Season premiere of The Mindy Project airs on Hulu
Last Tuesday saw the return of The Mindy Project not to our TVs, but to our computers. The show premiered its fourth season on the online streaming service Hulu.
In a perfect world, our favorite TV shows would run continuously, forever. We would never have to say goodbye to our beloved characters, or be left hanging with an unsatisfactory, last minute series wrap-up. Unfortunately, this isn’t a perfect world, and sometimes bad things happen to good shows.
Just a few years ago, low ratings and a cancellation meant the absolute end to a show. In today’s new world full of on-demand streaming sites, a network cancellation isn’t the goodbye it once was.
At FOX, The Mindy Project suffered from low ratings and an apparent lack of network support. This funny, offbeat show was often overshadowed by more prominent ones, leaving it in the dreaded cycle of low ratings, low support, and even lower ratings. Finally, after three seasons on the air and perpetual bubble status, Mindy was cancelled by FOX, and fans were left dejected.
In swoops Hulu with the save! After a few weeks of teasing and assurances that all hope was not lost, creator and star Mindy Kaling announced a partnership with Hulu that would bring the show back for a 26-episode fourth season. Episodes are to be released on a weekly basis, without the conflicts of sports or other programming that throw off schedules on network television.
The other big change is in terms of content. Kaling and the show’s team of writers are no longer bound by the same rules that officially (and unofficially) govern network television. She can be more vulgar, more direct, and more controversial and still have those aspects of the writing make it to air. But the show won’t go too far off the deep end, fellow writer and star Ike Barinholtz told the LA Times. “I think if we really changed the show too much and made it more risqué and put it more on a tilt of stuff you might find on HBO or Showtime, I think we would turn off our core viewers.”
This new freedom was apparent in season four’s first episode, "While I Was Sleeping." The episode makes a more direct homage to romantic comedies than usual, mirroring such classics as 1998’s Sliding Doors. Picking up after the season-ending fight with Danny (Chris Messina) about marriage, Mindy dreams up an alternate reality where they don’t share that titillating kiss on the plane in season two.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt guest stars as her husband in this alternate reality, where she discovers that without Danny in her life, she’s stuck in an open marriage and managing a business venture marketing “slutty girdles for the obese” — a far cry from her fertility clinic. Meanwhile, Danny has flown to India to come clean about their situation to her parents, where he ends up changing his mind about marriage as an institution. It’s a fairly formulaic plot line, with the predictable ending that has both of them reversing their positions — but winding up engaged anyways.
Along the way we get snapshots of what this new venture may look like. Characters have the freedom to be a little more direct in their crudeness, such as when Morgan (Barinholtz) claims he went to Pakistan first in his search for Danny, and that the Taliban attempted to recruit him. Not really offensive, but not-PC enough to be noticeable.
This week’s episode also went a step further than it had in the past about sexuality, making more overt references to sexual positions and acts than would have been allowed on a network. The question left in viewers’ minds is whether this is the new normal or if Kaling is just beginning to flex her new muscle.
Change is good, and Kaling deserves to have her writing and style be supported by her “network,” but going too far off the map could alienate viewers. For instance, this episode also featured a very heavy voiceover by Kaling’s character. At times, this was helpful since she didn’t have her normal people to bounce her thoughts off of. Here, the viewer replaced someone like Morgan or Danny, becoming the sounding board for her reactions.
At times though, the voiceover was just annoying and felt like a way for Kaling to push the envelope — even if she didn’t necessarily have to. At a few points, she even did so to the point of alienating her character, wondering to herself why Levitt’s character would want to “marry [her] fat ass.”
Kaling’s character has consistently toed the line of being self-confident, but also aware of her body issues. Throughout the show’s run, she’s made it clear that while she has insecurities about her weight, she also firmly believes that she is smoking hot and any guy would be lucky to have her.
So the idea that she would suddenly wonder why an attractive, wealthy man would want to be with her, simply because she thinks she’s fat, is unsettling to the viewer. Maybe, hopefully, this is a byproduct of what’s intended to be an internal monologue, which won’t be present for the rest of the season.
Change is good, and changing the content of the show’s writing could be great. But changing the tone and radically changing characters would be a disappointment.