Contains spoilers for The Mindy Project and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
Endings are tough at the best of times, especially on television. Sometimes a show can be cancelled mid-flow and no satisfying ending can be put together in time, resulting either in a cliffhanger that is never resolved or ending on just another run of the mill episode.
Sometimes a writer’s room is given enough time to craft an ending, but it still never feels quite like the ending they had in mind. And then sometimes they actually do deliver a satisfying ending when cancelled, then get renewed and have to figure out what to do with that original ending… and then end up not giving the show a better conclusion than the one they came up with the first time. And so it is we come to The Mindy Project.
Make no mistakes, Mindy Kaling’s romantic comedy, produced by NBC Universal and airing on the Fox Network before moving to Hulu, is great, genuinely funny, sometimes moving and dramatic, and very much like something that Nora Ephron might have cooked up if she had ever created a television series.
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Upon cancellation in its third season, Mindy Kaling and her writers gave the series a satisfying ending, complete with a mad dash to The Empire State Building. But upon being picked up by Hulu for a fourth season and then continuing into a fifth and eventually sixth and final year, the series had to figure out what to do when it finally got its central romance together, albeit after going through will they/won’t they in every conceivably dramatic way.
Complete with a great ensemble cast, albeit one that has many comings and goings over its six-season run, consisting of Kaling herself, Chris Messina, Ika Barinholtz (a frequent scene-stealer), Adam Pally, Fortune Meister, and Garrett Dillahunt (in Southern Gentleman mode), the series would frequently deliver classy comedy, the occasional fart joke, and every conceivable romantic comedy trope you could throw into a show, complete with references to the works of Ephron, Nancy Meyers, Garry Marshall and John Hughes.
Being a network show, at least for the first three seasons, the series never outstays its welcome, and at its best is a twenty-two-minute classy romantic comedy. The wheels do threaten to come off during the Hulu years at times, but upon being saved from cancellation, something deeply interesting happened.
After giving audiences the happy ending they craved with Mindy (Kaling’s character also happens to be called Mindy) and Danny Castellano (Messina) finally getting together, the series actually deals with the ramifications that come after a romantic comedy ends with its ‘happily ever after’ moment.
Instead of just coasting on its central couple being happy together, the series takes a somewhat dramatic turn with an engagement that never turns into wedding bells, and a pregnancy that brings on the onslaught of its own dramas and aggravations, not to mention turning the series’ male dreamboat character of Danny into a more problematic concoction with an intrusive relationship with his mother and somewhat conservative views on motherhood causing even more drama.
Admittedly this turn of character was to deal with the series not having as much access to Messina, who picked up other projects in light of the cancellation at Fox, but the dramatic touches work rather well. Coupled with great writing from Kaling and frequent collaborator BJ Novak, and with Tracey Whigfield and Barinholtz also contributing scripts, the series manages to be light, classy, glossy, very funny and yet emotionally stings like a bee.
The success of the fourth year led to a fifth season, albeit a shorter one at fourteen episodes, and eventually a sixth season that was ten episodes long. While five has its moments, as does the sixth (not to mention some great high concept episodes involving Mindy in a Groundhog Day style scenario, and waking up in the body of a privileged white male, played by Veronica Mars‘ Ryan Hansen and becoming one of the show’s best guest stars in the process) the final season ends up feeling incredibly rushed and builds to an ending that feels like it had to be put together at the last moment, even though the series did have time to deliver something more satisfying.
After turning Danny into something of a sexist douchebag (for lack of a better term) over the fourth and fifth year, and with Messina being absent even more the longer the series went on, the show still expects us to root for Mindy to end up with Danny after all, and delivers another mad dash with him declaring his love for her. But it never really stands up to scrutiny, and there’ s a part of the viewer that can’t help but wish it opted for something similar to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and its ‘I choose me’ climax.
Thankfully it’s not enough to sour one’s taste for the show overall. Kaling started her career writing and starring in the American version of The Office, and managed to use her Emmy nominated work, not to mention frequently writing some of the very best episodes of the show, as a means to write and develop what would become The Mindy Project.
Having honed her craft writing some of the very best cringe-comedy in years, Kaling amazingly didn’t repeat herself, instead turning in some of the very best romantic, adult-oriented comedies in recent years. While Hollywood seemingly has turned away from such movies, with a few exceptions, in favour of spectacle and shared universe franchises, mid-budgeted comedies and dramas for a grown-up audiences have ended up having to find life on television, and with its myriad references to some of the very best Hollywood romantic comedies in modern times, Kaling ended up creating a series that ranked with the very best.
Yes, the ending is a little frustrating given that it gave us a similar one at the end of season three and then brilliantly deconstructed the aftermath over season four, but the weakest work of the series cannot negate the fact that a lot of the work here was indeed fantastic and brilliant.
Kaling ended up revealing herself to be one of the very best romantic comedy writers since Nora Ephron, with work that was frequently hilarious but which could hit you with an emotional charge that felt all too real, and brilliantly used the success of the show to launch a movie career that has taken in Ocean’s 8, voice work on Inside Out, and writing the absolutely wonderful, sadly little-seen Late Night which, like The Mindy Project, managed to be take its workplace comedy set up and turn it into something a touch profound and relevant (and which you should watch because it’s really good).
Six seasons long, The Mindy Project is a great binge watch and despite the flaws, one will walk away from it having loved and continuing to love the series at its absolute best.