As The Mindy Project nears 100 episodes, Mindy Kaling takes on her Indian heritage when her fictional counterpart is called a coconut: brown on the outside, white on the inside. As Mindy’s dad on the show points out, the nickname is clever (“a Cadbury egg would also work!”), as well as kind of true. We have seen very little of Mindy’s heritage outside of her engagement party (with Annette and Dot wearing saris) or the occasional Hindu or elephant reference (usually from Danny).
“Bernardo And Anita” lacks the depth that Aziz Ansari brought to the same topic on his show Master Of None with the poignant episode “Parents,” ably depicting all the struggles immigrant families make, only to often be dissed by their own offspring once they assimilate. Mindy’s parents rave about how much they love America and wanted to raise their kids here: For them her almost complete assimilation into American culture is a success, not a failure. But her new friends like Neel see things differently, prioritizing his cultural identity as an Indian.
The show makes the case that Mindy’s status as a parent (along with the coconut designation) has helped inspire her to explore her own background. Danny’s status as an Italian-Catholic has gotten a lot more play throughout the series, and it’s key how his wanting to take Leo to Italy (with the cutest passport picture ever) works in tandem with Mindy’s desire for the Hindu Mundan ceremony. It’s also nice to see Danny back on this show, in his new, reduced capacity as Mindy’s ex. There are enough nods back to their old relationship—Mindy being shocked when Danny agrees with her, Danny telling her she looks pretty—that it walks this tricky line of being enough for the moment while possibly offering some seeds of hope for the future.
In the meantime, Mindy Lahiri discovers the pleasures of hanging out with people with the same background as her, in both the Bed Bath And Beyond shopping and the dinner-party scenes. Lines about why white people are so delighted to see people of the same race together as “segregation they can feel good about” couldn’t show up on many other sitcoms, and there’s a nod of appreciation from Neel when he realizes Mindy gets it. There’s a similar expression of glee on Mindy’s face when everyone starts imitating their Indian mothers at dinner: a welcome relief of realization and camaraderie. (And, pointedly, Jody’s attempt to chime in by imitating his tailor does not work.) But even Mindy pointing to West Side Story as the perfect allegory for herself and Neel, shows how steeped in American culture she really is.
But by the same token I’m glad Mindy’s parents (who are always delightful, and should be seen more on the show) make a case for why they were happy that their kids assimilated. They love this country, which is why they wanted to move here, a status that many native-born Americans take for granted.
The B-plot definitely suffers by comparison, although hopefully it points to Jody moving on from his feelings for Mindy with Ashley (another appearance by a Walking Dead cast member, Lauren Cohan). In an episode about heritage, some more information on just why Ashley is saving herself (why would anyone in this day and age) would have been helpful: Is she super-Christian? It’s a little disturbing that Morgan pushed his way into dating her by pummeling her with emails, and is being celibate a big deal to him anyway? Who have we ever seen him have sex with besides Chelsea? Still, it did bring us that hilarious moment when Morgan falls over after being woozy from having the moral high ground, while Jody works in his stamp collection in his office. “How many animals do you know who wear scrubs?” “One.”
In a 2013 interview with The New York Times, Kaling said that “I knew if I was going to have my own show, I’d have to do it myself. Because no one is going to write a show for a chubby brown woman. It’s hard enough to make it if you’re a thin, conventionally attractive woman. I also knew I was only going to be good at certain things… So I just thought: I’ll do it myself.” It’s an important distinction, that she’s not only a thirtysomething woman running her own sitcom, starring herself, but she’s an Indian woman doing so. What’s so amazing about Kaling is how she took those differences, those ways she varies from convention, and steered them into the greatest assets of her show. She should only do so more. This episode shows that the exploration of this side of Mindy’s status is valuable, and now that the show has been renewed, will hopefully offer more opportunities like this one.
- Mindy’s best outfit: Some fabulous dresses this episode, like the gray patterned one on her date with Neel, and the off-the-shoulder green one at the mysterious cocktail party everyone was attending. But I have to go with the blue cutout dress she ends the episode in.
- If Eliza Coupe and Adam Pally manage to guest-star on this show in the same episode, my Happy Endings-loving head will just explode.