By Taylor Carter
Everybody is familiar with the “Will they? Won’t they?” storyline of almost every romantic comedy, in both TV and film. It is a giant in the world of sitcoms. I am one of the biggest fans of watching this type of romance bloom, whether it’s Luke and Lorelai of Gilmore Girls falling in love at his diner, or one of my personal favorites, The Nanny’s Mr. Sheffield and Fran developing a budding romance while she takes care of his children and brings fun back into their lives—like a modern day Sound of Music.
Mindy Kaling, a self-professed fan of the romantic comedy genre, built her show around this same narrative. The Mindy Project centers on the comical doctors Mindy and Danny and their path to finding each other. Mindy is funny, dramatic and has a sense of style almost as colorful as her personality—which already makes her perfect best friend material. Then, you throw in Danny, the doctor who works with Mindy. He is a bitter divorcée with the personality of a disputatious old man, but the looks of a handsome gelato store owner. He’s similar to Tony Micelli from Who’s the Boss; if he was consistently miffed with Angela.
Before she got together with Danny, Mindy was, in her words, “slaying dudes like whoa.” She was single and navigating her dating life in the fast-paced New York City, fulfilling a romantic comedy set up that most young women go crazy for. The show was laugh-out-loud funny and the guys as dreamy as the JCPenney men’s catalogue models. Then the show started to hint that Mindy’s true love was been right under her nose the whole time. The Danny-Mindy romantic tension builds almost as instantly as the show begins with little moments here and there. All the cute moments and flirty fights lead up to the grand gesture. In true compliance with the rom-com format, he declares his love on the top of the Empire State Building.
The romantic comedy genre gets a bad rep for painting an unrealistic view of romance that women subconsciously carry with them in their love lives. The genre can have repetitive storylines and offer disillusioned narratives. A lot of times, in romantic comedy TV shows, the buildup is so grand and the anticipation is so high that once the couple crosses the threshold from platonic friends to romantic couple, people lose interest. The characters begin to live in this perfect world that isn’t relatable. They are in love and suddenly their world is brighter and their problems are few and far between. The writers may introduce trivial problems such as spending too much time together and annoying their friends or learning to live with their significant other’s snoring, but those problems aren’t compelling to their intended audience. This leads to the sad commonality where most shows end almost immediately after the main characters fall in love. This is the reason why most people rolled their eyes and dreaded the idea of Danny and Mindy becoming involved at such an early point in the show; then to add to that, having a baby.
We started the current season knowing that Mindy was pregnant and due at any time; and Danny was flying to India to secretly declare his love for her to her parents. At the end of Season 3, we are left with a sweaty, nervous Danny confessing his love to Mindy’s parents (we find out later he confessed to the wrong person). This planted the seed of curiosity and we are left with questions that can only be answered in Season 4. This season finale tease, coupled with the promise of increased creative freedom with the show’s new home at Hulu, was enough to bring back viewers, although some reluctantly.
Season 4 has been a pivotal point for the show and has taken viewers by surprise. The show introduced real life complications that come with commitment, working parents, and contrasting personalities. The show has stayed true to its joke-heavy format, but has also seamlessly thrown in real life issues. It keeps the parts of the genre that we all know and love, but puts a fresh spin on an exhausted story. They add in the troubles, as well as triumphs that come with dating someone who is vastly different from yourself. This is something that romantic comedies that are trying to fulfill “princess fantasies” often leave out.
Young girls are told if the boy makes fun of you, he likes you; this is part of the reason why watching people who bicker and have conflicting ideals fall in love is appealing to us. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because dating someone who is always agreeable probably wouldn’t work either. The authentic quality in this show is that when Danny and Mindy got together, they kept their identities and their original rocky relationship dynamic.
One of the most prominent fights is whether or not Mindy should be a stay-at-home mom and quit her job. This fight has been an ongoing arc for the show, with Mindy wanting to work and Danny wanting her to be a full-time mother. The issue is a reality for many families who have to make similar decisions in balancing work and family. The winter finale of the show ended with Mindy going to her old apartment in the middle of the night to measure if there’s space for a crib, indicating she might be moving out of Danny’s apartment. A direction that isn’t common for a romance story, but features an aspect of realism that is “pass the popcorn” kind of compelling. Even couples head over heels in love argue and need space. This is the first couple that I’ve seen on TV, where saying “I love you” wasn’t the end of all their problems, but rather the beginning of compromises, arguments, and all the great, negative and even comical things that come with building a life together. They don’t agree on everything and problems aren’t always solved in the span of 30-minute time slot.
When The Mindy Project resumes after the hiatus, it’s unclear what path the writers will take; it could lead to a temporary break up or living separately for a while. All that the audience knows for certain is Mindy and Danny’s problems aren’t solved yet. They are on a difficult journey, but one that a lot of couples can identify with. There’s realistic and authentic material in this show, but Mindy’s one liners and Morgan the nurse’s funny bits offer the perfect balance to make it a one of a kind show. The first in its own genre of romantic-realism comedy or as Mindy Lahiri would probably say, romantic comedy realness.
Taylor Carter is a twenty-something ginger, writer and comedy nerd living in California. In her free time she enjoys reading celebrity memoirs, going on photo adventures, and trying to convince people she looks like Drew Barrymore. She hopes to one day move to Los Angeles and be in the background of a reality show. She is on Twitter @Taylorbreannec and Instagram @thesailortaylor.