Fox demonstrated some good faith in Mindy Kaling’s The Mindy Project in November by ordering additional episodes for its third season, rounding out its number to 21. That’s great, and fans like myself hope for more. But even if the series doesn’t see a Season Four, it will go out on top. That’s because Kaling’s character Mindy Lahiri is one of the most influential and inspirational female characters on TV.
Yes, the nude photo-sending, tax-evading gynecologist is an inspiration. Why? Confidence.
After recorrecting a bit from its original premise — remember when Mindy was having casual sex with Jeremy and was a little grating on the nerves? — and finding its comedic stride, Mindy now routinely delivers well-paced episodes packed with a light mood and sharp one-liners, a la 30 Rock. The shows even have a similar character breakdown: We’ve got the heroine, who is smart and successful but also prone to hyperbole and mishaps (Mindy/Liz); a conservative curmudgeonly New Yorker you can’t help but love (Danny/Jack); and then a supporting cast of colleagues whose hijinks fill B plots and who are perfect for dropping jokes so quickly you’re likely to miss a few.
Mindy, truly, is more a combination of 30’s Liz (Tina Fey) and Jenna (Jane Krakowski). She began with Liz’s unlucky in love streak but always has maintained a sense of style and self-grandiosity akin to Jenna. Mindy and Liz are both self-deprecating and often do and say the wrong thing, but here is where the two characters diverge: Mindy quickly became in control of her life, especially her romantic life. Perhaps this direction can be chalked up to Kaling and her writers moving the plot at a faster pace in preparation of an always-threatening cancellation. But that assumption isn’t fair to the impressive work Kaling has done developing both Mindy and Mindy.
Mindy turned away from pining over exes and going on bad dates to experiencing important and long-term relationships. Thankfully, Kaling and Co. didn’t prolong the inevitable and brought Mindy and Danny together at the end of Season Two, using this third season to explore their relationship in amusing ways. This is important; getting together is just the beginning, after all, and shouldn’t always be left as the end goal in a story. Mindy is silly in her own ways, but so is Danny. There’s a careful balance here; they each have to deal with the other’s bad habits and long-held judgements, not to mention quirks. Developing Danny into an eyeglass-wearing nerd reminds me of the rapport of Parks and Recreation’s Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt, each loving the other, idiosyncrasies and all.
Leslie makes it known early and often how much she loves and craves Ben (especially his butt), but Kaling has upped the sexual ante to a level Amy Poehler hasn’t touched. She began Season Three by bringing us the Full Messina — Danny’s striptease for Mindy put her in control. She was gazing at him. We’ve never seen Mindy shy about liking and wanting sex, and the show has only ramped up the kinky as the season has worn on.
A highlight came in Episode 5, “The Devil Wears Land’s End.” Pulled over on the side of a road by a cop, Mindy hysterical-fake-cried her way out of a ticket as Danny watched. Afterward, she wondered if she deserved a reward for her performance. He was happy to oblige.
Cunnilingus — even just the allusion to it — often is relegated to premium cable, so it’s presence here (as well as on Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder) is a definite change of pace for network TV. Episode 4, “I Slipped,” made waves for its hilarious take on anal sex. Episode 9, “How to Lose a Mom in 10 Days,” saw Mindy convincing Danny to join her for a romantic bubble bath. (Cosmo said it was the No. 9 way to have a horny autumn!) It went from him feeling like he was in a BABYBJÖRN to just right.
Most importantly, this week in Episode 10, “What About Peter,” we saw the two of them address their future together. Mindy is all in, but she isn’t about to give Danny an ultimatum. As he admitted he was scared, she was calm and collected.
Mindy: “I just wanna be with someone who’s as excited and certain as I am about our future. And if you’re not, that’s fine. Just let me know. Because, honestly, I’m gonna be fine no matter what happens.”
Danny: “You will? Hold on, hold on. What if I wanna move in with you?”
Mindy: “Well then, you should ask me sometime when you’re not really, really nervous.”
Perfect. She’s gonna be fine, no matter what happens. Rarely is this level of confidence seen in a TV heroine. Often, women are usually one or the other — flighty, silly, ridiculous, needy on one hand, or cold, bitchy, perfectionist, unreachable on the other. Mindy is a bit of everything. Even in her silliness, she’s real — because people are silly! So she loves wearing tight clothing, sending nude photos to her boyfriend, and this week imagined decorating an apartment with a “Strawberry-Shortcake-meets-Saddam’s-palace vibe.” She can do all those things and still be intelligent, still demand an even playing field in the relationship. She can have her steak — and her boyfriend’s steak, too.
It’s not like Danny’s bad Borat impressions and penchant for watching The Weather Channel for fun make him less of a man.
Mindy Lahiri is a welcome heroine. We need more characters like her — and more show runners and actresses like Mindy Kaling — on TV.
Sarah Carlson is Television Editor for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter.