Clicking and clacking
The Mindy Project's three stooges...uh, nurses
May 2013 -- By the end of its first season, Mindy Kaling's Fox sitcom The Mindy Project had three recurring nurse characters, giving it almost as many as Showtime's Nurse Jackie had at that time. But that's pretty much where the similarity in nursing portrayals ends. Nurse Jackie's lineup is led by Jackie Peyton, arguably the toughest, most expert major nurse character in U.S. television history, along with her quirky but impressive protégée Zoey Barkow. On Mindy, set at a New York ob-gyn practice, the main nurse character is Morgan Tookers, a good-hearted but demented ex-convict who drives some of the show's more ridiculous plotlines and delivers unintentionally self-mocking lines like "I am not paying $10 to check this $5 coat." There is also Beverly, an older nurse who was initially so hostile, inept, and unhinged that the practice fired her; she reacted by breaking lead character Mindy Lahiri's nose. Still, after Beverly threatened to sue for age discrimination, she was re-hired as an administrative assistant, a job at which she has proved equally incompetent. In one episode, she queries: "Is it offensive to say that I only trust an older white man to give me the news?" And late in the season the show introduced Tamra, a nurse with little evident motivation who initially functioned as an office insult comic reminiscent of Perry Cox from Scrubs, except without Cox's expertise or authority. It's true that the show is irreverent toward the physician characters in romantic and personal matters--they have their foibles and they can act foolishly. But the physicians also display health expertise, and the show does not question their medical competence. Meanwhile, the nurses are peripheral misfits who help advance plots and offer comic diversions but show little if any health knowledge. The Mindy Project feeds the stereotypes that nurses are unskilled dimwits and physician lackeys. The show's executive producers were Mindy Kaling, Michael Spiller, Howard Klein, Matt Warburton, B.J. Novak, and Charles McDougall. Please join us in urging the show to do better. Click here to sign our petition on Change.org. Thank you!
The show's spring 2013 episodes offered fine examples of Morgan's unique skills and perspective. In an episode broadcast on April 2 ("My Cool Christian Boyfriend"), the practice's staff makes a disastrous effort to provide free care at a women's prison. On the way back, Morgan--who of course spent time in prison himself for stealing cars--berates his physician bosses for not listening to him about how to behave in a prison. He tells them that in a prison, he's the gynecologist and they are the nurses--meaning that he has the expertise and they should just do whatever he says. Evidently that is the reverse of the health care setting, where the physicians have all the expertise and authority. This has in fact been the show's consistent message, though Morgan did display a moment of skill in his first episode (October 2, 2012), impressing in his job interview by re-setting Mindy's nose with little fuss after Beverly broke it.
Morgan's most notable comments reveal just how much of an outlier he is. At one point in the April 4 episode ("Pretty Man"), Morgan vows: "I'm not paying $10 to check a $5 coat." At another point, he boasts: "I've got my own laptop. And it's the biggest laptop you've ever seen." In the April 9 episode ("Santa Fe"), as the practice's staff are on a plane on their way back from a conference, there is some turbulence. Morgan leans toward Mindy:
"Hey…I barfed a bagful…where should I put it, Mindy?"
Of course, Morgan is not just a fool. The physicians eventually take a liking to him. And they miss him after, in the April 30 episode ("Triathlon"), ob-gyn physician Danny Castellano actually fires Morgan for sending Danny's ex-wife a love letter Danny wrote her years earlier but never sent. Morgan just felt she needed to know how Danny felt! This is the reason the practice hires Tamra. The practice soon discovers that Morgan has been hired by the dreaded midwives, the Deloriays, who practice in the same building and were the target of an unfounded attack by the show earlier in the season. Despite the rift, at a charity triathlon Morgan actually carries a depleted Danny across the finish line. Danny ultimately tells Morgan he should've mailed the letter himself. Still, Morgan declines to return to work for the ob-gyn practice at that point.
In the May 7 episode ("Frat Party"), the physicians try to lure Morgan back with more money, and then with a cute puppy--that certainly gets closer to swaying him, but Morgan still declines, saying they weren't a family like the Deloriays are. Morgan does attend a college frat party with the physicians. Of course, being Morgan, he has to borrow $20 to get into the party, which gives him the chance to reveal that he thinks $20 bills have Abraham Lincoln on them; the frat party doorman has to tell Morgan it's Andrew Jackson. The practice does finally win Morgan back after Danny defends him in a fight at the party, calling him his brother.
There is one more recurring theme with Morgan: he is a very lonely guy who occasionally says and does things that, beneath the absurdity, are vaguely unsettling. In tonight's season finale ("Take Me With You"), Mindy is preparing for a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend by having a practice sex session on Skype one evening. Morgan digitally invades the session, apparently from some kind of deserted office setting. Taking off his shirt, Morgan assures Mindy that he is the only one in the business center where he seems to be; presumably he has broken in. Morgan doesn't get far with Mindy and her boyfriend, but the scene is a good example of Morgan's character--he is affable and seems to have good intentions, so the show just laughs at him and quickly moves on, but if it didn't quickly move on, it could get kind of creepy.
Beverly is the older, backwards, dangerously incompetent nurse who was fired early in the season, breaking Mindy's nose when she got the news. But evidently the show could not get by without Beverly, because in the episode broadcast on February 19, 2013 ("Mindy's Minute"), she has been rehired as an administrative assistant, apparently after she threatened to file an age discrimination suit. (It is interesting that the show would raise that issue, given how much age stereotyping its portrayal of the Beverly character reflects).
Beverly's interactions with the other staff in the February 19, 2013 episode give a good sense of who she is. As fellow office worker Betsy Putch is orienting her, Beverly stresses how happy she is to be back: "Finally, a job where I don't have to wash my hands." Betsy notes that "back when you were a nurse here, you never got this close without trying to give me a wedgie." Betsy shows Beverly some basic aspects of her computer. Beverly looks uncertain but assures Betsy all is well: "I know all about computers, clicking, clacking... (picking up the mouse by its wire) these guys…" After Betsy leaves, Beverly pushes a key on the keyboard, seemingly at random. The disc player opens, startling and seeming to frighten her.
Later comments reveal more of Beverly's inner beauty. At one point in the episode, Mindy has decided to accept a medical correspondent job with a local TV station, and she is thrilled to tell her colleagues about it. Beverly: "Is it offensive to say that I only trust an older white man to give me the news?" Later, in the office lunchroom, Beverly sits alone, but that doesn't stop her from invading the conversation of a group of colleagues, when one describes a favorite new store. Beverly: "I found a new store, great selection of compression hose, any color you want--light tan, medium tan, black lady…" Toward the end of the episode, Beverly finally confesses she has no clue about the computer and needs help, which her colleagues provide. That enables Beverly to send her first email, to one of the physicians. Unfortunately she turns out to have sent an inappropriate attachment, leading Morgan, of all people, to chastise her and ask her to delete it, although he also asks her privately to send it to him, "so I know it's gone."
Beverly receives occasional attention in the season's later episodes. In the March 19 episode ("Mindy's Birthday"), Mindy is aghast to find that Beverly has to moonlight in the kitchen of a chain restaurant because the practice pays her so poorly. As a result, Mindy actually promotes Beverly to some type of executive assistant position, although it's not clear if she will actually be doing anything different. In the April 30 episode, Mindy seeks advice from her colleagues about converting to Christianity for her boyfriend. Beverly volunteers: "I've changed my tune for any number of guys. I've been Jewish, super-Jewish, Buddhist, People's Temple, Heaven's Gate, People's Temple again, normal…"
After Morgan is fired, the practice needs a new nurse, and they hire Tamra. In the April 30 episode, Tamra seems to feel a need to sing her workplace conversations, to the moderate annoyance of the physicians. Physician Jeremy Reed has to ask her to do certain tasks, and she responds in song: "Figuring out the co-pay…I'm taking the vitals for Mrs. Greer…or Dr. Reed gon' git mad!" Reed and Mindy concede it's catchy. Professional, not so much.
In the May 7 episode, Tamra's insult-comic tendencies appear. Physician Danny Castellano is a fairly traditional, macho guy. So Tamra has gotten into the habit of calling him "girl," claiming that he reminds her of her cousin Sheena. Pressed again to actually do some work, Tamra again feels the need to sing about it. The physicians are sorry to have hired her and want Morgan back, but for some reason, they don't let her go when Morgan does come back.
The Mindy Project's three nurse characters obviously have their differences, but what they have in common is that they are bizarre, unintentionally self-mocking, somewhat unsettling, apparently uneducated, and irrelevant to serious care, with little evident health expertise and little interaction with patients. Of course, it might be a challenge for any Hollywood show to portray nursing autonomy in this kind of outpatient setting, but we confess it seems laughable even to mention an issue like that with a show that seems to be interested in nurses only as punchlines. Please join us in urging the show to do better. Click here to join our petition. Thank you!