Through six seasons, two networks, and countless celebrity-cameo boyfriends, The Mindy Project’s Mindy Lahiri finally made it to her romantic comedy happy ending. Executive producer and writer Matt Warburton has been with Mindy Kaling and her alter ego from the start. Currently working on Kaling’s upcoming NBC series Champions, Warburton took the time to look back on how far America’s best-dressed OB-GYN has come.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Does this sort of feel like this was your second round of goodbyes? Did you go through this before when The Mindy Project left Fox?
MATT WARBURTON: We certainly weren’t planning on ending the show when the whole Fox thing went down, and Hulu swooped in pretty quickly. It was only about a week where we didn’t know what was going on, and even then, people had been pretty smart about Fox might not happen, some conversations on the DL had already taken place. The nice thing is we got to end on our own terms. We got to pick how long it was going to take and everything, and some people aren’t lucky enough to do that.
A lot of Mindy’s old boyfriends were able to come back this season to say goodbye. Did you have a favorite that we got to see one more time?
We were lucky schedule-wise that so many people worked out, and it bedeviled us every year, and this year everyone we wanted pretty much we got. I was really happy to see Cliff, Glenn Howerton’s character. And Glenn himself is starring in this new show, AP Bio, and so he’s really busy. Just the fact that him and maybe the Deslaurier (played by Mark Duplass) came back for a big episode felt really special to us, just these people that the fans haven’t seen and really liked.
Maybe this says something about me, but I was always Team Cliff.
Clearly so openly annoyed with her at all time which is the funniest part of the relationship. The sex must have been good between them because he seems to hate everything she’s ever said.
Did you always know that Mindy and Danny were the ultimate end game?
First, we needed to make sure we were lucky enough to get Chris Messina available and excited to come back for a couple episodes. We wanted to balance it between people feeling like Mindy is still sort of actualized as a whole person, so it wouldn’t be like backsliding. We did a lot of work to paint Danny as a person who’s a little toxic. So I think through the course of the season, we had to shift Mindy to a place where we know she could be alone and be happy, but we also know that she could choose to try this again on her own terms. That was kind of the trick of it, but we have really been planning the whole season to do that. This was by far the easiest season we’ve ever broken, story-wise, because we had a clear destination place and so little time to do everything that every episode felt jam-packed with little baby steps along that path.
Now that you can look back on the show as a whole, is there anything you would have done differently?
I wish that some of the characters that we had to exit because the actors are leaving we didn’t have to. I really wish that Peter Prentice never had to leave. One of the things I’m really glad we did was have Mindy and Danny break up, which was very controversial at the time, but it gave us a lot more story, and it let Mindy stand on her own two feet for a long time. But even when they were separated, I wish we could have shown Mindy and Danny co-parenting a little more.
There had been some criticism about how Mindy isn’t a very hands-on mom — we don’t see Leo very often in the show. Was that something you were conscious of?
I just feel like those weren’t the stories we wanted to tell. Mindy is a better spokesperson for this attitude than I am, but I do feel like she was held a little bit to a double standard on this. Shows with fathers, no one ever asks, “Where’s the kid,” because they assume it’s with the mother. Her good line is, “Leo’s off with the children from male-driven shows that you never ask about.” But I think it’s fun to see her interact with Leo. But I felt like it was something our fans didn’t really beg us to see more of, I think they liked the idea of Mindy as a career woman and going on dates, and they loved that they were able to do that with a kid, but if you have a half hour show a week to watch a show that’s not the part they wanted to see more of, I guess.
I will go on the record and say I also think Ross from Friends was a terrible father.
So, this finale works really well as a mirror bookend to the pilot…
I’m glad that was clear to you because it was something we really studied and worked on with those moments, like where she doesn’t fall into the pool. I would recommend fans go back and watch the first episode again if they have a chance before they watch the finale. We don’t do stuff like that very much where we very self-consciously homage ourselves, but I felt like it was good. And bookending the show with two big weddings that weren’t Mindy’s — people always expect us to end with a big wedding, we thought it was funny if she never quite gets that. Even when she figures out how to ace a wedding, it’s not her own.
Is there anything you think fans or critics misunderstood about The Mindy Project?
I would say that early on we got a lot of flack for changing the cast around a lot. I think what we had to learn was there weren’t a lot of romantic comedy, half-hour TV shows on at the time, and it had been a long time since there were any, and certainly not ones with a laser-focused POV around a character like Mindy, and what we had to learn was that, as long as we were focusing on her, we can change the elements around it until we find the exact right formula. At the beginning we didn’t know: is the show going to be mostly about Mindy and her friends? We had the great Anna Camp at the beginning as Mindy’s friend, and the workplace, and all of these different elements, and organically, some of these things were going to be the show and some weren’t. What I think some critics interpreted as floundering was experimenting on our part, and it actually was good that we were able to say, “Well, we love some of these actors, but we just don’t have real estate for their stories, so we’re going to let them go and focus on the stuff that’s working. Shows don’t usually do that; they usually stick for hundreds of episodes with their same core characters.
This was sort of an ensemble through a POV, so we felt like we could keep moving the ensemble around just like how in your own life, even your best friends come in and out sometimes. And even a lot of the characters we got rid of came back in a great way [which] was both, I think, a realistic way to treat people’s lives, and also a testament to the fact that people wanted to come back year after year to visit. The shifting cast was a feature that was treated like a bug.