THERE IS A TELEVISION COMMERCIAL, perhaps you’ve seen it, in which a well-dressed, thirtysomething man hops out of a cab in the rain and runs into a bar. There, he finds a small high-top table filled with a multiracial, co-ed group of his friends. “How’d it go?” they ask in trepidation. The man slaps his hands on the table, looks coyly around for a beat, as if to say, “Well, not too great, guys,” and then, blammo, with a great Cheshire grin, he declares, “Crushed it.” They hand this man a Corona, and, as is often the case when a person is handed a Corona, all of a sudden, they’re at the beach. “Find your Beach,” the ad says.
I’ve seen this commercial a thousand times, and I think it would be an understatement to say that it has gripped my imagination. Every time, I can’t help myself from thinking: Wow, what a jerk this guy is. First of all, what degree of confidence does this jag have that he can confidently say to his friends that, whatever happened, he crushed it. If it was a job interview, why not say, “I got the job! Thanks for your support, multiracial friend group!” If it was a job interview and he thinks he did well, but he’s still waiting to hear back, isn’t he afraid of jinxing it? And then I start to think, what other scenarios could this slimy-looking dude be crushing? Were you able to purchase and close down that paper mill in China? Crushed it. How’d stalking your ex-wife go today? Crushed it. How did you deal with the Twitter backlash to your recent New York Times Magazine interview with Tippi Hedren? Crushed it.
The guy in this commercial, in other words, is what the cast of New Girl would call a “d-bag.” A totally self-confident professional Dude with zero self-awareness, lots of hair gel, and a penchant for getting into cologne fights. Despite the love affair that we here at Dear Television have begun with Schmidt, it’s who he is. And, I would argue, it’s also who Danny Castellano is on The Mindy Project.
I want to suggest that New Girl and Mindy have fundamentally different points-of-view vis-à-vis d-baggery. On New Girl, Schmidt is named as such, and his behavior is taxed and regulated through one of the show’s oldest and longest lasting gags: the d-bag jar. Schmidt knows he has a problem, his roommates know he has a problem, and, more importantly, so does the show. This past episode, in fact, we even had a touching moment of self-consciousness where Schmidt almost tearfully explains the root of his illness. He tries too hard. It’s a somewhat tender moment and a way that the show has transformed its most reprehensibly behaved character such that his reprehensible behavior has become the clearest sign of his humanity.
In contrast, I am beginning to wonder if The Mindy Project even knows what Danny is at all. He’s by no means exactly the same as Schmidt. He is much more gruff and intentionally hurtful than lil’ Peisach Pan, and he is certainly more dominant in the workplace. However, he has the same vanity, the same tendency to explode in defensive anger, the same studied ease and self-confidence masking massive effort, and the same perspective in regard to “crushing it.” But rather than building in a jar for Danny as a way of noting and admonishing his behavior and clarifying the show’s position toward him, The Mindy Project has turned Danny into an object of desire. When Danny hits the dance floor — yet again demonstrating ease and self-confidence masking massive effort — we get one of this past episode’s patented “big dramatic moments.” Were those really two separate pans of the awed reactions of the cast when Danny goes out on the dance floor in his shiny colored button-up and does pantomime ass-slaps like a tenth-grader at a Semi-Formal? Would Jess and Nick and Winston be that impressed? We know Schmidt would be.
And this was a kind of epiphany for me. I think one of my nagging issues with The Mindy Project — an issue I got around to last week when talking about the fiscal priorities of the show — is that it sometimes doesn’t seem to have any distance from what it depicts. The camera on The Mindy Project is very subjective, and I think it might have d-bag goggles on. Thinking about Danny’s preposterous dance routine — btw, what children’s dance school teaches that? — I got to thinking about the other characters on the show. Jeremy is a classic Hugh Grant School narcissist; Dr. Shulman, despite his fondness for Mindy, is a textbook mancestor; and even our heroine Mindy is an entitled, shallow, status-hound half the time. I understand that this is a comedy and not a work of kitchen-sink realism, but we are being asked to empathize with Mindy as she delivers impromptu lectures on eugenic theory (jk!) outside a club, ditches her friends for NBA players and their d-baggy attorney, and lies to her friends to save face. These characters often end up doing the right thing, as Lili notes, but they spend most of each episode acting out of self-interest and misplaced, bulletproof self-regard. I agree that there is a real in-group/out-group dynamic happening in this episode, but what I’m most struck by is how similar the in and out groups are. I think the only people left who don’t need to put a dollar in the jar at the end of the episode are Baron Davis and Morgan.
Can this really be a show about the redemptive qualities of otherwise unapologetic prigs? Is this a half-hour long adaptation of that Corona commercial? I’m not saying The Mindy Project actually is all of these things. I’m saying that last night’s episode made me ask the question. What do you folks think? Moments ago, in an email exchange, Jane brought up Girls, a show that really got slammed for requesting that we empathize with a character occasionally described as a “monster.” I think that backlash is instructive here as we begin to think about whatever problems The Mindy Project may or may not have. For now — and here I agree with Alyssa Rosenberg, who wrote sharply on this subject recently — it seems that these are two very different situations. Girls understands that its heroine, Hannah, is flawed. That self-analysis is, in fact, the subject of the show, and the long arc of the series seems to be that Hannah is, like Brory, Sutton, and Fife, “figuring it out,” despite how unbearably selfish she is today. If she changes, then huzzah, and if not, the show will understand that as a sad result. The idea, then, is that these are little monsters now, but they won’t always be.
On Mindy, there’s certainly an acknowledgment that Danny is a d-bag, but his redemption comes, not from a change in his attitude or in his choices, but from a revelation of hidden depth (the weird dancing). In other words, he’s not any better than you thought he was, there’s just more in there. What’s worse, I think the same is true of the Mindy character. The fact that we are privy to her inner monologue consisting of hopes, dreams, and fears belies the fact that, except in the last possible moment, her priority is on “crushing it” just as much as Danny and Schmidt. Lili, maybe you’re right about the possibilities of Morgan as a counter-weight. What Hannah has, what Louie has, and what Schmidt has are people who will tell them when they’re being d-bags. Mindy, we love you, and we know how much you love performatively spending money. Put a dollar in the jar.
Find your beach,