"The Mindy Project" second season premiere

Despite James Franco guest turn, season opener explains why viewers just aren't that into the show

Here’s a secret: Reviews for the second season premiere of “The Mindy Project” — which features a “Please watch us” two-part guest stint by James Franco — will be wildly positive, because only those who love the show already will bother. And therein sort of lies the problem — to put it in Mindy-esque terms, it’s like having a bunch of close friends who won’t tell you why viewers just aren’t that into you. That’s because adoration from a few can easily obscure the rest of the world, including those of us who almost always find at least one thing to laugh at in an episode, offset by deflating tedium.

Star Mindy Kaling was a hoot in a supporting role on “The Office,” and her self-absorbed character is still stretched thin in this lead status. The opener has Mindy having chucked it all to go to Haiti on a humanitarian mission, which means the hospital has a slot to fill.

Enter a smile-flashing new doctor (the term “McDreamy” comes to mind), Paul Leotard, played by Franco, triggering the inevitable mix of drooling and head-butting when Mindy returns unexpectedly, wanting her old job back.

Airing close on the heels of Comedy Central’s Franco Roast, it’s hard not to feel like spoofing the star’s squinty-eyed charm is a trifle played out right now. Still, there are some amusing bits in Mindy’s interaction with him, unlike her flirty feuding with fellow doctor Danny (Chris Messina), which passed its “sell” date some time in season one.

Perhaps foremost, “Mindy Project” — despite the guest wattage courtesy of Franco; Chloe Sevigny, as Danny’s ex-wife; and Kim Kardashian ex Kris Humphries, the last of which is pretty damn funny — hasn’t created a sturdy enough latticework to support Kaling in this solo gig, playing a character as alternately insecure and egotistical, as well as boy crazy, as her “Office” alter ego.

Although one can see why Fox renewed the series — you hate to come away from a development season with shows critics liked, a la “Ben & Kate,” and nothing to show for it; and it at least feels like a natural companion to “New Girl” — there’s precious little in the two-part premiere to suggest much room for growth, creatively or ratings-wise, in season two. That’s OK, actually, as long as the show doesn’t slip from where it was, which also remains a distinct possibility.

So while Franco might add a bit of sizzle to the premiere promotionally speaking, all that really does is something any doctor — even one as goofy as those in the show — wouldn’t recommend: Taking a condition that originates under the surface, and simply slapping a band-aid on it.

TV Review: 'The Mindy Project'

(Series; Fox, Tue. Sept. 17, 9:30 p.m.)

Production

Produced by 3 Arts Entertainment in association with Universal Television.

Crew

Executive producers, Mindy Kaling, Howard Klein, Matt Warburton, Michael Spiller, Jack Burditt.

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