OCTOBER 3, 2012
The Mindy Project, FOX
Last week, on Dear Television:
- Post 1: “Groove is in the Heart,” from Phil Maciak
- Post 2: “A Serial Takeover,” from Jane Hu
- Post 3: “Party Girl vs. Rom-Com Girl,” from Lili Loofbourow
“When Worlds Collide”
REMEMBER THAT SEINFELD episode where George complains to Jerry that Elaine can’t befriend Susan because that would mean “the two worlds collide”? There’s Independent George and Relationship George, and never the twain should meet. “A George divided against itself cannot stand,” or so the saying goes. Like Jerry, I hadn’t then figured out the “Worlds Theory” on my own.
But as I watched more television, I started to see all sitcoms — all stories really — in terms of worlds that undergo continual threats of invasion. The basic axiom of narrative is, after all, how a constant (premise, group, space) must recalibrate itself to a sequence of incoming events, persons, or data. It’s what sustains interest. George’s woes become our viewing pleasure.
Under this light, last night’s episodes of New Girl and Mindy Project weren’t especially revelatory: they simply made the “Worlds Theory” literal and explicit, though to different effects. Jess struggles in keeping her relationship with Nick (friend and roommate) separate from her relationship with Sam (so-called “shorty on the side”). As she tells Sam over burgers and fries, “If I hang out with you, it’s just the truth, I’m going to fall in love with you. It’s just how I am. I can’t separate things out.” Mindy, however, has no qualms with worlds colliding. Well aware that all good stories rely on just-believable chance encounters, she encourages them.
The Worlds Theory raises questions of which worlds are more or less left out of the sitcom scene. Compared to the hour-long procedural drama so often set in the workplace, half-hour sitcoms generally work around the home. Even if Seinfeld is bookended with Jerry on stage, doing his job, these comedy acts rarely filter into Jerry’s interactions with the rest of the cast.
The lack of work is, perhaps, where New Girl reveals itself as more formulaic than The Mindy Project. When Jess brings her work home, she literally brings it home; otherwise, the show rotates around Social Jess and Romantic Jess. This is only possible, though, because Deschanel’s character has been, from the pilot, Roommate Jess.
From what we know so far, Mindy lives alone. While this isn’t the only reason for The Mindy Project to ground its scenes at her hospital workplace, it does allow another perspective on the Modern Single Girl that considers the possibility of how dating might suffer at the expense of one’s career. What I appreciated from The Mindy Project pilot was the montage showing our heroine delivering a baby at work. Yes, the hospital setting evokes at once General Hospital and Grey’s Anatomy, and yes, it showcases Mindy’s skilled command of her work life, but it’s also an environment based around the encounter, the intrusion, the metaphorical — sometimes even physical — collision.
In face of such confrontations, Mindy gets to play out the seeming contradictions that make up her life. While Mindy’s two assistants schedule medical appointments, they’re also there to help her pick a sparkling date outfit, to share leftover movie candy, and to gossip about the cute boy she met over the weekend. No surprise, then — when Mindy interviews potential canditates to replace Nurse Beverly — that she hopes they’re as fluent in You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle, as they are in recording blood samples. If Danny stands in Mindy’s way as she pursues another like-minded co-worker, it’s only because he’d rather keep work and socializing apart. (Never mind the keyboard in his office.) On the subway, Danny aims to put distance between himself and his co-worker. Mindy is of a different mind: “I’m standing next to you, Danny. I can’t run into someone I know on the subway and not stand next to them. That’s weird.” And by narrative logic, it really is. In a way, Mindy and Jess are similar in how easily they breach social boundaries. Mindy’s might be more consciously pre-scripted, but the outcomes are both undeniably messy.
Last night, New Girl sent me a Taylor Swift-like range of emotions by pushing the one boundary I hope it never fully breaks. I don’t want Nick and Jess to date — not only because it would dramatically decrease the number of possible romantic intrusions, but because, when romantic worlds collide, characters and shows really do have a hard time not collapsing after them. Nick and Jess have always mediated their romantic tendencies toward one another through others, as well as their desire for others through one another.
Part of what makes the extraneous relationships on New Girl so meaningful is how they are always, really, “emotionally fluffed” by Nick and Jess’s connection to one another. Jess might be having sex with Sam, but Nick’s just across the hall. The way they romantically underwrite one another’s relationships with special-guesting others keeps everyone hanging on. If Nick is going to quit as Jess’s “emotional fluffer,” then who will take his role? Their “date” last night really did feel like a teaser for things to come…but what did you guys think?
Before I knew Seinfeld was set in New York, or even that New York was important — there was Elaine, George, Jerry, and sometimes Kramer and Newman, in their small apartment-focused world, cooking up antics. Now I understand that “the show about nothing” is a sitcom classic, and friends “remember that Seinfeld episode?” like it was last night.
Let’s get messy,