‘The Mindy Project’ Returns Without Backing Down From Its Midseason Drama

The Mindy Project has undergone drastic changes since its pilot episode. The first season was its the breeziest, with the focus mainly on a revolving door of Mindy’s (Mindy Kaling) dates and her relationships with her best girlfriends and a diverse band of coworkers. Since then, the girlfriends have been axed (we hardly knew ye, Anna Camp), Mindy and Danny (Chris Messina) headed into uneasy monogamy, and the only coworkers who seem to get any airtime are Morgan (Ike Barinholtz) and Jody (Garret Dillahunt), a new addition this season. Some of the changes worked better than others, but while the show’s highs are very high indeed, even fans have to admit that it’s often a bumpy ride.

However, when The Mindy Project made the transition from Fox to Hulu, the show began to move in an intriguing new direction. Though it still occasionally feels like a live-action cartoon — this is a show where Morgan once wrapped Mindy up in a greasy pizza box to calm her down — it’s also taken a surprisingly realistic look at a relationship between two strong personalities. As Mindy and Danny inched their way to the altar, it became clear that no matter how much these two people cared about each other, they were apparently too different to remain a functional couple. In the mid-season finale, “When Danny Met Mindy,”  after Danny refused to compromise on Mindy’s desire to continue working at her new fertility clinic, it looked like Mindy was moving out and choosing a life of single motherhood instead of denying what she wanted out of life to become a Castellano.

A different show would have had Danny rush to her apartment, make a grand speech about how he will do anything not to lose her, and there would be a swoon-inducing kiss and heartfelt reconciliation. However, The Mindy Project is not that show, as its midseason premiere, “Will They or Won’t They,” confirms. Despite utilizing the standard rom-com trope, the relationship montage, it soon becomes clear that the breakup hinted at in the finale was going to stick. Mindy and Danny fall into familiar patterns (and bed) together, but Danny still resents Mindy for “choosing her job over us having a happy family,” and Mindy isn’t willing to put aside her dreams to be a stay-at-home mom. There aren’t any easy answers here, and Kaling is smart not to vilify either choice. Neither are wrong, it’s just a difference in personality and goals. It may be easy to blame Danny for trying to stifle Mindy, but she’s known he’s a traditional Catholic guy since day one. The fact that he would want his wife to stay home and have more children shouldn’t be a surprise, but Danny’s consternation over Mindy’s unwillingness to simply toss aside her new and thriving business is also misguided.

While there is still a deep bond and sexual chemistry, the two come to the mature decision to co-parent separately. Though it’s impossible to rule out a future reconciliation (it is a romcom after all), the idea of Mindy navigating life as a single mother should add an interesting dynamic to the show. Mindy has always been an inherently selfish character, so watching her grow as a mother will be a good way to add layers to her character. Additionally, throwing her back into the dating pool would be a good way to explore new dimensions of her character. Dating as a single mother and a business owner will look drastically different than it did in season one. But more importantly, this break from Danny gives the show a great opportunity to focus on one of the aspects of the show that really works: Mindy as a successful doctor and business owner. She may love bear claws more than most people and dress like a Real Housewife, but Mindy has always first and foremost been good at her job and focused on women’s health. The conflict between her natural self confidence and anxiety about raising her child could create a unique dichotomy on the show.

Mindy tackling life as a single mother would also be a great opportunity for the show to refocus on Mindy’s female friendships. For a character who once proclaimed that “best friend is a tier,” Mindy has shed nearly all of her female friendships in favor of more male-centric work relationships. For a show with a female creator and showrunner, it does skew awfully masculine. Kaling certainly isn’t responsible for changing the television landscape, but it could be an interesting direction for the show to go in.

Either way, I hope that The Mindy Project continues to refocus on its heroine instead of only who she is within her relationship with Danny. Sure, it’s sad when a couple breaks up, but despite the romcom trappings, The Mindy Project recognizes that change is often inevitable. As it reinvents itself once again, The Mindy Project has a chance to become something truly unique.