Last season’s "The Mindy Project," a show about Dr. Mindy Lahiri's (Mindy Kaling) professional and romantic entanglements in Manhattan, left us with one of the better cliffhangers in sitcom-ville. Danny Castellano’s (Chris Messina) thinly veiled romantic attachment to lead character Mindy in “Take me With You,” Season 1’s final episode, was, in Mindyspeak, "blowing my mind," and the will-she-won’t-she of Mindy's move to Haiti with her love interest Pastor Casey (Anders Holm) was the perfect lead-in to the next season.
Which, now that it’s upon us, proves to be a massive letdown.
To be fair, the original cast members of "The Mindy Project" -- Jeremy (Ed Weeks), Morgan (Ike Barinholtz) and Betsy (Zoe Jarman) -- are familiar enough to be comforting and yet have evolved enough to be interesting.
But then there's James Franco.
In an interesting and ironic twist Mindy would definitely appreciate, Season 2’s premiere episode, “All My Problems Solved Forever,” has Franco drop in as Dr. Paul Leotard, Mindy’s intended "replacement" for the time she’s in Haiti. A few twists of fate land Mindy back in New York before she hits her intended one-year mark in Haiti, and now she has to vie for office space – physical, emotional, sartorial and conversational – with the new "Dr. L" on the scene, a supposedly lovable character who’s quickly become everyone’s favorite physician.
This couldn't be further from the truth. Instead of being likable, Franco manages to be both aloof and kind of clownish. Franco’s Dr. Leotard is plagued by the same self-importance, falseness and barely disguised disdain for good old-fashioned show business that marred Franco’s gig hosting the Oscars two years ago, as well as his other artistic ventures. Franco, it seems, hasn't been able to separate his identity as a "serious" actor and academic from his turn as a flaky sex-therapist in the "The Mindy Project." His performance is underscored by a serious lack of commitment: He’s not goofy, he’s goofing. He’s not cute, he’s cute-sy.
And that’s sad, because Franco's halfhearted stabs at being comical cheapen the inherent zaniness of other characters on "The Mindy Project." They can't prop him up -- rather, he drags them down.
It's even more cringe-worthy when you compare Season 2's premiere to last year's stand-out episodes. When Franco wasn't around, "The Mindy Project's" cast were, in true self-obsessed Mindy fashion, so committed to their actions that their exploits seemed to have greater meaning. And so we had Danny Castellano ripping off his workout pants with perfect gravitas to reveal a tight black speedo beneath, all the better to best you at swimming with, Deslaurier. We had Morgan nudging a makeshift tip jar toward a nightclub patron in the whole-hearted belief that he had discovered the greatest life-hack known to underpaid nurses. They were being idiots, yes, but they were well-meaning idiots whose faith in their own wisdom carried them through from gaffe to gaffe.
Franco, unfortunately, can’t even play a convincing drunk, and everyone else looks the worse for it.
Whatever Franco's turn in this series was meant to achieve, I’m hoping it’ll all be over soon so "The Mindy Project" can go back to being a 30-minute celebration of curvy thighs and round-the-clock self-doubt.
Mindy, Franco needs to go.