LADY'S NIGHT: <em>The Office</em>'s Mindy Kaling stars in <em>The Mindy Project</em>, which airs Tuesday nights on Fox.

The Mindy Project got off to a rough start. The Office alum and bestselling memoirist Mindy Kaling wrote, produced, and starred in a gem of a pilot that promised to both pay affectionate homage to and mercilessly skewer the tropes of romantic comedy on the small screen. During a good chunk of the show’s freshman season, though, the whole thing spun in circles. At first The Mindy Project attempted to be a workplace comedy (Kaling’s character, Mindy Lahiri, is the only female doctor of color in an otherwise all white male OB/GYN practice), but the show abandoned these efforts just eight episodes in. There was a major casting overhaul; almost half of the first season regulars no longer appear on the show.

The pilot originally promised a Bridget Jones-like love triangle between Mindy and two of the other OB/GYN’s, Hugh Grant-like charmer-from-across-the-pond Jeremy Reed (Ed Weeks) and the Colin Firth stand-in, a Jersey-born curmudgeon with a heart of gold named Danny Castellano (Chris Messina). Jeremy was quickly jettisoned from the triangle (though still a series regular, it’s clear the writers still don’t quite know what to do with him) and the show proceeded to parade a string of recurring boyfriends through our protagonist’s life, while gradually building towards its long game: Danny and Mindy.

But as the show’s sophomore season draws to a close (the finale airs May 6 on Fox), The Mindy Project is now firing on all creative cylinders. A solid dose of former 30 Rock scribes were injected into the writers room this season and the difference is noticeable and welcome. The jokes come at us faster and funnier. The stories beautifully balance classic screwball antics with a 21st century takes on race, religion, gender, body image issues, the workplace environment, and, of course, romance. Mindy and Danny have emerged as the best will-they-or-won’t-they couple currently on network television. If they stay the course, I see no reason why we won’t be throwing their names in with Ross and Rachel, Sam and Diane, and Jim and Pam when we talk about all-time great television comedy couples. Kaling and Messina are lit dynamite together on screen. Their best scenes play like Nora Ephron wrote for and directed these two, fully realizing the pitch-perfect rom-com potential the series promised at its start.

I know I’m verging on spoiler territory with this next sentence, but spoilers I will risk if that’s what it takes for you to give this show a chance. There is a kiss that happens this season that is the best kiss I’ve ever seen on television. This is coming from a viewer that grew up watching every WB show of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. That’s a lot of Dawson’s Creek, Gilmore Girls, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer — and a lot of good kissing — we’re talking about. And The Mindy Project out-smooches them all.

If you’re just tuning into the show, you don’t even have to watch the full two seasons to catch up. Honestly, you can just jump in at the top of the second season and you’ll be fine. The show really kicked into high gear for me during the back end of the first season with the introduction of Anders Holm, who played a recurring romantic interest of Mindy’s. So starting with his first episode (“My Cool Christian Boyfriend”) is another, absolutely viable way to watch. If you’re currently coveting a mix ofWhen Harry Met Sally and The Office — with a healthy helping of 30 Rock and Pride and Prejudice thrown in for good measure, than The Mindy Project really is the best show you’re not watching.


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