Character Rehab: How to fix Morgan on 'The Mindy Project'

Ike-Barinholtz

Image Credit: Jordin Althaus/Fox

In this weekly series, EW — and readers — weigh in on ways to rehab much-maligned characters on some of our favorite shows.

Clearly, Ike Barinholtz is a funny guy. He’s an alumnus of Chicago’s famed improv comedy scene; he’s had successful stints on MADtv and Eastbound & Down; he’s a writer as well as a performer, making him extra sensitive to what makes a good punchline. Last year, his talent even earned special  notice from his boss: Mindy Kaling created nutty ex-con nurse Morgan Tookers especially for Barinholtz.

But who is Morgan, exactly? Well… he’s a nurse. And an ex-con; we know that for sure. (Though how this guy ever successfully committed a crime is anybody’s guess; then again, maybe that’s why he went to prison.) More than anything, though, Morgan’s a sort of all-purpose weirdo, a shaggy collection of random quirks (He’s keeping a stray dog in the office! He’s carrying an egg beater to a nightclub! He’s bringing a Spanish karaoke machine to a Christmas party!) and arbitrary one-liners (“They used to call me the Loch Ness Morgan, mostly because I would show up blurry in photographs”).

Mindy‘s first season was so inconsistent that Morgan’s general oddness felt sort of like an anchor; no matter what else was going on, you knew Barinholtz would show up at some point to liven and/or mess things up. But if Mindy really does want to improve in season 2 — as its solid premiere episode indicates — Morgan’s character could use some serious fine-tuning. Here are a couple of ideas to start:

1. Decide what kind of weirdo Morgan is — and stick with it. Dwight K. Schrute was a strident, super-serious sycophant with a penchant for self-defense and rule-following… until he also became a die-hard sci-fi geek. And a cosplay-loving fantasy fan. And a knowledgeable survivalist. And the proprietor of an insanely old-fashioned bed-and-breakfast. And a Second Life addict. And… you get the idea. Sitcom characters tend to get broader as they age — a necessary consequence of longevity that often dilutes what made those characters funny in the first place. (Vagueness is the enemy of comedy.) But because Morgan has been broad from the very beginning, he’s suffering from the Dwight Effect after just one season — already, his strange outbursts and behavior have become both predictable and too wide-ranging. But if Morgan’s weirdness were redefined to be more specific and consistent, he would have room to develop before the inevitable broadening that’ll come if Mindy is lucky enough to last several more seasons.

2. Either make him into a real person or use him more sparingly. Two options here: Mindy can choose to humanize Morgan, perhaps fleshing out his backstory by introducing the grandmother he lives with or delving into what drove him to steal cars in the first place. As a result, he’d become less cartoonish and more fully developed. Some sitcoms, though, aren’t interested in nuance; their characters function more like joke factories than real people, which works as long as the jokes themselves are funny. (See: Everyone who wasn’t Liz or Jack in 30 Rock‘s later seasons.) Mindy can certainly go the latter route with Morgan, provided the show makes one major change: Stop trying to insert him into every subplot. Nothing shuts down a joke factory faster than rampant overuse; a little bit of Morgan’s Morganity would go a long way. (See: Creed Bratton on The Office.)

3. Emphasize the edge. Early episodes painted Morgan as an amiable creep, likable despite his slightly menacing qualities. Later ones softened him into an almost Andy Dwyer-esque doofus, the human equivalent of an excitable golden retriever. This wouldn’t be an issue if Andy Dwyer didn’t already exist — but he does, and he’s awesome. So maybe Mindy should split the difference by doubling down on Creepy Morgan, which would set the guy apart from those who play similar roles on other sitcoms and also bring him closer to Kaling’s original conception of the character. An edgier Morgan may also be a better fit for the tone Mindy seems to want to cultivate — irreverent, a little mean, but still mushy at its core.

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