Nurses and The Mindy Project
May 2014 – On The Mindy Project (Fox), which focuses on a New York City obstetrics practice, all the characters are odd and silly. But the physicians drive the sitcom’s plots and get a certain respect based on their professional status, whereas the nurses tend to be bizarre, ignorant peasants who just provide incidental splashes of comic color. Most episodes in the second season, which ended this month, feature at least some idiocy from nurses Morgan, Tamra, and Beverly. Morgan’s exploits include failing to recognize obvious signs that he is eating marijuana cupcakes at a music festival and, at another point, having to be told by one of the physicians that he can’t be “promote[d] to doctor.” The next most important nurse character is Tamra, who eventually develops a romance with Morgan. We give the show a little credit for having these nurses date each other instead of just pining for physicians. But it’s hard to be impressed with Tamra’s statement that Morgan has taught her so much about nursing that “I don’t go ‘Oh God!’ when people have really high blood pressure anymore!” Then there is Beverly, a racist freak who was fired as the practice’s nurse long ago and now seems to be a kind of office assistant, although it’s not clear if she’s capable of any useful activity. Random anti-nurse features of the season include physician Mindy taking offense at being mistaken for a nurse, and male physician Jeremy playing “nooky hooky” with two lingerie-clad females, then explaining to a colleague that “my nurses have more tests to run.” That reinforces the naughty nurse stereotype, regardless of whether we are supposed to think they are actually nurses. And many of the other plotlines suggest that nurses are low-skilled physician helpers. On the whole, even though every character is dyfunctional, the nurses really stand out.
Just a big loser
Morgan is usually cheerful, but also weird, clueless, a little scary, and lacking common sense, to say nothing of clinical knowledge and skill. In the October 1, 2013 episode, many of the characters attend a music festival in New York. While they are there, a stranger offers Morgan some cupcakes from a container with a green plant design that clearly indicates that they contain marijuana. But Morgan takes the design to be a four-leaf clover and is unaware that the cupcakes contain marijuana. After eating some, he starts behaving bizarrely, hurling a cooler and doing a cannonball into a field that he thinks is a pool, injuring his “butt bone.” Finally realizing what has happened, Morgan moans that he’s a drug addict. Mindy clears that up: “You’re not cool enough to be a drug addict, you’re just a big loser.” Mindy and physician Danny take Morgan to a health tent, where the medic is on mushrooms, so the physicians have to provide care.
In the next episode, aired on October 8, Morgan reveals what a big loser he is when it comes to romance. In this one, Mindy is sad about a recent breakup with her boyfriend. So Morgan helpfully suggests that Mindy date him, because every time he dates someone, the minute they break up, his ex-girlfriend “meets some amazing guy and they fall in love.” Later, after Mindy has been drinking heavily, she remembers Morgan’s “magic” powers and initiates a hook up. He resists but soon agrees, noting that he’s “never done it in the bedroom before.” Sobering up, Mindy decides against it. Morgan leaves but is clearly angry. The next day, Mindy gets a call from Morgan’s lawyer, who threatens to sue for sexual harassment; he wants $200,000. But Morgan says he will forget about the money if Mindy will take him on a “nice date.” Her physician partners persuade her to go. Danny: “You date creeps all the time, it’s not a big deal.” At the date, trying awkwardly to converse, Morgan asks how much money Mindy makes. But she’s “texting so we don’t have to make conversation.” He takes the phone. She asks if he’s ever been abroad. He says he once went to Montreal to see a prostitute he’d been talking to online; it turned out to be a man who beat him up. After dinner, Mindy wants to go home, but Morgan insists they go see his favorite place, the quarry, in the moonlight. Mindy is apprehensive but she actually likes it. At Morgan’s urging, she tries the echo, yelling that she misses her ex-boyfriend, and it helps. Morgan confesses that he’s been dumped 36 times in his life, left at the altar three times, and “two different women faked their own deaths to get away from me.” He advises Mindy that she can’t force herself to get over someone, but it will happen. In the end, the date seems to have helped her, and she and Morgan remain friends, although there is no suggestion of real romance between them. Obviously, he is not in her class.
In an episode broadcast on April 8, 2014, Morgan goes to discuss Mindy’s romantic life (the show’s main concern) with the managing physician Jeremy. But Jeremy misunderstands why he has come: “Morgan, I told you, I can’t promote you to doctor.” Morgan says that is not why he’s there, which effectively confirms that it is something he asked for before. This insult reinforces the false social views that physicians are superior and that nurses really want to be physicians.
Tamra and the high holy days
A running joke early in the season was that Tamra did not recognize any of her colleagues, especially Mindy. In the September 17, 2013 season premiere, Mindy returns to the office with a shorter haircut after a stay in Haiti. Tamra: “Uh-uh, I told you, we don’t want no candy bars, little boy.” Mindy points out that she has worked there for years and that she actually hired Tamra.
Further examples of Tamra’s marginal grasp of reality are scattered throughout the season. In the episode broadcast on January 7, 2014, Tamra bickers inanely with Morgan over which of them the physicians will permit to use a certain “phlebotomy desk.” At another point in the episode, Tamra mistakenly orders 1,000 boxes of surgical gloves for the office, instead of 1,000 gloves. In an April 8 episode, Tamra complains that the physicians won’t let her take off the “high holy days.” Danny points out that she is not Jewish. She responds by asking how she will know if they won’t let her try. Tamra and Morgan eventually become interested in each other romantically, and the April 15 episode presents Tamra as torn between Morgan and her longtime boyfriend Ray Ron. Danny persuades Tamra to return to Ray Ron, but she is unsure – Ray Ron has lots of tattoos, but Morgan challenges her as a person and as a nurse: “I don’t go ‘Oh God!’ when people have really high blood pressure anymore!” We guess that does suggest that nurses, or at least Morgan, have a little health knowledge. But overall Tamra is presented as a heedless fool.
The nurses have to run more tests
The season also included a few direct attacks on nursing. In the October 1, 2013 episode, the practice is looking to hire a new physician. They interview one candidate, Peter (right), a party-oriented boy-man who insults Mindy by assuming she is not a physician: “Are you a nurse?” Mindy is plainly offended: “Excuse me?” Peter blunders on: “A doula?” Mindy: “What?” Peter: “Manicurist? Plus-size model?” Despite all this, they do eventually hire him.
The January 7, 2014 episode includes a naughty nurse scenario. In that one, we see the frustrated physician Jeremy playing “nooky hooky” from work, which seems to involve hanging out in his apartment with two lingerie-clad females. When Peter tries to get Jeremy to return to work, Jeremy dismisses him by joking that “my nurses have a few more tests to run.” We understand that these women are not really there to provide health care. But is the suggestion that they are “nurses” part of the joke, because in fact they are prostitutes or something? Or are they really nurses, because being available to physicians for sex is part of the job? Either way, the scene associates female sexuality with nursing, which is the naughty nurse stereotype.
We’d like to give the show credit for promoting diversity in nursing—Morgan is male and Tamra is African-American. But it’s hard to see how much good that does in a season that offers another series of direct and indirect attacks on the profession, reinforcing many of the most damaging stereotypes, especially the unskilled physician handmaiden stereotype. We urge the producers to try to cause less damage, although of course that will not be easy to do if the current nurse characters remain as they are.
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