[This post contains spoilers for The Mindy Project’s November 8 episode.]
The Mindy Project (Hulu) is now deep into its post-Danny era, marrying off Chris Messina’s Italian
stallion pony to Greta Gerwig’s sweet nurse in its latest (November 8) installment. As in the pilot, which established Mindy Kaling’s vision for her series as a romantic comedy that harbored deep skepticism about the genre, Kaling’s character was presented with the opportunity to get messy-drunk and ruin another ex-boyfriend’s wedding. This time, though, Mindy didn’t take it, opting instead to spend time with her mother, Sonu (Sakina Jaffrey), and brother, Rishi (Utkarsh Ambudkar). The immensely satisfying penultimate scene, in which Sonu reassures her daughter that her baby’s father wasn’t her last chance at love, exemplifies what’s been so smart about the comedy since Mindy left Danny.
The Mindy Project is mostly done being a traditional rom-com, but it’s continued to critique the tropes of the canon in some of the series’s best moments of the last year and a half. From day one, Kaling’s implicitly fought back against romantic comedy’s overwhelming whiteness by placing Mindy at the center of her love story. And Season 5 has so far knocked down the quiet classism that pervades the genre, which seems populated primarily by doctors, architects, gallery owners, and impossibly well-kept magazine writers. Mindy has struggled to accept Nurse Ben’s (Bryan Greenberg) profession — a hurdle that should be easy to overcome, especially given how good Ben is with her son — except Dr. Lahiri has mostly gone out with other OB-GYNs, the occasional lawyer, and that one sneaker CEO. Single-dad Ben’s potential as a viable partner also exposes the unrealistic familial simplicity of most romantic-comedy leads. As thirtysomethings with children, Mindy and Ben would create a multiracial blended family — the kind of happily ever after you’d never see in a Meg Ryan or Katherine Heigl rom-com.
The Mindy Project has also punctured the romance of the grand gesture, including Danny’s impulsive flight to India to meet Mindy’s parents and Jody’s (Garret Dillahunt) unwise purchase of a second apartment for Mindy. But last night continued the series’s most original criticism, which focuses on the burden of being with a partner who compulsively challenges their significant other’s choices. In Season 4, Danny pushed back against Mindy one too many times by insisting she quit her job, have another kid, and stay home to raise their children — a demand that bordered on abuse in the form of reproductive coercion. And it was a relief to see Mindy reject Jody, a racist, sexist conserva-dick who was somehow even more Mindy’s opposite than Danny was.
For women attracted to men who roll their eyes at them, The Mindy Project advises via the maternal Sonu to think about why that attraction exists. “We’ve always been so proud of how hard you worked,” Sonu tells Mindy. “But you’ve always been so driven and hard on yourself that, somewhere along the line, you started to believe that if someone wasn’t hard on you, they didn’t care about you. And, eventually, you ended up with a man who did the criticizing for you. And now that Danny’s gone, I’m worried that you’re doing the criticizing for him.” It’s a great character-based insight into how someone might confuse Danny’s stingy affection with real love, and his disapproval with helpfulness. It’s possible that a presumably Type-A high-achiever like Mindy might be especially bad at distinguishing between constructive and destructive criticism, since — despite her usual glib sociopathy — she’s used to an internal monologue demanding excellence. And it’s a sharp observation to note that despite Danny’s relative absence from her life, the negative aftereffects of their relationship still linger. When Danny met Mindy, he changed her — because that’s what being constantly challenged tends to do. The Mindy Project may not be as sparklingly charming as it once was, but it’s still got a lot more to say.