The Mindy Project has always been a roller coaster ride of reinvention—casually discarding plot lines along with characters in a desperate attempt to find its groove. At the end of Season 2, it tried to settle down—forgoing Mindy’s rotating cast of guest-star boyfriends for a steady relationship with co-worker Danny (Chris Messina), and culminating in a rooftop scene on the Empire State Building in an homage to Sleepless in Seattle (in an episode that also paid tribute to You’ve Got Mail). But, even after Tuesday night’s finale, the pregnancy plot has become the weakest part of the show.
It’s always difficult for a sitcom when the central will-they-or-won’t-they characters decide that they, in fact, will. Recently, New Girl tipped two of its core relationships into this zone, whereas Parks and Recreation managed to make Leslie and Ben’s marriage one of the most endearing parts of the show. In the case of Mindy, the main relationship gave the show the stability it was so greatly lacking. We finally had a central plot to follow and a consistent character in Mindy’s life—someone to play the straight man to her impossibly eccentric, politically incorrect, and yet wildly successful doctor.
Once they became a couple—which is how most of the rom-coms that inspired both showrunner Mindy and her fictional TV alter-ego end—the show had to work hard to sustain its intrigue. There were long-distance obstacles and taunts of other suitors, but midway through the third season, the show took the sitcom clichés to the next level: It introduced Mindy’s pregnancy. For a show that, in theory, though rarely in plot, takes place in an OB-GYN office, this could have been fertile ground for storylines. And for a show with a subversive, highly self-aware take on feminism, written by a strong female role model, there was one topic in particular that many fans were eager to see addressed: abortion.
But the Season 3 finale focused very little on the baby—it hinged on Peter’s (the apparently not really gone Adam Pally) wedding and a very clumsily introduced plot about Danny meeting Mindy’s parents. Mindy’s brother Rishi, played by Utkarsh Ambudkar, has been a recurring guest star on the show—he’s even working in Mindy’s clearly-not-at-all-time-consuming fertility clinic—and Danny’s family has become central to the plot, with his mother, played by Rhea Pearlman, pretty much a guaranteed appearance. But we’ve never met Mindy’s parents—and we didn’t in the finale. And neither did Danny. Because Danny got uncharacteristically cold feet.
Danny’s romanticism has become one of the show’s greatest strengths. (Honestly, let’s just watch him dance, again and again.) So it was frustrating to see the show veer in a direction that not only felt contrived, but also untrue to the character—just to have him snap back into shape in the finale’s final minutes. When there’s so much substance to discuss, and so much at stake, there’s no reason for the finale to suddenly turn away from a pregnancy the show has spent a season building up. Danny’s hesitance to meet Mindy’s parents was so confusingly unexpected that it reverted back to the whiplash I felt watching Season 1. Let alone the equally complicated reveal that the compulsively oversharing Mindy has all of a sudden decided that, at 34, she doesn’t want to introduce her parents to yet another guy. Mindy! You are having a baby together!
Of course, we do see Mindy finally go to a new OB-GYN, played spectacularly but also incredibly strangely with a Ukrainian accent by Laura Dern. After a spattering of fat/old jokes (“You are high risk. Because of, how you say, fat? And much age”) we find out that Mindy has preeclampsia and can’t fly to Peter’s wedding (where she was to be best man for other Mindy-like reasons). That’s pretty much it.
As Heather Schwedel wrote in Slate last month, introducing Mindy’s pregnancy was a questionable decision, one that swerved drastically from what made the show so enjoyable: How confidently it embraced its low stakes. But the lack of any serious abortion talk and the casual way Mindy’s pregnancy was introduced wouldn’t have been a real problem if the show chose to actually deal with her pregnancy, or her decision to start a fertility clinic (a major plot point in the first half of the season that was also casually swept away in this finale) in any real way—or any way at all.
Ulitmately, Mindy’s pregnancy felt like a wasted opportunity: a device designed merely as an easily-conquered hurdle for the Danny-Mindy relationship, a wild narrative stunt rather than a real, interesting plot to wrestle with. It could have been a genuinely trailblazing sitcom storyline, and Kaling seemed like just the writer to take it on. If the show comes back for Season 4, maybe she still can.