'The Mindy Project' season 2: New and improved?

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I wanted to like the first season of The Mindy Project. I really did.

But even though I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Mindy Kaling fan from way back when — I ate up every Subtle Sexuality video, read Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? as soon as I could get my hands on a copy, and still remember yearning to see Matt & Ben when I was in high school — there was just something about the ex-Office star’s sitcom that didn’t connect with me.

Maybe it was the show’s unsteady focus (It’s a workplace comedy! It’s a meta rom-com! It’s whatever it feels like being that week!), or its breakneck pace, or its jarring cast shakeups, or its weird insistence on trying to make Morgan happen. Whatever the reason, I watched every week hoping to see something more than a collection of amusing one-liners delivered by talented folks like Chris Messina and the ringers Kaling recruited as her boyfriends of the week (including Seth Rogen, Seth Meyers, and her true love BJ Novak). Things definitely improved as Mindy marched toward its first finale — but even so, the show was never quite as unmissable as I wished it would be. (The perils of high expectations!)

Here’s the thing, though: Any number of nitpicky issues can be forgiven if a show is really, really funny. And while it may not be perfect, The Mindy Project‘s second season premiere — which debuted online earlier today — is really funny. (Maybe future episodes will even be worthy of a second “really.”)

More importantly, it’s funny in a tossed-off, slightly absurd way that seems uniquely Mindy — take nurse Tamra trying to remember her old boss’ name, for instance (“I wanna say ‘Glob'”), or Danny’s indignant reaction when he’s accused of being boring in bed (“Missionaries are extremely adventurous!”). A sitcom can’t rely on quotable lines alone; that’s why shows based on Twitter accounts are dubious prospects at best. That said, Mindy spent a lot of time last season trying to find its voice — and given the tone, rhythm, and finesse of the premiere’s best lines, it seems like that journey yielded good results.

Last season, Mindy also struggled to infuse life into characters beyond Mindy herself. But now that the show has one season under its belt, Dr. Lahiri’s friends and co-workers are all starting to feel significantly more fleshed out — especially Chris Messina’s Danny, the inevitable Ross to Mindy’s Rachel. (Side note: Am I the only one who kind of hopes these two never actually get together? They’re so good as platonic friends!) There’s also an easy, appealing chemistry between the members of Mindy‘s cast now, something that can only come with time. And while I’m wary of another year filled with a parade of guest stars — have we learned nothing from mid-run 30 Rock? — James Franco was in great form as the deceptively humble Dr. Leotard. The ear really is the clitoris of the head!

Given how dramatically Kaling’s last show improved between its first and second seasons, I shouldn’t have been surprised to see Mindy achieve something similar. Even so, I count the premiere as a pleasant surprise — and I’m eager to see whether the show keeps its momentum going forward. How about you?

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