This post comes from Mbird friend Chelsea Batten:
Summer is coming rapidly to an end. Cheer up: that means the beginning of fall sweeps! All the TV that I resolve not to watch, only to consume in a mass Hulu-powered binge during late nights in motel rooms in towns where I don’t know anybody, is soon to arrive in hour-long pilot installments. I’m laying away pints of Ben & Jerry’s in the freezer.
Chief among the shows in my queue is “The Mindy Project,” the Mindy Kaling vehicle that never lets me figure out if it’s bad on purpose, or ironically. Maybe a little of both. Maybe that’s how all those alt-celebrities (Mark Duplass, Chloe Sevigny, et. al) end up on the uber-conservative Fox network. You know…irony.
Personally, I watch the show for Chris Messina, whose leather jacket and Brando-esque diction go great with Chubby Hubby™. The show plays the romantic tension between him and Ms. Kaling with the skill of a Central Park yo-yo artist, building at one moment only to drop entirely the next.
The most recent kink in their romantic progress is Mindy’s cool Christian boyfriend, Casey.
Played by Anders Holm (Workaholics), Casey is the pastor of a Lutheran church in Manhattan. The two meet when Casey hits on Mindy by belittling her on the subway. She visits his church to pursue the attraction where, like a proper Christian bro, he dumps her with good-natured lack of ceremony. She tells him off next time they run into each other and, like a proper Christian bro, he texts her to rekindle, complete with angel emoji.
I want Casey to like me; I don’t care about God. –Mindy Kaling as Mindy Lahiri
From the beginning, the Casey character matches the others on the show in implausibility. For one thing, no mainline church in Manhattan is that full on a Sunday morning, unless it’s running a soup kitchen or Dr. Timothy Keller is preaching. For another, no mainline church in the United States is pastored by a dude with hair that nice.
Casey, with his blue eyes and goofy confidence and pally repartee with “the Notorious G-O-D” (yes, really) is a character out of fantasy. Which begs the question: Is the Casey character another instance of alt-comedy irony? Or are the writers on “The Mindy Project” trying to do evangelicals a solid?
I do what I do. If other people think it’s good, it’s on them. –Anders Holm as Pastor Case
We’re all pretty used to the standard treatment of Christians on TV and movies. With the exception of wise old pastors, who are sometimes given a twinkling eye behind their crusty demeanor, the outspokenly religious characters, especially the remotely evangelical ones, are usually obnoxiously rigid and fastidious, with a mission from God to beleaguer the main characters on their lovably flawed road through life.
But the clergy figure as a young, good-looking, unapologetic frat boy? That’s revolutionary. By making him, if you’ll pardon the expression, a douchebag, the writers make Pastor Casey downright likeable. He’s just like the rest of us, only it’s God he talks about in bro-slang, rather than football, and it’s a pasteboard collar he leaves on the floor when hopping in the sack with his girlfriend.
And likeable he is. Which makes me very uncomfortable.
“You started loving Jesus for that guy?” –Utkarsh Ambudkar as Rishi Lahiri
It’s not Casey’s theology that makes me uneasy about liking him. The sermon in episode 19 is pandering, but it’s not heretical. (IMHO, anyway.) A real-life Casey would have a thriving podcast ministry and a book deal, no question.
What’s uncomfortable is the memory of all the Caseys I have known…and, I must admit, liked. Churches abound with Caseys. Maybe not in the pulpit, but certainly on elder boards, leadership teams, worship bands, and youth groups.
Guys who think their salvation tenure lets them speak for God without reverence or reference to the Bible (episode 19).
Guys who think their church stature gives them a de facto moral ascendancy over the girls they date (episode 22).
Guys who think their spiritual collateral grants them an out on some of those culturally irrelevant rules (episode 21).
This is a type I assumed only church insiders would know–I never thought I’d see him on network TV. That’s why I get a little PTSD when Casey goes from praying for somebody to inviting Mindy into the shower with him. (On the upside, it adds fuel to my fire for Chris Messina. I mean, for the character he plays. Whatever.)
I’m not on board with this. –Chris Messina as Danny Castellano
I think a really interesting show could be built around someone like Casey. But it couldn’t be a comedy.
What keeps him a side character, and the show a sitcom, is that you never see Casey questioning his behavior. Ever. The other characters on “The Mindy Project” waver back and forth on whether their choices make them “a good person” or not. Arbitrary their morality might be; it still causes them to waver, struggle, and try to change.
Casey, on the other hand, shows up drunk at a party in his pasteboard collar and board shorts, and apologizes like this: “I’m a man of God, and I’m not acting like it, right now.”
A lot of Caseys I have known, but never one with his spiritual life so frankly compartmentalized from the rest of his life. And it’s strange to admit, but that’s the main thing I like about him. That unashamed openness about his shortcomings. It’s a quality he shares with the loveable, self-proclaimed douche from that other It-girl vehicle coming back this fall:
Can I be real? I’d love to have a Casey in my life, to say nothing of a Schmidt. I’d never want either of them as a boyfriend, nor to listen to their preaching on Sunday, but I’d love to attend a Bible study with them. No dissembling posture of repentance, no rhetorical “struggle” with sin. Just a regular guy cheerfully retooling Christianity along lines that work for him. The kind of guy that can say this to a girl:
The driving force in my life is selflessness. I hold myself to an impossibly high standard. I don’t want that to make you feel bad about who you are.
…and not only believe it, but proceed to hit on her again.
Seriously–I wish every Christian douchebag could be that honest.