“The Mindy Project” is attempting something pretty bold for a sitcom: The main couple got together, and stayed together. Many shows take the Ross and Rachel route, and try “will they/won’t they” couples before breaking them up (see: “New Girl”), but so far, Mindy and beau Danny have been working out their differences.
“Mindy’s a very wild character and she has very strong opinions, but they both just kind of want to make it work,” says show creator and star Mindy Kaling. “Relationships work because people want to make it work even if they’re difficult people. It also just makes them really entertaining.”
The duo has faced such challenges as Danny’s intensely close relationship with his mother and Mindy getting a little ahead of herself in terms of where their relationship is, but they’re now facing their biggest challenge yet. Mindy accepted a fellowship on the west coast, and they’re now making it work long distance.
Asked if the show’s writers intentionally decided to focus on Mindy’s career now that her love life is relatively stable, Kaling jokes “Thank you for giving us the credit to know that we’re that planned out,” before going on to say, “We just think, ‘What’s exciting to us?’ Mindy had started taking interns under her wing, and I really liked that dynamic. I like when Mindy is bossy, but it’s because she’s competent, not because she’s just being bossy.”
Kaling took a little inspiration from her last job when planning out the Stanford arc. “We had an arc in ‘The Office’ called the Michael Scott Paper Company that was one of my favorite arcs. You don’t always see professional ambition in TV characters, to that was really fun to do.”
Part of the fun of writing the relationship between Mindy and Danny has been letting co-star Chris Messina shine. “I feel like Chris used to be a straight man for my character in like the first four episodes. More and more, my favorite scenes are the ones where Mindy is like, ‘Hey man, are you OK?’ Where Mindy’s the straight man,” says Kaling. “Chris is so talented. I love that in one episode he can be a complete heartthrob but then also a walking physical comedy setpiece. It’s awesome.”
Kaling points out that part of the characters’ commitment to staying together has to do with their age — people in their 30s are a little less likely to break up over frivolous reasons. “The long distance puts a strain on [the relationship], but also it brings out some really interesting and loving sides to them, which has been fun to play.”
The show has had some changes in the makeup of the cast, but one recent one has Kaling extra sad: the imminent departure of Adam Pally. Don’t expect anyone to jump back in to take his place right away, though. “We can’t really replace Pally. He’s so funny and he’s so woven into the fabric of the show. Mindy and him are such close friends that we definitely wouldn’t want to replace anyone with his energy, which is so rare. It’s kind of like incredibly sweet frat boy a—.”
Kaling does promise that the office won’t just pretend he never worked there, though. “We have a whole thing about replacing the doctor — the hole that he left — so that’s going to be a nice arc.”