Q&A: Mindy Kaling announces final season of The Mindy Project
Mindy Lahiri is hanging up her scrubs.
In the wake of the conjugal cliffhanger betrayed by the final moments of Tuesday’s fifth season finale of The Mindy Project, EW can exclusively reveal some big news about Mindy Kaling’s treasured little bauble of a rom-com: The Mindy Project will return this September on Hulu for its sixth — and final — season.
It’s been almost five years since the series first premiered on Fox in 2012, and the show (which hit 100 episodes last November) remains the only surviving sitcom from that fall. After season 3, the series hung in limbo following Fox’s decision to cancel it, until Hulu came to its rescue in a high-profile pick-up, allowing zeitgeist-obsessed doctor Mindy Lahiri to continue her pursuit of romance, fast food, and celebrity rendezvous in New York City for, as it turns out, three more seasons.
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Hulu’s head of content, Craig Erwich, who was instrumental in bringing the show to the streaming service after its cancellation, issued this statement about its conclusion: “It has been an honor and a joy to work with Mindy and the entire creative team behind The Mindy Project. This series has been part of Hulu since we launched the service and, thanks to Mindy’s incredibly unique voice and vision, has remained one of our most popular and beloved series over the past five years. While we can’t wait to see what Mindy has in store for what will undoubtedly be a fantastic sixth and final season, we know The Mindy Project will live on as fans will continue to watch, discover and re-live all of the best moments from the complete series on Hulu.”
Kaling—the show’s creator, star, narrator, writer, namesake, executive producer, and presumably big fan in general—spoke with EW about the decision to end the show after season 6, the consequences of the season 5 finale (which SPOILER! found Mindy deciding to marry her nurse boyfriend, Ben), and the wild, wonderful ride of The Mindy Project.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Before we get into discussing the final season news, let’s quickly break down the season 5 finale. Mindy’s last look—what does it mean?!
MINDY KALING: You know, Matt [Warburton, executive producer] and I always talk about the Mindy character and how we can never give her what she wants. She can make this big romantic gesture and be super mature and have this great realization at the end of an episode, but she can never get what she wants. And I think we’re filling in the seeds of doubt. That’s a really bold thing for anybody to do. She’s usually on the receiving end of these kinds of gestures from her various beaus over the years, and now she’s doing it, and we felt like that was a really realistic way for her to react.
I think that final tableau of Mindy, Ben, and the kids might have been the happiest I’ve ever been for Mindy, maybe? What did it mean to you to have a glimpse at that family portrait, even if she has her doubts?
I agree with you. I think that tableau on the subway was shot really beautifully. In watching it, I was thinking, this is so unglamorous for this character who can be so shallow and have so the wrong priorities, but this is such a nice moment for her. That she didn’t need to be a princess. That she took her own destiny in her hands. That she did this kind of really feminist thing. But she’s also this big striver, and I think that moment at the end—is this exactly what I wanted?—felt ambiguous. The honest truth is that we haven’t really unpacked that moment yet as writers. I have certain ideas, but it’s much more fun to go into the next season with that as our little puzzle that we have to untie or figure out.
Since season 6 will be the last season of The Mindy Project, how does this finale set the scene for those episodes?
We’re really excited about this last season. I think the timing is exactly right. What’s weird is, Mindy is married at the end of the season 5 finale, but she has never been married in the series, so that’s incredibly fun for a character who’s been obsessed with [marriage] and has come close many times, and seeing her disavow it for a while after her disastrous breakup with who she thought was her soulmate. And now she’s married! The final season is the final time—it’s the best time—to confront what that reality is for her. And really, we’ve put her through the ringer. It’s hard. I’m a romantic at heart. I believe that marriage is like, a sacred relationship, and I really like it, but I’m also single myself, so I see every side of it. It’s going to be really fun to explore.
Okay, so: Tell me about the how and why of deciding to end the show.
I mean this half-jokingly, but at a certain point it was like, I think she’s dated every man in Manhattan. Sex and the City lasted for, what, six seasons with 10 episodes each? I don’t know that there’s been a show about a woman trying to find love in New York City that has lasted quite this long. And frankly, there’s no more actors in Hollywood left to date. [Laughs.]
That’s my joking answer. But the thing about these characters, especially this past season, is that we’ve really gotten into their romantic and interior lives, like Ed Weeks’ character, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Xosha Roquemore, all of them. That’s been really fun, and it just felt like… we’ve seen so much of Mindy’s dating adventures, and I love that, but we’ve seen this character go through dating stuff a lot. We’ve seen her be a mom, and we even had enough time to explore that. We started this series when she was single, and now she’s married and has a kid and she has a stepdaughter, and it kind of just felt like [a few] more episodes was all we needed to wind this down.
Have you always known the ending you’ve wanted for Mindy at the conclusion of the series?
You know, I’ve always had an image in my mind of what would be in the last five minutes of the finale, but I don’t know what the explanations are for it. I’ve seen something for her character, but I don’t know what it would mean about marriage or not-marriage, if that makes any sense. I haven’t figured that part out yet. But I want to do something surprising. I want to do something that feels good but also makes you feel like when you leave the character, that she’s learned something in these past six years—for someone who doggedly doesn’t want to learn. She’s actually, unwittingly become kind of better.
I think it’s working toward a finite ending. I’ve only done these series that last for a really long time, and I’ve been on two shows that have gone over 100 episodes, and in the middle of it, you approach the material very differently than you do at the beginning, and now, I get this gift. I wasn’t on The Office the last season as a writer—I was starting this show—so now I have this gift of, I get to finish a series! And it’s really fun! I finally get to do that.
Given the luxury of having the time to wrap everything up, what are the must-hits, narratively, in this final season?
I know there are a lot of shows that like to end the series seeing how each character kind of rides off into the sunset. There’s definitely that route [to consider]. I haven’t started thinking about it yet, but I like you being able to picture where the characters are afterwards. I think that’s nice. I remember when The Office ended and Michael got married to Holly, you like thinking that he had a baby with Holly and they were living in [Colorado]. So I do like that, but we haven’t started thinking about what those actually are for everybody.
It sounds like you do want closure over cliffhanger, though.
Yeah, I do think closure is fun. It’s funny, when you think of greatest hits and where you can picture the characters going… Mindy has been to every iconic New York place. There’s still a small handful that I don’t want to say that I would love to have her go to, but she’s been to the Empire State Building, she’s been to the Central Park carousel. She’s been everywhere, she’s run into every New York politician. So I think it’ll be fun to see what is left. Whether she runs into Melania. I don’t know.
Your show really excels at these high-concept episodes like Sliding Doors, Groundhog Day, “Mindy Lahiri is a White Man,” etc. Are there any bucket list fantasy episodes you’re determined to get into this last season?
Thanks for bringing it up, because those episodes tend to… like, “Mindy Lahiri is a White Man,” I loved that episode. It’s really fun for us to get inspired and pay homage to movies or tropes in movies that we love. I’m sure we’ll have at least one—probably more than one—high-concept episode going into the final season.
What has surprised you the most about the experience and learning curve of doing this show?
I think I always say that, at least with TV shows, just when you get really, really good at it, is when it ends. I was so proud of this past season and of the quality of every script and the talent that we were able to attract to the episodes. That really has been true of the series. I don’t know if surprised is the word, but I have been delighted by how much the show has made an impact on young women, particularly young minority women. They’ll come up to me on the subway, they’ll come up to actors on the show, and they’ll talk about how much they feel like Mindy Lahiri or how the show is saying something that they’re thinking but are too scared to say aloud. I think that’s really great. We’re in a really nice time now when there are so many cool shows like Insecure and Fleabag, where normally we would be considered really niche, and now these shows are so mainstream. It’s really gratifying to have been on the air for this long. After a while, you just become something that people can count on, and I love that.
Back when you celebrated your 100th episode, I asked Matt Warburton what The Mindy Project would look like if it came along as a pilot in 2017.
What did he say?
He said it could possibly look a little different, but there would still be a core dedication to old-school joke-writing.
That’s right. What’s been really exciting about TV now, whether it’s Insecure or Better Things, Fleabag, Atlanta, Master of None, is you have all these writer-performer auteurs, and I’m obsessed with all those shows. I’m a huge fan. But for our training, Matt came from The Simpsons and I came from The Office, and I feel like we’re from this breed of comedy writers that is very much from the 2000s of, like, very short amount of time, hard joke-writing show. And the moodiness and the artistic leverage that a lot of these auteurs have now on these shows is so exciting, but I think now, if we started [The Mindy Project]… Matt and I love movies, we love doing things that are cinematic, and I think we would have maybe let ourselves indulge in that a little bit more because we love it in other shows. But that said, Mindy Lahiri is not someone that would describe herself as particularly artsy, and I think the way she sees her world and the way we show her world is very “pop.” I think we’re really proud of the fact that the jokes are super sophisticated, and we’ll do a lot of political commentary. We just want rapid-fire jokes in a beautiful setting, rather than necessarily maybe the style that is more pervasive right now. [Laughs] I feel like I’m downloading a treatise on comedy right now.
Through the lens of a final season, what are your thoughts on the show’s title and Mindy as a project unto herself?
Everyone is always wondering, how could a character this selfish be a mother, and what always seemed so easy to us is that, like, yeah, she would just kind of put that onto her kid. I think she is always going to have to fight her worst urges. That’s what sets her apart from a lot of other female leads in these other shows. She has the predilection to do the selfish thing, so there will always be a project. I do think she’s grown a little bit in the past six years, in a way that’s really even surprised her. But I would like to see, at the end of this series, if what she wanted at the beginning is what she wanted at the end. Also, we’re all feminists who make this show, and it’d be great if that character can become a little bit more like what we’re like by the end of it. [Laughs]
Any final thoughts as you get ready to start planning and unpacking all of this?
We’re going to blow the lid off the show. I’m so excited. I’ve never been able to write toward the end of a season, and I’m obviously obsessed with cinematic stuff, so I’m really excited about this last season. I think we’re going to get amazing guest stars, because there have been so many people who have been wanting to do the show, but now that they know it’s going to end, it’s going to be very exciting to pull some of these movie people I’ve been working with and have them come be in the show. It’s going to be a great season.
Mindy Kaling’s rom-com follows the hilarious lives of an OBGYN and her medical practice coworkers.