SCHMIDT BELLOWED WHEN JESS started her Frasier Crane imitation. A line had been crossed. I knew then that we were about to get some amazing material for our discussion of generational comedy. Is Schmidt a modern-day Frasier? Not quite, I think, but his outburst hints at some slightly foppish commonality between the two. Jane, Phil, I can’t wait to hear what you guys thought. Me, I was so disturbed by Deschanel’s pitch-perfect Urkel impression (and by how grotesque Stephanie Tanner’s “How rude!” looked on a grown woman) that I kind of blacked out on nuance. The Urkel imitation is doing worrying but potentially interesting things with race and comedy (as is The Mindy Project, with Mindy’s uncomfortable theory about black men). It’s telling that both shows step back from the risks they take: Deschanel acknowledges her comedic debt to Urkel when she introduces the hula-hooping polyamorists to an “adorable African-American” character, thereby sort of apologizing for whatever appropriation. And Mindy’s theory of race is completely wrong — it’s the white guy who’s into her.
This week, I ended up fixating on how The Mindy Project and New Girl dealt with in-groups and out-groups. In both cases the protagonist made it in — Jess bonded with Brory et al and Mindy made it to the VIP — while other characters who consider themselves high-status winners looked on forlornly. Another way of putting it is that both episodes were about locking out the smooth operators who work the system by “crushing it” (Schmidt) or by cultivating Carlo (Shauna), and showering our protagonists in accidental social success. (Okay, Schmidt isn’t a smooth operator, but he is relentless, and his relentlessness pays off sometimes. The point is that both he and Shauna are, in their way, very hard workers.)
In both cases, the protagonists end up choosing their original in-group over the more desirable out-group, but both episodes stage the seduction of wanting badly to belong, even as you understand that your winning has nothing to do with your own merit. Mindy’s theory about black men and Indian girls doesn’t apply, even though she gets to hang out with a bunch of gorgeous mega-talented black men and quiz them on romantic comedies...read more