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Arts & Life

'Mindy' And 'New Girl' Navigate Their Worlds Of Crazy Love

Danny (Chris Messina) and Mindy (Mindy Kaling) find themselves in a new position in the premiere of <em>The Mindy Project</em>.
Danny (Chris Messina) and Mindy (Mindy Kaling) find themselves in a new position in the premiere of <em>The Mindy Project</em>.

[This post contains information about where main characters stand relative to each other at the opening of the new seasons of The Mindy Project and New Girl. Be advised.]

Fox's Tuesday comedy hour of New Girl and The Mindy Project is made up of two shows by and about women whose stories have gradually centered themselves on potential love matches: New Girl's Jess (Zooey Deschanel) with her good-hearted but emotionally clumsy roommate Nick (Jake Johnson), and Dr. Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling) with her prickly colleague, Danny (Chris Messina). Last spring left these parallel stories in really different places: Nick and Jess broke up, while Mindy and Danny got together.

There's a pervasive myth in television that it's deadly to get couples together, which people illogically trace back to the '80s detective show Moonlighting, where the central couple was never, in fact, together. Despite the successes of shows like Bones and Castle and Cheers and The Office in continuing to write good stuff after couples have ended the suspense, the idea persists that somehow, this will always ruin your show, and you are better off dragging it out endlessly for season after season, destroying whatever tension you ever created by teaching fans that you will never, ever pull the trigger.

Zooey Deschanel returns as Jess on Fox's <em>New Girl</em>.
Justin Jay / Fox
Zooey Deschanel returns as Jess on Fox's <em>New Girl</em>.

New Girl handled this very well with Nick and Jess by insisting on pushing forward once it began to reveal that they had feelings for each other of which they were conscious. And, in fact, it hid important signs of progress in the relationship behind what appeared to be typical fizzle-out episode endings that return the ball to the line of scrimmage, so to speak. (If you didn't know they were going to happen, both their first kiss and their first sex would have seemed like last-minute swerves.) Whenever it looked like the show was going to lose its nerve and walk the whole thing back, it went forward instead, and that was heartening.

But once they had the relationship in place last season, they seemed unsure of what to do with it. Creator Liz Meriwether recently chatted with critic Alan Sepinwall about this and pointed out that it wasn't the conventional idea that they were boring together, but instead that writing the same conflicts for a couple that you wrote for flirting roommates creates a lot of uncomfortable dynamics that the writing staff wasn't entirely sure how to navigate.

Mindy and Danny's arc was a little different. After a big kiss at midseason (heading into a break in episode airings of more than two months), they tried dating, but they couldn't really get it to work, so they broke up. And then, true to the show's romantic comedy roots, they got back together in the season finale. The title of Tuesday night's opener: "We're A Couple Now, Haters!" Which really does sound like something Mindy would say, no?

The good thing about the Mindy premiere is that they've located a new and successful comic energy for this pair of actors, who played off each other entertainingly enough when they were office nemeses, but who have a really different, really funny relationship chemistry that relies on the fact that they're just as different now as they ever were: he's discreet, serious, cynical; she's goofy, exuberant, immune to embarrassment, and very much the kind of person to say, "We're a couple now, haters!" The writers are finding a way to write them as a funny couple in a funny relationship, rather than writing them as a funny yes/no question that's currently on the "yes" side of the seesaw but could be back to "no" next week.

New Girl, meanwhile, pulls back from Nick and Jess' breakup (for the most part) to focus on the entire group: Nick and Jess, but also Schmidt, Cece, Winston and Coach. (Coach returned to the fold last season after Damon Wayans Jr., who'd left post-pilot because of a previous obligation to ABC's Happy Endings and was replaced by Lamorne Morris as Winston, became available again.) Meriwether told Sepinwall she's not through writing Nick and Jess, but right now, these writers don't seem as sure as the Mindy writers of how to write them as a couple, and that's the reason they may be better off apart. It's because this show at this time doesn't have a plan for this pair that goes beyond the very beginning of a relationship.

So we find the entire gaggle of them dealing with the very relatable issue of being expected to endure an endless stream of weddings every summer, which many 20-somethings and early 30-somethings, in particular, will understand.

They're both funny premieres, and they both suggest that these relationships are where they're supposed to be for the moment. Which is not, of course, to say it's where they'll be for good, but despite the fact that there seems to be a long-term notion that both of these couples may get it figured out down the road, they're both being solidly written at very different stages.

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