Mindy Kaling’s hopes for “The Mindy Project” were rather simple at the beginning: Let it be funny. Now that the comedy has hit 100 episodes as of Tuesday, Kaling believes she she has accomplished that goal.
“I don’t think I’ve changed that much. I was certainly more nervous when we started just because I wanted to stay on the air,” Kaling told IndieWire. “I didn’t know how densely packed with jokes it would be. I’m really proud of that. Coming from ‘The Office,’ I knew that you can’t really predict what is going to work and what isn’t at the very beginning. You have to just let the show reveal itself to you as it airs.”
Beth Grant, who plays Beverly in the series, had a good feeling about the show’s chances because of Kaling. “I loved her on ‘The Office,’ but this was her voice, and it was a female voice, and it was irreverent and she was authentic,” said Grant. “She laid on the floor, which I’ve done in my office, and I’ve seen other women do that. It’s something that we do. We take a little nap, or we just get overwhelmed … I knew that I was in the presence of greatness with her. You can feel it, when everybody’s in the flow, and I got this feeling. It’s the same way I felt when I did the first episode of ‘Friends.’”
The series stars Kaling as Dr. Mindy Lahiri, whose smarts as an OB/GYN are only matched by her bubbly, superficial nature and thirst for second-hand fame. She nevertheless has a certain unfiltered charm, as evidenced by the long list of men that she’s dated on the show. The comedy is bright — both in attitude and palette — and combines elements of rom-com, slapstick and even a bit of fantasy. Its humor and positivity have attracted “The Mindy Project” guest stars ranging from pop culture favorites like Ne-Yo and Kris Jenner to indie darlings like Lee Pace, Greta Gerwig and Freida Pinto.
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The Evolution of Mindy
Over the years and through her relationships, Mindy has also evolved. “The process is not finished, but I feel like she’s learned what it means to have the kind of romantic sensibility that she has and what it’s like to get the very thing that she’s dreamed about,” executive producer Matt Warburton said. “It was a surprise for all of us and for the character that she met the perfect guy and it didn’t work out. That was not how the movie of her life was going to play out. I think part of the character growing up is like balancing two things: one is being more mature and more realistic about where life is taking you, and on the other hand, not losing that sort of magical sense of possibility that makes her what she is.”
The series literally played with the magical possibilities when it transitioned from broadcasting on Fox for three seasons to streaming on Hulu. While the show has always had elements of fantasy in the types of heightened, silly circumstances in which Mindy would find herself, the Season 4 premiere placed her in an alternate reality married to Matt (guest star Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a producer of one of Bravo’s reality series. The experimental plot was the perfect way for the show to exercise its creative freedom in its Hulu debut.
“We were allowed to make the show a little longer if we wanted to,” Warburton said. “We could go back to a more traditional three-act structure for the show, which … from a writing standpoint, it makes it much easier to tell a story in three acts than [in] four. To be able to be a little more risque sometimes or a little more edgy in non-offensive ways, just more political and more fun and not have to worry about pushback.
“Getting to do a couple fantasy episodes is something we want to do more of. We’re going to do at least two this season,” he added. “We wanted to do an episode where Mindy wakes up as a white man. Mindy’s sensibility is throughout but as an actress she’s not there for a lot of it. I don’t know if we’ve announced who the guy is, but we’ve gotten a really funny comedy actor [to play the white man].”
The Look of Mindy Lahiri
Adding to the show’s fantastical feel is Mindy’s wardrobe, a happy, eye-catching wash of colors, cute styling and fun textiles that reflects her sprightly outlook on life. Mindy’s ensembles include touches like bright primary colors, Peter Pan collars, large floral prints, custom-made matching coats and equally stunning handbags.
Costume Designers Guild president Salvador Perez, whose credits include “Veronica Mars” and the “Pitch Perfect” films, had to be convinced to outfit the show. “I thought it was going to be a show about lab coats and scrubs, and I’m like, ‘I don’t want to do that show,’” he admitted. “Mindy was like, ‘No, I want to do aspirational. I want to push fashion.’ And I love that.”
The strategy worked and earned Perez an Emmy nomination last season. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Instagram followers keen to see what look he’ll create. Said Kaling: “I didn’t anticipate the reaction to the fashion component of the show. My character says some outrageous things and can act terribly, but her fashion is always on point. It’s actually a very important way that she expresses her confidence, which is unbelievably fun to play as an actor.”
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Mindy’s fashion sense has also evolved since the first two seasons that played it safe with simple color-blocked outfits. “Then, as I pushed the envelope, and I tested the waters, and the reaction was great, in Season 3 you see where there were no boundaries,” Perez said. Even having baby Leo in Season 4 didn’t slow Mindy down. In fact, she amped up her style. “We really made her much more fabulous. It’s like you don’t have to be a t-shirt and sweats mom. It’s not realistic but this is heightened reality,” said Perez.
“I love the ‘Annie Hall’-inspired tweed skirt suit Sal designed for me for the Season 2 finale,” she said when selecting her favorite looks. “I had to run up the stairs of the Empire State Building in that, so it was a cinematic look for a cinematic scene. I also love the look Mindy wore when she goes into labor on the subway. It’s another beautiful custom-made coat and dress. There are so many. Sal reads all the scripts with an eye for moments that will be iconic to the series and builds costumes around those moments.”
The 100th Episode
Mindy is certain to have some killer fashion moments in Tuesday’s 100th episode, which also serves as the midseason finale. In the spirit of looking back, three of Mindy’s ex-boyfriends – played by B.J. Novak, Tommy Dewey and Anders Holm – return for the occasion. She also comes to a crossroads with her current boyfriend Ben (Bryan Greenberg), who has the opportunity to be a guest-nurse on a segment of the “Today” show.
“It’s all about Mindy struggling with the opportunity to be tertiary famous for a moment,” said co-star Ike Barinholtz, who plays Morgan. “That world, that color on Mindy is my personal favorite.”
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Mindy still has far to go in terms of personal growth, and that’s what will determine the series’ end game. “We’re closer to the end than the beginning at this point,” said Warburton. “This season we’re going to see Mindy make a couple big moves that she hasn’t yet in her life. Whenever we get to the point where we feel like we’ve done all of those big moves, we’ll know it’s time to start finishing. But we’re not there yet. Whenever the show ends we want to make sure that we’ve told the complete story and make the audience know that the character is going to be okay.”
Barinholtz easily sees another five seasons in “The Mindy Project’s” future. “Mindy said to me not too long ago, ‘How long should we do the show?’ I said, ‘I don’t know — 10 years?’ It’s very rare where you get to work with people long enough where you know I’d say 70 percent of our crew has been here since the beginning, and that’s a lot,” he said. “If I could do 100 more, and even though Morgan would probably be in his mid-40s at that point, I would be charmed. He’d be the exact same, almost no growth.”
“The Mindy Project’s” 100th episode and Season 5 midseason finale streams on Hulu on Tuesday.