‘The Mindy Project’ Says A Romantic Farewell With ‘It Had To Be You’

A few thoughts on The Mindy Project series finale, and the show as a whole, coming up just as soon as I turn this meeting into a no-kill shelter…

The Mindy Project began as the story of a woman who had devoted too much of her emotional life to romantic comedies, and learned all the wrong lessons from them. Over these six seasons, it evolved into something more — and occasionally less, since when all else failed it was content to exist as a rapid joke delivery system that would sell out characters and stories for punchlines, which would have been more annoying if the punchlines weren’t usually so sharp — and along the way churned through a ton of swell comic actors, some of whom it knew what to do with (Adam Pally, Garret Dillahunt), some not (Stephen Tobolowky, Anna Camp). The show evolved, and many of the characters evolved, including the ever-transforming Jeremy (the only character other than Mindy to stick around from the pilot to the last episode, though Ed Weeks was occasionally absent to do things like the shot-on-film The Leisure Class), who had one last metamorphosis in him for the finale, leading to this fine moment in closed captioning:

But the core of the show going back to that first episode was Mindy and Danny as a next-gen version of Sally and Harry, or Diane and Sam, or Maddie and David, or any of the other iconic opposites-attract, will-they-or-won’t-they pairings that so thrilled the young Mindy Lahiri. The show ran aground at times in these later Hulu seasons because Chris Messina was off doing movies, which necessitated not only an ugly breakup of Mindy and Danny’s relationship, but a lot of hit-or-miss later love interests (Jodie was great as a comic foil for Mindy, much less convincing as another old-fashioned jerk who was smitten with her) who were all clearly just marking time until this episode.

The episode was titled “It Had To Be You,” which was the most famous of Harry Connick Jr’s covers from the When Harry Met Sally soundtrack, but which has also appeared in different forms in some classic films like Casablanca and Annie Hall where the main couple doesn’t end up together. So there could have been a version of the finale where Danny helps Mindy save the fertility practice but they remain platonic co-parents, but… come on. This is Mindy we’re talking about — both Lahiri and Kaling — and it felt good and true to go for the happier ending, with plenty of full-circle moments drawn from that long-ago pilot.

But “It Had To Be You” was smart about its callbacks, and about how the rom-com tropes played out here. Mindy’s not the hot mess she was six years ago (the show was originally even going to be called It’s Messy), so when she sprints out of Morgan and Tamra’s wedding, it’s not to flee humiliation, but to declare her love for Danny. (And she avoids riding the bike into the pool this time.) And even when she gets to the hospital, sweaty and out of breath (just like Harry when he runs to Sally on New Year’s Eve), it doesn’t become a grand romantic gesture, because Danny’s too oblivious to realize that’s what she’s trying to do. Instead, it’s a smaller, quieter, more honest scene the two share after he rescues her from being trapped in the vending machine. There are still eloquent words and a big kiss, but it’s not the way the movie version of Mindy Lahiri’s life would go. It’s two grown-ups talking, and recognizing that each of them has changed from the people they were when they broke up (Danny especially, since he needed to change more after his initial response to the fertility business).

They still argue, because they’re still fundamental opposites, and maybe they’ll make each other miserable within a month after this reconciliation, but they get to kiss and then sit on the couch to watch TV like the boring but happy middle-aged people they are (not that Mindy would ever tolerate being described that way, what with her barely being a teen mom and all). And the choice of Chromatics’ cover of “I’m On Fire” over the conclusion was a perfect song choice, calling back to the pilot (where Mindy and Danny argued over his love of Springsteen) and to the time Danny raced to the Empire State Building to the tune of “Dancing in the Dark,” while giving an old song by the Boss a more modern and female sound — Danny’s music, but a version that Mindy might enjoy listening to.

I fell in and out of the Hulu version of the show, but this was a very nice finale, not only for the closure on the main couple, but for giving the rest of the cast their farewell moments, from Morgan loving Cousin Lou’s terrible wedding remarks to most of the staff (even Anna) doing the dance with Morgan for Tamra.

Like that original title, The Mindy Project was messy, but when it worked, boy was it fun.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@uproxx.com. He discusses television weekly on the TV Avalanche podcast. His new book, Breaking Bad 101, is on sale now.