New Girl and The Mindy Project's Conscious Uncoupling: Which Show Did the Break-up Better?

By Cory Barker

Apr 18, 2014

There must be something in the Craft Services at Fox: In the span of two weeks, both New Girl and The Mindy Project broke up their primary couples. Neither Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and Nick (Jake Johnson) nor Mindy (Mindy Kaling) and Danny (Chris Messina) made it to Easter as a couple, which is the true shame because we all know that the best part of a relationship is that first Easter-basket swap, right?

If we wanted to be cynical about it, we could point to the timing of these splits—near the end of the season, with May Sweeps approaching—as a way to drum up drama for the homestretch, and that's probably partially true. But despite their proximity on the same night on the same network, New Girl and The Mindy Project have presented us with two fairly different cases of coupling and uncoupling. And above all else, both examples serve as reminders that it's really, really hard to write a coherent and satisfying romantic comedy story on television. (As if the How I Met Your Mother finale hadn't already proved that earlier this month.)

But which show handled its romantic, um, happenings better? Are they both primed to avoid Ross and Rachel Disease? Before New Girl and Mindy's seasons come to an end, we thought it might be good to compare and contrast their respective approaches to heartbreak, in hopes of better understanding why OTPs are hard to write for, around, and, perhaps, out of.

New Girl's Nick and Jess

THE APPROACH: A mostly mature, mutual split after a long coupling.

Depending on the particulars of the show's timeline, Nick and Jess were closing in on a year together when they decided to call it quits in "Mars Landing." For the most part, New Girl had managed to keep both characters compelling after they got together at the end of Season 2. New Girl has been a mess since jump street in Season 3, but Nick and Jess have rarely been the problem because they're so clearly not a good match. That's how these things go—opposites attract and all that—and the show has consistently found believable, generally funny stories in how different the two characters are. Sure, they've both done a lot of lying (or at least withholding of the truth) to one another, but that's an unfortunate byproduct of the sitcom form. While it was always going to be nearly impossible to return to the SQUEEE apex of the big kiss in "Cooler," New Girl has worked hard to show that Nick and Jess at least tried to change in little ways to make the other person happier. 

Weirdly, there were very few moments where it seemed like Nick and Jess would ever break up... until the exact moment that they did. There was and is no love triangle, or really much of an external threat (other than Prince, for like two minutes). The split in "Mars Landing" was like the sad version of the kiss in "Cooler," and I imagine that was the point. But as MaryAnn pointed out in her review of this week's "Big News," the show had reached something of a crossroads with Nick and Jess. While real-life relationships are often defined by stasis (oftentimes to their detriment), it's hard to treat a TV pairing like that. When you do, they end up like Jim and Pam on The Office—which isn't always bad, but probably isn't as compelling as it could be. So New Girl went through some of the key relationship markers—saying "I love you," trying to live together—but probably had to either escalate the relationship (engagement time!) or grind it to a halt. 


Although fans of the relationship are probably still recovering from Nick and Jess's break-up, the good news is that "Big News" did about as good a job as it could have in managing the fallout. Nick and Jess's behavior felt true to the characters, both as individuals and as a couple: They put Winston first and hurt a little too much simply because they didn't talk to one another for 25 seconds. But once they did, near the end of the episode? Strong stuff. And I'm betting that New Girl has enough material to mine that we don't have to worry about the shadow of Nick and Jess overtaking everyone else (though it's everyone else that's been the problem this season). 

Where I think New Girl might run into trouble is in Season 4. Once the messiness and the pain subsides, how does the show move forward with Nick and Jess, especially since the pairing has been so central to its DNA for at least half the run thus far? How does it not return to the relationship? And by that point, how does it not become a Ross-Rachel situation?

The thing is, while "Cooler" was amazing and New Girl did great things leading up to and throughout the Nick-Jess relationship, playing the card so early and keeping the (ever shrinking) audience invested makes it challenging to go anywhere else. The show has sort of already committed to Nick and Jess as the OTP, and now has to figure out how to make the show compelling without jerking its characters—and its viewers—around. All things considered, you want to be Jim and Pam, not Ross and Rachel. I'm betting that Liz Meriwether would love for her couple to fall somewhere in the very complicated middle ground, but man is that tough to pull off in the confines of a broadcast sitcom.

The Mindy Project's Danny and Mindy

THE APPROACH: A quick taste, but nothing more... yet.

Whereas New Girl played the long(ish) game with Nick and Jess, The Mindy Project decided that it was best—at least temporarily—to blow up Danny and Mindy's relationship before it really got started. Of course, it's important to note that New Girl has a full season on Mindy and thus has been able to explore its characters as individuals and romantic partners on a more in-depth basis. However, the BIG KISS happened at almost the exact same time on both shows (Season 2, Episode 15 for New Girl; Season 2, Episode 14 for Mindy). And even if we just compare Danny and Mindy to Nick and Jess from New Girl Season 2, we can see the differences. Nick and Jess slowly tried to figure out their feelings, while Danny and Mindy jumped into a secret relationship pretty quickly, and flamed out even quicker. 

But like New GirlMindy did a really fine job of developing the relationship. Danny and Mindy are the same sort of mismatched Mars-and-Venus type pairing that pop culture loves, though Mindy and Danny were great friends before the airplane kiss. In some ways, Mindy actually did a better job of building up to the eventual moment by slowly but methodically layering in moments between Danny and Mindy throughout both seasons.


Surely I'm not the only one who was supremely disappointed that Danny pulled the rug out from underneath Mindy in last week's "Be Cool." I understood why Danny got cold feet, particularly because The Mindy Project has done good work in making us believe that Danny and Mindy really do get along as friends. But it's hard not to feel bummed out nonetheless.

Even more disappointing is how rapidly the show seemed to yearn for its previous status quo in the two episodes immediately following the break-up: Both characters in random relationships, generally acting like nothing happened (or at least in Danny's case, kinda-sorta pinning for Mindy in secret). 

Of course, Mindy traded temporary frustration for additional longterm possibilities. Keeping Danny and Mindy apart for now means that the show can still put them back together, whether by the end of the current season (the finale is titled "Danny and Mindy," after all) or at some point in the next, without jerking the audience around too much. Their split was very hasty, and while their initial relationship was unfulfilling, it also kept us in an anticipatory mode, hoping that Danny and Mindy will actually get together for the same kind of longterm story that, amusingly, New Girl just did. 

Damned if you do, damned if you don't—but which show's approach do you prefer?

So New Girl decided not to drastically mess with the standard will-they-or-won't-they formula, but now it has to figure out how to handle the won't portion. And Mindy hammered the yo-yo nature of TV relationships into our heads—to a frustrating degree—but still has some cards left to play. 

Ultimately, both shows will be fine no matter what route they choose, because if there's one thing these two relationships have illustrated, it's that New Girl and The Mindy Project have noticeably different approaches to storytelling and tone. New Girl is, at least at this point, a much more character-based show that seems interested in the messiness of early 30-something life, and Nick and Jess's relationship and subsequent break-up reflect that completely. Meanwhile, Mindy is more overtly a "comedy": It's joke-ier, it's a little bit more hateful, the characterization isn't quite as strong yet, and it's just a more uneven (and often funnier, to be fair) show that still doesn't always know what it wants to be.

Let's hear from you folks. Which show's approach do you prefer? Is there another comedy out there that's handled its relationship "issues" better than the rest?

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  • afraalkitbi3 Apr 23, 2014

    MINDY.... the mondy project

  • ludoTV Apr 20, 2014

    I think this season, The Mindy Project has been much more fun than the first season and stronger than New Girl which has had a very wobbly third season first with the clunky incorporation of Coach (who sure, now we all love) and the very unfortunate appearance of Jess's sister. Of all things, New Girl has done a good job with the Jess & Nick break up although it opens the question of what next. They can't just put them together again so presumably they go back to dating other people and being friends? Well that is not great comedy more like angsty drama. Yikes and good luck New Girl? Hopefully Schmidt & Winston's penchant for insanity will provide more material if the show focuses less onNick & Jess.

    The Mindy Project on the other hand broke Mindy & Dany up after 2 or 3 eps of their hook up so it has a much easier job as no deep feelings were exchanged in such short time. They shared a hot secret affair. Fab. Now they can both go back to dating other people while Dany morosely pines for Mindy... Basically we are back in the will they-won't they (again) scenario which is pretty good for surreal rom-com genre which is clearly where The Mindy Project excels. I can't wait esp. now that Peter has become a more sympathetic character as Mindy's wingman....

    Also, I am so thankful that Fox renewed The Mindy Project in spite of abysmal ratings...

  • irehawk20 Apr 23, 2014

    The order of any show is to receive lots of viewers containing both all men and all older people. "The focus on Mindy's men" topic on the Mindy Project may have gone too fast.

    I keep repeating this over again about adding two more characters in TMP's main cast to make it a total of ten and not more than ten.

    One of them has to be an erratic young woman nurse who can help save Betsy, Jeremy and Tamara from leaving and get more interactive along the way.

    The other has to be a cranky old man doctor who can help Beverly gain some more relief, young adult fans can surrender to both cranky old people and show respect at the same time and this character, more importantly, will help TMP gain more viewers and ratings along the way!

  • streetsahead Apr 19, 2014

    About New Girl, idk about if they handled it well but it's good that they did. Last episode was quite weird tho.

    Community handles "relationships" pretty good. They just pretend it didn't really happen.

  • jerky_666 Apr 19, 2014

    Going with Mindy because that guy in the New Girl picture looks like he belongs on Easter Island.

  • Ashja Apr 19, 2014

    I don't follow New Girl, so I'll talk about Mindy.. RALLY REALLY DISAPPOINTING.. EXTREMELY DISAPPOINTING. If I were Mindy I'd hit dr. Castellano very hard. You came to me and suddenly you got cold feet and didn't even admit it!? I'd be really upset and hurt.. you see Mindy crying while he was talking? She really believe they were something. I feel for her.
    Anyway.. bad bad writing.. you don't treat like this a relationship taht takes to years to get here, it's a non sense.

  • irehawk20 Apr 19, 2014

    Both are okay.

    Nick needs to show better respect on Jess, Danny needs to show better respect on Mindy.

    I didn't like the coach to be added as a sixth character choice in New Girl, the correct choice for a sixth character is supposed to be a third young female character, who is like both Jess and Cece type instead.

    The Mindy Project has to slow down the speed on broadening the focus on Mindy's guest men. I know men are more important, even older people involved also. But the young adult fans do not like Beverly brought back to replace both Gwen and Shauna because Beverly acts too self-destructive on young adult characters. We know that Beverly is not going to appear too often in this show, but we are too forbiddened to get rid of her this time, otherwise, the strict old TV critics, who are watching The Mindy Project will automatically cause doom on The Mindy Project.

    I keep on insisting to add a cranky old man doctor in The Mindy Project because 1.) Beverly would feel more relief on her own company level and then both cranky old people will get lower down their crankiness along the way 2.) all young adult fans will be forced to surrender both cranky old people and then show correct respect on both cranky old people at right away and 3.) the cranky old man doctor will help increase more ratings of these important viewers (both more men and more old people).

    I also kept on insisting to add an erratic young woman nurse in The Mindy Project because 1.) Peter can improve his reaction and both of them will relax at the same time along the way 2.) Betsy can be saved properly and be more interactive throughout and 3.) Tamara can show more balance and a more positive attitude besides being edgy.

    New Girl needs to have three men and three women next season.

    The Mindy Project needs four young men, four young women and two cranky old people, to make a total limited number of ten. There will be no more replacements on every character nor going over ten characters in its main cast starting next season.

  • flintslady Apr 19, 2014

    I think Mindy and Danny's breakup was inline with who Danny is as a person, but I'm surprised how quickly Mindy got over it and that she was unable to see it for what it was.

    As much as I loved Danny reading BJD to Mindy in the hospital (and I really really loved that) right now I'm all about Peter. Not only is he hilarious, but he is genuinely thoughtful and sweet underneath his bro-ish exterior. He's gone out of his way several times to help her or cheer her up. I'm pretty sure Danny is end game material but I'm gonna be the one person secretly rooting for Peter.

  • ludoTV Apr 20, 2014

    I am with you that Peter has become an awesome character as a (sometimes) redeemed fratboy and as Mindy's wingman but the vibe between them to me feels very much like brother and sister and not romantic but I could be wrong...

  • flintslady Apr 21, 2014

    Ya I doubt it's heading anywhere romantic. But a girl can dream...

  • Watashii Apr 19, 2014

    Well, Mindy and Danny's relationship wasn't even made public. I honestly don't think they are end game anyway because so far, Mindy has gone through so many boyfriends throughout the entirety of the show that I think that is the point of the show. I mean the latest episode had her hook up with Schmidt.

    I think Nick and Jess had more potential to be a long term relationship. But I honestly did not understand why they broke up. I don't believe that just because they didn't like the same things, they weren't meant to be. That is just a very lame excuse.

  • Devon39219 Apr 23, 2014

    hahaha she goes through boyfriends so fast that she even hogs the ones from other shows.. But to be fair, Schmidt has a thing for Indian girls.. ;)

  • jonahmill Apr 19, 2014

    Nick and Jess's breakup was written on the lazy side, but this week's episode was so great and changed my stance on the whole thing. I guess there's still time for the writers to screw it up, but I think I'm finding Nick and Jess more compelling broken up than when they were together. I wouldn't even say it's because I'm dying for them to get back together. Just seeing them in the aftermath of their break up brought to light how special their bond is.

  • DesolaKazeem Apr 19, 2014

    I wouldn't say either coupling has been successful. Yet. I haven't watched New Girl in a while. I don't think it's as bad now as some people make it out to be- I just haven't had any drive to watch it. I didn't love the episodes of Jess and Nick together but I really don't see how breaking them up would make much of a difference to the show's decline.

    The Mindy Project on the other hand is still pretty great. It still makes me laugh and I actively look out for new episodes. I'm not a huge fan of how Danny/Mindy was handled after the desert episode. I'd have preferred a new awareness of feelings from both sides . before a full fledged relationship. But I still loved those two episodes after the hiatus. I knew they were going to break them up pretty soon once I heard Mindy Kaling talk about her take on their dynamic. Still, It's pretty clear they'll be back together in the finale, and probably together through season 3.

    Really, what we should be talking about isn't even the handling of the break-ups but the handling of the addition of a new (former Happy Endings) regular to both shows. I had been excited for Coach's return but it has been unfortunately disappointing so far. I was wary of the addition of Adam Pally as a regular to TMP, and sure enough his character wasn't great at the start, but now he is just an excellent part of the show. He was hilarious in the sex tape episode with Mindy. His chemistry with the rest of the cast is pretty seamless now.

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