Mindy Kaling, Comedy, and the Growth of a Television Show

As The Mindy Project enters its final season, perhaps there is much more to be said about everyone’s favorite TV OBGYN. 
By  · Published on September 7th, 2017

As The Mindy Project enters its final season, perhaps there is much more to be said about everyone’s favorite TV OBGYN. 

When The Mindy Project first premiered on Fox in 2012, The Office was approaching its last season, and the character Mindy Lahiri almost felt like a spin-off version of Kaling’s Office character Kelly Kapoor. From the first episode of The Mindy Project, as Mindy Lahiri gave a drunken speech at her ex’s wedding, we knew immediately this character was vain and superficial, much like Kelly Kapoor, but there were also many other layers to her. She was accomplished, outgoing, and also somewhat lonely romantically. Throughout the series and the first season especially, Mindy goes on dates with numerous guys, looking for the right one that will sweep her off her feet. While not many of these dates resulted in a second, boyfriends and dating definitely were central to the story, but it didn’t feel as if that was all the show was about, nor did it become all that Mindy’s journey focused on, which is one of the ways in which The Mindy Project truly succeeded in storytelling.

Now that The Mindy Project’s last season will air on Hulu on Tuesday, the show in its entirety will soon be complete and we can all reflect on everything the show did right, where it went off track, and what it will be remembered for years from today. In preparing for this 6th and final season though, it is clear that the show had a spark and a voice from the very beginning that allowed it to stand out from other TV comedies, even if sometimes it was evident that the show was still trying to find its sweet spot.

For most television shows, there is a sort of trial and error period that never truly ends. Characters that started the show many times never make it to the end, whether that be for story reasons or actor contracts. Plot lines take a turn, sometimes due to these character entrances and exits. New writers are hired, while more seasoned writers for the show either leave or stay on board. And for network television especially, ratings matter, and if the numbers aren’t adding up, a show can end before it even really got started.

This is exactly what happened to The Mindy Project following its third season. Fortunately, once it was canceled by Fox, Hulu picked up the series and provided it with the continuation it deserved, which also speaks to the era of television we are currently living in. Something like Freaks and Geeks, which was canceled after its first season, probably would have thrived on a streaming site like Netflix or Hulu, where it only has to reach a select few who love it, rather than appeal to a broad audience who could never care for it.

Therefore, The Mindy Project continued its run on Hulu and also continued to find its voice amongst the various other comedy programs on television. While this past decade has often been coined as the new golden era of television, I would also argue we are experiencing an experimental, golden age of comedy as well. Throughout the past decade, between all of the late night satire, Netflix binges for shows like 30 Rock, The Office, Parks and Recreation, and shows like Broad City and You’re the Worst, along with even more mainstream sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory, television comedy as a genre is thriving right now. And amongst all of these comedies, The Mindy Project felt refreshing and unique rather than a replica of its predecessors or other shows currently on the air alongside it.

In having its own special sense of humor, however, the show also tackled various social issues that it put to the forefront, and made them feel natural rather than forced. For example, after Mindy has baby Leo, she wants to go back to work simply because she loves working and has spent years building up her practice, but she also wants to try to be a stay-at-home mom and therefore is torn on whether or not to stay home or go back to work. She ultimately returns to work, but the show continues to keep her active as a mother as well, giving her character a little more nuance rather than making her fall just one way or another.

The show also has a diverse cast and centers stories around interracial dating, single motherhood, and being a successful career-woman who also wants a steady relationship. In every season, Mindy is infatuated with some boyfriend or another, but deep down we know a relationship is just something she needs rather than all she needs. It’s more about Mindy’s transformation as a person and her growth in maturity, which arguably never completely happens, but had Mindy Lahiri actually become 100% mature, she would have been an entirely different character. Nonetheless, there is a shift in her persona and a sense of growth in herself that is evident as the show goes on. Ultimately, Mindy Lahiri is not a hero, but she is also not completely reprehensible, which allows us to always feel like we’re learning with her, through her eyes, rather than rooting for her. She is by no means perfect and often messes up some of her own opportunities due to mere ridiculousness, but that’s a closer depiction of reality than if she appeared to always have everything together. At the end of the day too, the show is a comedy in which all of the characters are basically caricatures of the most obnoxious human traits, which is what contributes in large part to the jokes and comedic aspects of the show.

Aside from the strides the show itself has made, it is very clear that Mindy Kaling has made a name for herself outside of her characters Kelly Kapoor and Mindy Lahiri. Kaling, who appears to have none of her fictional characters’ superficial personalities, is a very brilliant comedian and an extremely talented writer, and not just in television writing either. Her books Why Not Me? and Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? are hilarious page-turners that I read every time I feel down or need some inspiration. As a celebrity, she is also pretty much a triple threat; a talented actress, writer, and producer. She did, after all, write a good amount of episodes for The Office, and created The Mindy Project herself, and continues to make most of the creative decisions for the show even in its sixth year. So, she is definitely someone the industry needs, is lucky to have, and will hopefully continue to support.

The Mindy Project, of course, is not for everyone and does not necessarily utilize a “mainstream” type of humor, but it is a special thing for those of us who do find its unique style appealing. As the series comes to an end, and the story is all said and done, the show has ultimately provided us with an example of the joys that new voices can offer, the benefits of streaming sites, and all the many ways McDonald’s can be incorporated into an episode.

Related Topics: ,

Film lover and pop culture enthusiast.