Celebrities aren’t trustworthy. We can count on them to be hot, and to rile us up with some good petty drama every few weeks, but that’s pretty much where the buck stops. You can’t even trust them to write their own tweets.
But I would trust Mindy Kaling to defend me in a court of law. I can see myself calling a radio station to dedicate the Rascal Flatts song “My Wish” to Mindy Kaling. I would give Mindy Kaling my life, because one thing we have in common is that Mindy Kaling is my best friend. We want what’s best for her. And if there’s one thing on which everyone, from saints to toxic trainwrecks, can agree, it’s that your best friend generally needs to dump her boyfriend, stat.
“The Mindy Project” has always branded itself as a romantic comedy — as well as a love letter to the romantic comedy — but more than anything, Mindy Lahiri’s story has been a love letter to herself. Lahiri is a tireless hard worker and she never lets anybody get away with loving her, or her huge boobs, any less than she herself does.
Not to disparage the show’s throughline, but the utter thrill that is Mindy Lahiri is the heart of the show. As an audience, we were never in it for the plot. We were in it for Mindy. To see her open what is likely her final season by choosing herself was a reminder that she knows it too. And of course, as we cannot fully divorce Kaling from Lahiri: It reminds us how much Mindy Kaling herself loves Mindy Lahiri. She’s Liz Lemon, without Liz Lemon’s Achilles heels. She has always set herself up to be her own life partner — frankly, there’s never been a love interest on “The Mindy Project” who deserved her, and it was high time for the show to admit it.
After a fourth season that was admittedly a huge mess, if Season 5 keeps the pace, “Mindy Project” will have found its way back to itself, and its roots, for what Kaling herself has implied may be the final season — and for good reason.
In Season 4, Danny (Chris Messina) turned into a dumpster fire of a person who expected Mindy to bend to his needs without a shred of compromise on his part, Jody (Garret Dillahunt) strolled in unannounced and spooked up the place, and as we learned from Casey 2.0, Neyo and the Princeton coach, the show has graduated from short-lived hookups.
Schulman and Associates was no longer a comforting background, but a mess of lost friends (Adam Pally’s polarizing dunce Peter Prentice, RIP) and confusing new hires. It became tiring to keep up with the show’s tirades. But what did we love about “The Mindy Project” in the first place? Mindy. And so, a show that began as a tongue-in-cheek send-up to the romantic comedy may be getting back to its initial exigency:
Celebrate the genre, mock the genre … and revise and revitalize the genre.
Remember Season 1? Sweet, sweet Season 1. Mindy plotting to spend Valentine’s Day at the top of the Empire State Building, opening the entire series with a confessional about her childhood rom-com obsession!
This has always been a show about a girl who inherited her performance of femininity from Nora Ephron and, despite her ruthless pursuit of a successful career as a doctor, learned she was incomplete without a picturesque love affair. It’s about rom-coms that naturally assume women want partnership, and about women who do as rom-coms say without considering the consequences — it’s about women who jump from man to man, because we’re supposed to be desperate enough to do so.
This story has always been about a woman filling in her empty other half. And it turns out, it still is.
In the climax of the Oct. 4, premiere, “Decision 2016,” Sia’s “Elastic Heart” blasts as Mindy throws a raincoat on over her nightgown and sprints through the city in the pouring rain, weaving in and out of taxi traffic and stop signs, arriving dripping wet at a man’s front door — to say that she’s choosing herself. If that isn’t a revolutionary rewrite of the romantic comedy moment of little Season 1 Mindy’s dreams, I don’t know what is.
“A strong woman doesn’t need a man” is, while true, a clichéd moral lesson at best: Better is dotty nurse Beverly’s (Beth Grant) turn as a wise old spirit guide in the premiere: “Don’t act out of desperation.” It’s a warning to Mindy Lahiri, and to all women still seeking the movie our lives were supposed to be — but it’s also a note-to-self on behalf of the show.
“The Mindy Project” has expressed time and time again a sense of relief that since their move to Hulu, they no longer have to beg for ratings through their work. After a desperate Season 4 that grasped at lifelines like someone looking for a light switch in the middle of the night — or a woman with everything who still feels unfulfilled — “The Mindy Project” seems to be ending where it began: As a one-woman love story.
New episodes of “The Mindy Project” are available Tuesdays on Hulu.