TV Picks: Mindy and Zooey, ‘Foyle’s War,’ ‘Wander Over Yonder’


“New Girl” (Fox, Tuesdays); “The Mindy Project” (Fox, Tuesdays). With the signal exception of Rebel Wilson’s “Super Fun Night,” the new TV year is less interested in the lives of young unattached women than in family business, typically spread across three bickering generations, often living under a single roof. One guesses this has to something to do with the age and preoccupation (and sex) of the people who are running the TV business; or possibly “Modern Family” still has them all entranced. (As a person who has watched nearly every fall pilot, I can tell you that the results are mixed.) In any case, I am happy to have these excellently written, deftly played, neighboring comedies back, each a somewhat manic farce built around a Single Woman Who Has Not Made Up Her Mind -- no matter how set the producers (which in the case of “Mindy” includes the star herself) seem to want to push her together with another member of the regular cast. (It’s Season 3 for “New Girl”; Season 2 for “Mindy.”)

“New Girl” star Zooey Deschanel, who crossed the Rubicon with loftmate Jake Johnson at the end of last season, practically defines the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype as identified by film critic Nathan Rabin (though he was talking about Kirsten Dunst), and indeed, she spent much of “Elf” dressed as one. Her adorkableness, to use a word I think I see retreating in the rearview mirror, knows no peer, and yet it’s mixed with self-awareness and intelligence; her character (a schoolteacher, sometimes) may be the most grounded member of the ensemble.

Mindy Kaling, who created the show she stars in, conceives herself as a hot mess with heart, an OB/GYN shaped by the Nora Ephron comedies she continues to measure her life against, even as she sort of really just wants to have fun. The new season finds her still sporting the short bob, betokening seriousness, she acquired at the end of the last, when she headed off to Haiti with pastor boyfriend Anders Holm. Without going into details, she will pay a visit home this week and meet James Franco, who plays her replacement, a model-turned-doctor; they are very funny together. (He will be sticking around for another week.) Romantic complications aside, the real subject of each show is (as it so often is) friendship -- or just proximity -- and the ways people keep each other entertained in the meantime of life.


Both sport supergroup casts that in years to come will be marveled at the way some people now remember “Mary Tyler Moore.” You can mark my words.

“Masterpiece Mystery: Foyle’s War” (PBS, Sundays). Back from an offscreen America after three years in your time but only one in his, Michael Kitchen’s great detective begins a seventh season (or eighth, depending on whether you’re doing the U.K. or U.S. math), made possible by Acorn Media (distributor of recent and ancient British television by video and by stream) coming on as a co-producer. Where the original series found Foyle untangling various strands of human fecklessness in World War II Hastings, down by the sea, the new series posts him to London and the postwar, Cold War era, where he is impressed into service by MI5 as a kind of in-house detective, helping to sort out things they are otherwise too thick or elevated to notice. As before, the obvious enemy is not the only enemy -- the show was always about the canker on the rose, and the series maintains its historical conscience (which serves also to indict the present). Honeysuckle Weeks is here, too, as driver-assistant Samantha Stewart -- with all respect to Kitchen, it would not quite be “Foyle’s War” without her -- whose husband is running for Parliament, or “standing,” as they call it there, which says something about something. Kitchen is the sort of detective hero Americans were more used to once -- not young, not buff, not crazy. He doesn’t waste words -- as much as a catchphrase as he can muster is to preface a sentence with “Well” (which does, oddly, work as a kind of catchphrase) -- or suffer fools gladly. (He dispatches them with a wit so dry as to be indistinguishable from simple declaration.) There is a moral intensity to Foyle that Kitchen expresses by the slightest raising of his voice or quickening of his words or birdlike cocking of his head. (He also tends to break up his sentences, in the Shatner way, minus the gasping drama.) Like other great detectives of fiction, he is superhumanly observant, adept at spotting the overlooked detail and seeing a puzzle where everyone else just sees a picture. But there is nothing flashy in any of it, which makes him all the more attractive.

“Wander Over Yonder” (Disney Channel, Fridays). Craig McCracken, who made “The Powerpuff Girls” and “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends,” is back for a third charming time. The new series concerns a goofball alien (voice of Jack McBrayer, whom you know as “30 Rock’s” Kenneth the Page) and his more sanguine “steed” (April Winchell), who ride about the universe, loving things, whether the things like it or not. (He’s like a happy chatterbox version of Clint Eastwood’s western nomad.) It also represents a move for McCracken from Cartoon Network, which raised him and which he in turn helped raise, to the Disney Channel, rich with associations of its own. But it is a good fit; McCracken’s particular feel for shape and form freshens the brand -- and “Wander” has its own rubbery vibe, distinct from his earlier shows -- as Disney’s Mickey Mouse House rules underscore the sweetness in his work, without diluting what’s astringent. There is still plenty of bashing and smacking and battling, and McCracken has cooked up some fine monsters for our hero to confuse, with hugs, kisses and the banjo.