Returning shows are to the fall TV lineup what The Phantom of the Opera is to Broadway: unglamorous and ignored by critics, but a reliable known quantity that many people still actively seek out. The only time most established shows are discussed is when the following year’s schedule is announced, and then all anyone seems interested in is whether they were renewed or canceled.
In May, The Mindy Project was killed by Fox only to be brought back from the dead by Hulu, where Season 4 premieres on Sept. 15. (Hulu will dole out the 26 episodes on Tuesdays, old-school television-style.) When shows are revived by streaming services, only two questions really matter: Has the show changed much in the move from broadcast to streaming, and did it deserve to be saved?
Since Season 4 begins at the exact moment where Season 3 ended—with Danny Castellano (Chris Messina), Mindy Lahiri’s boyfriend and father of the child she’s carrying, knocking on the door of her parents’ apartment in Mumbai, India—the answer to the first question is no. The Hulu version of The Mindy Project is like the Fox version of The Mindy Project, except the running time might vary a little from week to week; we won’t know how many people are watching; and there’s no chance of an early cancelation.
Otherwise, the show is as smart, funny, and frustrating as ever. It makes me laugh and leaves me feeling like a pop-culture mastermind for picking up on its many sneaky allusions and name-drops, but it also drives me crazy. Sometimes Mindy Lahiri is a superconfident, hypercompetent physician who thinks she looks like Frieda Pinto (she’s beautiful, but she doesn’t), and sometimes she’s an immature idiot who commits a fireable offense every time she walks into the office. At times Danny is sweet and loving, at others he’s a narrow-minded momma’s boy whose ignorance of Mindy’s culture borders on racist. (Though his Staten Islander’s hatred of all things Bostonian—other than Mindy—feels like a bigger threat to their relationship’s long-term survival.)
For three seasons, I wondered if these wild swings were the result of inconsistent characterization or if Mindy Kaling (who is also the showrunner) was trying to demonstrate that we’re all a combination of sweet, sour, and intensely irritating. I’ve concluded that it’s the latter. Mindy’s terrible taste—she wants to replace Danny’s gorgeous grand piano with her South Park pinball machine—and Danny’s cultural insensitivity are their realest qualities. They’re also how we know they deserve each other.
In the Season 4 premiere, we finally meet Mindy’s mother and father, and together they unlock one of the show’s greatest mysteries: Her mom is absurdly overconfident; her father is outrageously indulgent. That explains Mindy’s peculiar personality.
While Danny is off in India meeting the parents, Mindy is living out a Sliding Doors fantasy in New York, in which she awakes to find herself in an apartment so luxurious that she wonders, “Did I break into Mariah Carey’s penthouse and fall asleep again?” In this alternate universe, where Mindy and Danny are just bickering co-workers, she shares that slick Gramercy Park pad with her husband, Matt, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a Real Housewives producer straight out of her rom-com dreams.
Who knows if Fox would’ve green-lit a potentially confusing body-switch storyline in a season premiere—but it seems unlikely, given broadcasters’ need to attract millions of viewers to their commercials. That the first Hulu episode should both keep the Danny plot moving and incorporate a high-concept supernatural element speaks volumes for the company’s interest in doing more than just keeping the show ticking along—and for Kaling’s ambition. That answers the second question: The show definitely deserved to be saved.