” that the movies Mindy adores don’t have to deal with. The suddenness of the breakup after a long build-up and tonally awkward episodes that followed suggested they might have wasted an opportunity by not sticking the landing. This hasn’t been the case and last week’s rejection by Mindy, followed by the ups and downs of this pairing in the finale show how Kaling has a firm grip on who this character is and what she wants this relationship to be.

Before we get to the “What next?” sequel let’s have a look at where we are right now. Grand romantic gestures are important to Mindy, but she’s not just a day dreamer with unrealistic expectations and it’s why it was important that Danny has to work to win her back after he broke up with her initially. It’s why I’m glad that Mindy rejected his kiss last week after he only showed interest in her when there was another guy on the scene. Danny felt like he was recreating the plane moment and instead he didn’t consider how Mindy would feel about his hot/cold behavior.

In the finale Danny decides to go for another tactic he thinks she will dig and that’s a catfish plan using the “Was it You?” column in the paper posing as Andy (or Dr Greg from Mad Men). It’s a set up straight out of a Nora Ephron movie which is why Danny thinks it’s a winning idea and the Bradley Cooper photo pinned to his mirror so he can recreate the three-piece suit look is maybe the most adorable thing he has done. To stop Mindy from coming up to his apartment and ruining the surprise, Danny lies and says he’s “being intimate with himself” and I would never have predicted that two different comedies would use The Good Wife as part of a masturbating gag this season (the other being Broad City). I guess it can be a pretty sexy show. When Mindy tells Danny that he was right about them not being a couple he gets cold feet and instead of telling Mindy the truth he lets her go to the Empire State Building where he knows she’s going to get stood up and that’s pretty shitty.

The montage and Danny narration as they take in the sites of everywhere Megan Ryan has laugh/cried is the most adorable and it’s something I was anticipating thanks to the preview Kaling gave on her Instagram last month when they were shooting these scenes. This show gets the rom-com moments spot on, including the misunderstandings that almost doom the relationship. When Mindy see fake Andy on the subway and starts yelling at him it is time for Danny to come clean. Danny’s initial email plan has all the marks of a grand romantic gesture, but it’s also based on deceit and while rom-coms have these kinds of moments, Danny has read this situation completely wrong.

Danny not wanting to come clean about their relationship in front of their colleagues was the ultimate slap in the face for Mindy and it’s why she has a hard time buying his “I love you declarations” as they are just words and she can’t trust anything he says “because you love me until you don’t.” This conversation in the bathroom is a heartbreaking repeat of when Mindy called Danny on his “I don’t want to lose my best friend” BS reason for breaking up. It’s teary once again and this is when The Mindy Project feels at its most real; the rom-com is just the palette they work from and they can do emotional honesty just as well. Mindy doesn’t want to fall for this as despite these romantic notions she still has self-worth and she doesn’t want to be made a fool of again.

It all comes back to the earrings that Mindy left behind at Danny’s apartment as the sign that Mindy needs; words can be manipulated but the inclusion of these earrings in Danny’s box of important stuff speaks so much louder. The build up to the Empire State Building climax uses Bruce Springsteen, Danny getting hit by a cab but running on regardless and Mindy having to take the stairs as the lift is briefly out. All the trappings for an excellent ending and as I’ve walked 20 flights of those stairs I know I would definitely be lying on the floor wheezing like Mindy is after climbing all of them. Danny’s “I wanna go all in” is wonderfully misinterpreted by Mindy and their final smooch is adorable even if they’re lying on a probably dirty floor. They just don’t care.

So, what next?

The Mindy Project and the Rom-Com Narrative

11 Sep

The Mindy Project had a bumpy first season and while most sitcoms take about 6-12 episodes to iron out the kinks, Mindy was still figuring it out by the end of its first year. The cast departures and replacements changed some aspects of the workplace set up and Anna Camp went from a regular to guest star as it became clear that Mindy’s best friend Gwen couldn’t organically fit into each episode. There are a few aspects that have been consistent from episode 1; great guest stars, a solid (mostly platonic) chemistry between Mindy and Danny and a strong awareness of the rom-com genre they are referencing.

Mindy and Danny

A show needs more than this to be a success and the season 2 opener (now available to watch on Hulu and Fox.com) features all of these attributes – including a funny turn from James Franco – and aside from a weak Jeremy story it’s a strong return. The season finale took a bold move with Mindy and Danny and plays into the overall rom-com narrative. Prior to the finale I wrote:

“I don’t need to see them hooking up any time soon as their dynamic is interesting without these kinds of complications, but it’s good to know that when the inevitable happens they have built up their relationship from antagonists to friends.”

I’m still of this opinion and sadly I think the purely platonic phase of their relationship has passed; the closing moments of the finale sealed this and the season 2 premiere adds to the nails in this platonic coffin. The Mindy/Danny relationship isn’t the shows strongest aspect because of all of the sexual tension and I haven’t been clamoring for them to hook up in the same way I was with say Nick and Jess on New Girl.

It’s rare that you get a great male/female friendship on screen and so far I have been friendship shipping them but as Mindy Kaling is emulating both the rom-com format and the undisputed rom-com queen Nora Ephron, it is inevitable that the barbs traded between these two characters would turn into longing looks and sexual tension. I’m fighting against myself with this one as I get sucked into the Mindy/Danny tension and I simultaneously booed and cheered at the final scene of season 1; I really want them to stay just friends, but I can also see that the chemistry they share isn’t simply platonic. Damn you Chris Messina with your swoon worthy face.

It was only recently that I watched When Harry Met Sally (I know, I know) and the idea that men and women can’t be friends “because the sex part always gets in the way” is one that I don’t agree with in real life, but it’s definitely a prevalent notion in rom-coms. The Mindy Project is invoking this with Danny and Mindy and the other staple of this genre has been put into play; the “will they/won’t they.” This type of relationship isn’t just for the sitcoms, dramas do it well enough too and enhancing this kind of tension is a way to create a season long narrative with plenty of obstacles in the way.

The issue that The Mindy Project might have with this development is that Mindy and Danny are one of the shows strongest pairings and there are other aspects that need to improve. The overall dynamic of the workplace is fine, but they really need to develop Jeremy and the first episode back reveals this is still a problematic area. I like all of the high profile guest stars – the Seth Rogen episode is a season 1 highlight – but some of that time needs to be devoted to the underdeveloped characters we see each week.

The Mindy Project might end up using the “will they/won’t they” to turn this rom-com staple on its head or it could simply be following the well traveled path and there’s nothing subversive about where this storyline is headed.

Julie Hammerle

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