There are two types of people in the world: those who love Mindy Kaling and everyone who’s not hanging out with her.
Season 4 Premiere
For her fans, “The Mindy Project” star, who first stepped onto the TV scene in “The Office,” is a sort of magical hybrid between Amy Schumer (“Inside Amy Schumer”) and Tina Fey (“30 Rock”) — an honest, oversexed pop culture queen and witty genius. But for her haters, Kaling is a bit whiny and self-absorbed — and judging from her memoirs, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” and “Why Not Me?” — or her character’s insistence in season four that a “Southpark” pinball machine deserves floor space over a grand piano, they have a fair argument.
But despite her mixed reception among the public, critics adore her. Kaling was named in Time Magazine’s “Top 100 Most Influential People” in 2012, as well as one of Glamour’s “Women of the Year” for 2014. In 2012, Kaling wrote, produced and starred in “The Mindy Project” on FOX, about an OB/GYN’s personal and professional struggles at Shulman & Associates, a New York City medical clinic. The show was an immediate success, winning the Critic’s Choice Award for Most Exciting New Series.
It came as a shock when FOX cancelled the show after its third season last May. Despite critical acclaim and Kaling’s cult-like following, viewership was too low — probably because Millennials comprise the show’s core audience, many of whom prefer not to pay for cable TV. What 20-somethings do watch, however, are their computer screens. So, Hulu’s adoption of “Mindy Project” season four, switching the show from screen to stream, might be the best thing that’s happened to Mindy yet.
So far, Hulu doesn’t disappoint. Season four begins dramatically: Mindy Lahiri (Kaling) and her coworker-boyfriend, Danny (Chris Messina, “Vicky Christina Barcelona”), are expecting a child, but Danny has fled their shared NYC apartment for India to confront Mindy’s parents about his negative feelings toward marriage. Meanwhile, frustrated by her boyfriend’s stubbornness and abandonment, Mindy slams down his picture on their nightstand and falls asleep alone. But when she wakes, she finds herself in a “13 Going On 30”-like dream — cuddled beside her rich “Real Housewives” producer-husband (“My favorite franchise of shows!”), played by none other than Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“Don Jon”).
It gets weirder (or, for Mindy, more fantastic). After her initial shock — “Oh no, did I break into Mariah Carey’s penthouse and fall asleep again?” — she’s swept up by her new life, where her pinball machine is prominently on display and her relationship with Danny is back to their frenemy-ship of the past. Though the real Danny has a less-than-perfect scenario; Mindy’s Red Sox-obsessed parents have decided that an arranged marriage is fit for their daughter, so they enlist Danny to pick a prospective husband for Mindy.
Both Mindy’s and Danny’s situations soon spiral downwards, as Mindy realizes that she doesn’t want an open (fantasy) relationship and Danny comes clean about his relationship with Mindy, sans-marriage. Still dreaming, Mindy barges into Danny’s date with “Slumdog Millionaire” actress Freida Pinto — to whom she blurts, “You know, people tell me that we look so much alike. You must hear that, too, right?” — hoping to win him back. She jolts awake, then the real Danny materializes beside her, fresh from India with a surprise.
Where “Mindy Project” shines is with its whip-smart lines, cutting into the core of pop culture and tradition. Talk of arranged marriages intermingles with Red Sox fandom, and Mindy’s guilt for cheating on her fantasy husband is quickly brushed off, as Gordon-Levitt advocates open relationships and encourages Mindy’s lingerie line, “slutty girdles for the sexually active obese.” The quick banter floats the show, allowing us to forgive its flaws, like cliché plot points (i.e., is Mindy really kissing Danny in the pouring rain?) and the characters’ overinflated quirks.
But really. Whether you like her or not, it’s about time to start hanging out with Mindy.