As we neared the season four premiere of The Mindy Project, the big question was how the show would hold up after its move to Hulu. We’d been hearing about subtle changes Mindy Kaling and the rest of her team had planned: slightly longer episodes, a firmer three-act structure, more screen time for supporting characters, and less need to “temper everything for network television.” (Also, according to Ike Barinholtz, “full penetrative sex to open and close the episode.”) And while the season premiere was a bit longer (about 27 minutes compared to the usual 22), Hulu may be easing into the more racy stuff. All in all, though, how much has changed from last season to this one, from NBC to Hulu? Not a whole lot.
Mindy returned Tuesday morning (Hulu episodes go up at midnight, or maybe midnight-oh-one), and if no one told you about the shift to a new home, you probably wouldn’t have noticed. Other from the fact, maybe, that this season premiere was one of the show’s strongest episodes of recent history. But the transition was seamless. In fact, in regards to Kaling’s promise for the show to get a little racier, the closest thing to a line that may have ruffled some network feathers was when Mindy was quoted as having said that if she didn’t get a huge engagement ring, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who played her alternate-reality husband— more on that in a minute) could “S his own D for the rest of his L.” To which Mindy replied, “That does sound like me.” And it really did. Everyone was recognizable as the characters we’ve come to know so well over the last three years: Danny battled commitment issues and general grumpiness, Morgan was full of love and weird Taliban jokes, and, most importantly, Mindy was Mindy. Actually, other than one line of calling herself a “fat ass” (oddly out of character for a woman who’s constantly talking about how tiny she is), she was at peak Mindy. One of the show’s strongest pillars has always been its commitment to playing up its rom-com roots. And while the season two finale was the absolute pinnacle of the rom-com homage, and I truly don’t believe could ever be outdone, this episode came close.
Titled “While I Was Sleeping,” the season premiere was a Sliding Doors/It’s a Wonderful Life (“except it was in color and it wasn’t boring”) What If scenario, jumping back and forth between Danny in India, starting the exact moment the previous season ended, and Mindy in New York, in an alternate reality timeline in which she and Danny never got together, and are still just coworkers that don’t get along. In that reality, Mindy is married to a Real Housewives producer played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and while it would be hard to think of a more perfect dream man for Mindy, she doesn’t have Danny, and is therefore ultimately unhappy. Despite the extra five minutes, the episode, which was written by Kaling, stayed tight, funny, and engaging throughout. Sure, it may have taken a few minutes to get used to the excessive voiceover narration, but hopefully that was just a rom-com trope being played up for this episode and will ease off in the future. Most importantly, the episode progressed the characters farther in 27 minutes than in maybe the entirety of the last season. I’ve not made it a secret that I’m not the biggest fan of Mindy and Danny’s relationship, but while this episode may not have convinced me otherwise, it made me at least want to believe in them. As Danny, who has declared he doesn’t believe in marriage, struggled figure out what he was able to give to Mindy, and she— in an alternate reality— strove to be with Danny no matter what he had to offer, it made me care more about these two as a couple than I have in a long time.
If we were at all worried about the show staying true to its tone and its characters after the move over to Hulu, this episode should have put those fears to rest. In fact, if this episode is any indication, this may be the beginning of the upswing the show was starting to very badly need.