During the first season of "The Mindy Project," title character Dr. Mindy Lahiri told her co-worker and then-platonic verbal sparring partner Dr. Danny Castellano: "If we’re still single in five years…can we make a pact [that] we will kill each other?"
One line offered an early taste of what would become the show’s trademark sardonic twists on the traditional rom-com formula, which creator and star Mindy Kaling both loves and loves to tweak.
Some three years later, Mindy and Danny (Chris Messina) are hurtling toward marriage and parenthood, beating the mutual-murder deadline with time to spare. But in a twist Kaling probably never contemplated in 2012, the couple's affection-and-bickering-propelled path won't be unwinding on television.
"The Mindy Project" returns Tuesday on Hulu after a strong, if ratings-challenged run on Fox, which canceled the charming and quirky comedy after three seasons. Like Mindy and Danny's bumpy relationship, the show faces constant tests – including whether it can maintain and expand its audience on the paid streaming service. But the fans among us are betting that, as with the couple at the center of the sitcom, "The Mindy Project" will chart a circuitous course to happily ever after.
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"The Mindy Project" follows in the digital footsteps of "Community" and "Arrested Development" – off-kilter comedies with modest, but devoted fan bases that discovered new life beyond network television. Some shows are heading straight to streaming to find their crowd, notably Netflix's "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" and Amazon's "Transparent," two very different programs that ended up as comedy series nominees in the upcoming Emmy Awards.
At first blush, the premise of “The Mindy Project” – young doctors in love – doesn’t seem all that offbeat, at least compared to some of the other sitcoms that have found homes online. But while it arrives in a familiar package, “Mindy” chips away at the mold.
The show, much like “30 Rock,” breezes along on snappy lines with a screwball comedy cadence and contemporary, meme-friendly content (“I just need to ride out this humiliation until I find my Kanye,” Mindy once declared). But unlike like Tina Fey’s “30 Rock,” Kaling’s “The Mindy Project” also packs a deceiving emotional punch.
For many sitcoms, the birth of a baby signals the death of ideas. But in “The Mindy Project,” the show’s resonance and humor have grown with Mindy and Danny’s evolving relationship, especially with the introduction of Rhea Perlman as his old-school Staten Island mother. This season is slated not only to bring a child, but the introduction of Mindy’s parents.
Watching the relationships among the eccentric characters in Mindy’s intertwined work and personal lives unfold slowly has provided as much pleasure as the fast-paced dialogue. Hulu, in a smart move, is rolling out new episodes week-to-week, reducing the temptation for binge watching.
Kaling’s gynecologist character might live for fashion, pop culture, romance and comfort food ("I have the right to life, liberty, and chicken wings"), but she’s no ditz. Dr. Mindy Lahiri has come a long way since the debut episode in which she drunkenly pedaled a bike into a pool after an ex-boyfriend’s wedding. Check out a preview of the new season on Hulu (above), where hopes spring for a long, if not necessarily smooth ride, for "The Mindy Project."
Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.