Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Stuff of Rom-Coms: Anne Bids Goodbye to The Mindy Project

Welcome to the end of The Mindy Project.

I’ve told this story several times, but if you’re a fan of The Mindy Project, perhaps you’re a fan of redundancy. I started watching The Mindy Project in spring of 2012 with the episode “Pretty Man.” I was taken away immediately when Danny and Mindy were stuck in the shower together. I was obsessed with the show throughout its first and second seasons — so obsessed that I got written up once for yelling too loudly after an episode (can you guess which one?) in my college’s common room.

But now I am out of college, and now The Mindy Project too has hit an end: six seasons and 117 episodes later. If I’m not mistaken I did, in fact, watch all 117. Before I get into my review of The Mindy Project’s series (!) finale, “It Had to Be You,” allow me to say this first:

I attribute The Mindy Project to a lot of great things in my life. It influenced a huge event in my first year of college, it helped me make friends both online and off, and above all made me comfortable. When I watched the fourth, fifth, and beginning-of-sixth seasons of this show, I watched them all in a single day while I was honestly kind of heartbroken. I don’t know if I laughed as much as I would have if the same thing happened in 2013, or even cared so much. But with the additions of Jody, Colette, and Ben, I still have to admit that this show is above and beyond a comfortable show. For all of its problems, it equally succeeded in empathy for its protagonist, Mindy Lahiri — enough so that you cared (enough) about her loves, her career, and her family to continue watching.

The show always had a revolving door of characters. At its best, this was a good thing, and in the finale, you can see the strength of this decision; cousin Lou was a fun character to bring, and we had the supreme luxury of seeing both Cliff and Casey in preparation for the finale. The Mindy Project, above all else, loved to drive home the fact that Mindy’s life was one filled with a vast array of characters. And think of how many sitcoms where you honestly don’t think they meet anyone else outside of their one current situation (think of how many of the Friends hooked up with each other!).

I also appreciate the romantic ideology of the show. Mindy Lahiri rarely suffered rejection outright from the array of absolutely handsome suitors who came knocking at her door. (Yo, Timothy Olyphant much?) Yet the best part of a romantic comedy, for me — an ardent romantic comedy fan — is, in my opinion, the most important part of the romantic comedy. At its heart the joy of a romantic comedy is two people making each other better through knowing each other. (In some romantic comedies, unfortunately, this effect is one-sided.) But there’s something charming about our relationships giving our own lives meaning — making us better, fuller, and challenging us along the way so that this process never ends.

“You know that you’re right for someone when they force you to be the best version of yourself,” Danny said in an episode a long time ago. (I don’t know how I remembered that! Must have been the 200 times I watched it.)  In the finale of this show, we see that technically coming to fruition for Danny. Wasn’t it a few episodes ago where he said that Mindy “had a good effect” on him? Same thing.

Of course, The Mindy Project maintains the feminist-forward thinking as it always has. Mindy Lahiri does not get forced by Danny Castellano to be the best version of herself. If anything, she is the one forcing herself into difficult situations to improve. She rejects a relationship with Jody that in so many ways resembles the one she had with Danny — thereby rejecting the simple solution. She raises her child on her own, even breaking up with one of her most attractive boyfriends because he is not enough invested in her desire for family. She begins a fertility clinic, acting against Danny’s wishes, that the finale assures me is very successful. She begins a relationship with an undramatic guy who shares her values, and makes another mature decision by breaking up with him when she realizes that her heart just isn’t in the relationship. R.I.P. Ben, but it’s been proven time and again that Mindy does not adhere to improvement from a man making her better. She’s the one putting in the effort.

I’m very content that Mindy and Danny ended up together. Did we want anything else, given the complicated logistics of the show? I will always maintain that the show lost a huge, huge piece of its puzzle when it lost Danny. Dot and Annette and Richie all appear in the finale, demonstrating the (relative) staying power of the Castellanos. And the problem I think the show will never solve is that for all the improvement we’ve seen from Mindy, there’s a huge dearth we experience while looking at Danny, who — cumulative — must have been on the show for 20 minutes or less since being written out in the fourth season of six. Some leading guy.

I’m content, I guess, because from one vantage, The Mindy Project accomplished what it wanted to. It is not, after all, The Mindy and Danny Project. We know Mindy’s capable of change, as I’ve outlined. We know Danny’s not a perfect guy, as the first four seasons told us. In an indirect way, we know that Mindy will be fine, just as we also know she’s not getting punished by ending up with an “on-paper perfect guy” (Ben) and know that she doesn’t have as much to lose as we might have initially thought if she and Danny hit another snag in the road. She will be fine; the guy on her arm is just a bonus.

It’s logistically right. As a viewer, it can be a little bit cold in our stomachs, though. Danny’s redemption is by no way earned, because he lost a lot of his dimension by leaving so early in the show. That cold feeling is substantiated by the major blind eye the show took in developing any other character or relationship. Beverly had one episode, I guess Colette and Karen had a fling (totally unresolved, huh?), Anna and Jeremy happened and didn’t happen and then happened again within the span of a few episodes. Tamra and Morgan have been a huge mystery of the show. You get the feeling these people are together because the show didn’t want to spend its “extra people” budget on anyone who wasn’t going to date Mindy. (Hey, remember that handsome intern Tamra took out on a date when Niecy Nash was still around? Hey, remember Niecy Nash?)

The finale is so integral to how I will view the show as I now have to live without new episodes. (This, obviously, is no longer a major heart-breaker for me. Sorry show.) It’s integral because the final represents a lot of what I cared about and didn’t care about with The Mindy Project. It’s romantic, it’s smart, and I did laugh a few times. However, it’s fast-paced and ignorant of the need to substantiate secondary characters and their relationships — otherwise, it is a chore to get through.

This was always something the show struggled with, though, even in the second season. I always felt that I was justifying weaknesses on this end even as I fell head over heels for Danny and Mindy (I love me a good TV romance!). It never made me care that much about any of the office, and never really got me to believe that anyone in the office could plausibly be that close because their motivations were hardly sketched beyond the punchline they could provide.

But, I mean. The show missed major opportunities to make its finale feel earned, and in a lot of ways, it did take the easy route. Still, I would be lying if I did not say I loved “Want to Want Me” from the ensemble, or if I didn’t love the parallels to the pilot with Mindy riding a bike, or if I did not absolutely adore all of the music and outfits chosen. The Mindy Project was as flashy as it was cozy, with beautiful fashion, BeyoncĂ© and Jeremih and others chosen for pivotal moments (and, not to mention, my all-time favorite song as the show’s last — “I’m on Fire,” originally by Bruce Springsteen), with jokes that made good one-liners at its best, with a beautiful and totally game cast, with inventive rehashes of the best rom-com plots. Technically, it was never exemplary, beyond the chemistry it brought to the screen. But what is love if not often irrational?

So as I say goodbye to The Mindy Project, which was a huge frustration for me for several years (got me in trouble a few times if I recall correctly) but was also a major obsession as well... as I think about how many friends I made as a result of this show — including this sweet gig with Jenn who is just the best — as I take it from its eagle-eyed view of an ambitious career woman learning to love herself fully before she could ever love someone else. I mean, I had problems with the finale and even more with the show as a whole.

But now I am saying goodbye to a messy, funny, and ultimately pivotal part of my life for so many years. So allow me to say: I love you, The Mindy Project.


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