The Mindy Project

Watching this final season of The Mindy Project, I’ve thought a lot about all the other sitcoms that do romance well, like New Girl, Parks And Recreation, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. On all of those shows, romance isn’t as close to the forefront of the premise as it is with The Mindy Project, and yet they pull off romantic storytelling so much better than this TV rom-com, which has turned in a confusing and middling final season that started so strong and then got derailed by trying to do too much.

It’s hard to pull off grand romantic gestures without it coming off as cloying or false, and The Mindy Project is smartly self-aware in some of its biggest romance moments. But in its series finale, The Mindy Project leans into rom-com tropes without any real subversion or commentary. Mindy’s attempts at the end of the finale to pull off a grand romantic gesture are derailed, and that’s funny and real. Real life isn’t like the movies, and romantic gestures don’t always go according to plan. But The Mindy Project’s series finale ultimately reiterates the show’s weaknesses when it comes to developing convincing relationships and depicting romance.

The finale flips Mindy’s series-spanning quest to find a husband into a quest to find a new business partner since Jody pulled his equity out of her company before leaving the country to pursue his completely nonsensical relationship. Mindy muses in voiceover about the difficulty of finding the right business partner, and just like we’ve seen so many failed dates, we see the many bad interviews of potential candidates. The Mindy Project often maps rom-com conventions onto different aspects of its characters’ lives, and it works well. But then Mindy finds the answer for her business problem and her dating life all at once: She ends up with Danny.

Of course she does. It had to be him. And I don’t take issue with this ending being predictable so much as with it being a cop-out ending. The boldest move The Mindy Project ever made was breaking up Danny Castellano and Mindy. Danny is the endearing asshole found in so many romantic comedies (seriously, just reference the men in any Meg Ryan movie), and The Mindy Project challenged the trope by providing actual consequences for his asshole actions. Danny’s not a great guy for Mindy, and he’s not a great guy in general. Mindy certainly has her flaws, too, but when it came to their relationship, Danny was the one unable to listen to her and compromise. In the average rom-com, Mindy would make Danny into a better man, but is it really women’s responsibility to rehabilitate men? Bringing Danny back just gives into that troubling trope.

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We’re supposed to believe that Danny’s different now, that their relationship can work this time, but we aren’t given much by way of actual evidence. Mindy’s grand speech at Morgan and Tamra’s wedding reception blatantly provides the thesis for The Mindy Project’s final season: People change. That would be a much more powerful message if it was supported by the rest of the season’s character development and storylines, but it isn’t really. Danny has hardly been in the season enough for us to have seen any real personal growth. Mindy went through a divorce at the start of this season, and yet she seems completely emotionally removed from that. It’s as if it never happened.

This season has bit off far more than it can chew and then attempts to swallow it all down with neat little conclusions in the unfocused finale. Beverly’s son comes back. Jeremy’s dad dies, freeing him of years of repression that results in a complete personality makeover that’s funny enough (the biggest laugh is Anna saying she went through a goth phase but it didn’t work since she’s too pretty). But ultimately even that storyline ends on a tidy conclusion. There is, of course, no finale storyline for either Karen or Collette, because this show has never really cared that much about its queer characters outside of a few lazy jokes here and there.

Focusing more on the other characters in the office this final season and making Mindy a smaller part of the narrative seemed, at first, like a smart move, a way to open up the show a bit more and explore romance and relationships beyond just the narrow perspective of Mindy Lahiri. But this final season hasn’t made much of a case for romance. In fact, it increasingly feels like a story about women settling. None of the relationships that remain intact at the end of the season—Jody and Anna, Morgan and Tamra, even Jeremy and Anna to some extent although they’re the most believable of those three pairings—are particularly compelling.

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The marriage of Morgan and Tamra is a half-hearted comedy of errors. The ceremony is a bit of a disaster but not in a fun way (that is, until Tamra answers her phone casually mid-ceremony and tells whoever’s on the other line that she’s just chilling with Morgan). It’s like the writers felt like they had to end on a wedding. Morgan and Tamra’s arc this season has been very forced, and even during the wedding and reception, all the characters are just sort of going through the motions. Tamra’s decision at the beginning of the season to have a baby on her own is another storyline that started out going against the rom-com grain, but having her end up with Morgan undoes that, too. For a show that used to challenge the very idea of cinematic romance and the marriage plot, The Mindy Project has had a very conventional and uncomplicated final season.

Stray observations

  • Well, that Roger Ailes joke is very poorly timed. And it’s not the first time this show has made a weird and unfunny joke about sexual harassment.
  • Covering this final season has been, if you can believe it, fun for me. I don’t at all hate the show. I just feel like it ultimately squandered so much of its potential. Everything this season just felt so half-hearted, even Mindy Kaling’s performance.
  • Poor Leo doesn’t even get any finale time.
  • Morgan getting rid of his dogs is, I guess, supposed to be a sign of his personal growth, but he’s only doing it because it’s what Tamra wants.

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