SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details from the series finale of The Mindy Project on Hulu.
“It just felt good to end it with a lot of the same visuals as the pilot,” reflected The Mindy Project creator Mindy Kaling, whose character, after six seasons of relationship woes, ends the series in the full-circle manner, leading her back to Danny (Chris Messina). The series finale, aptly titled “It Had to Be You,” sees Dr. Mindy Kuhel Lahiri is a familiar spot where we first met her in the 2012 premiere.
In Season 1, we’re introduced to the then-medical resident at her ex’s wedding, giving an embarrassing speech and getting arrested for biking while intoxicated. This time didn’t end so tragically. After her speech at the wedding of Morgan and Tamra, Mindy peddles off to profess her love to Danny and, after an awkward misunderstanding, the two finally get their rom-com happy ending. “Can we just watch TV? We have the rest of our lives to argue,” Mindy says to close out the series.
Before the finale dropped on Hulu, Kaling, who up next co-stars in Disney’s Ava DuVernay-directed A Wrinkle in Time, talked to Deadline about ending the show on her own terms, whether a reboot is possible down the road and tackling more film projects in the future.
DEADLINE: Talk about how it feels to come to the end of The Mindy Project.
KALING: It hardly seems real. The way that TV is set up is very helpful for when a show comes to an end because as an actor, you’ve got acting, but [as a showrunner] you still get to edit for three months and after that ends you get to do a sound mix. So, as a writer-performer in television, it’s a very nurturing, gradual environment to say goodbye to a show.
I’m still so close to the cast and writers. I text and email them. I’m going to see them at Thanksgiving. I felt that I’ve not had to get ripped from the womb of the show, which is nice.
DEADLINE: In Season 1 when we were first introduced to Mindy Lahiri, she was at an ex’s wedding and gave a big speech and then she got on the bike and it was like she was pedaling away from, I guess you can say, her past. This last episode, we see her in the same position. At a wedding, giving the big speech and hops on a bike, but this time, pedaling towards her future. What went into the decision of having her come full circle in a sense?
KALING: It was me and Matt’s [Warburton] the love of symmetry and a fun visual bookend, to have started the show and ended the show with two very different weddings and for her behavior to be so different. As creative people and as writers, we long for characters to change.
In life, it happens so infrequently, that people you love actually are capable of change. As a character that we have control over, the fictional character of Mindy Lahiri, we wanted her to exhibit change, particularly because she’s so poorly behaved so much of the time, especially in earlier seasons. We just thought the audience wanted that too. You want people to mature, you want people to make the right decision, and if they didn’t do it six years ago, we hope that they’re going to do it now. It just felt good to end it with a lot of the same visuals as the pilot.
DEADLINE: Was the idea always to end it with the sixth season?
KALING: I didn’t know, actually. It wasn’t until between [Seasons] 5 and 6 that I even really thought about it. With the show where a character is single and dates a lot, it can get exhausting coming up with different ways to tell that story. I often thought of Sex and the City because they had six seasons but they only would do, I think, 12 episodes a year. When we did 24 episodes in Season 1 and 26 episodes in Season 4, I really thought this is a lot of dating. For the 117 episodes that we did, we really squeezed that orange to its fullest. But up until Season 5, I wasn’t sure. It’s such an enjoyable show to make. I really love the cast and the writers, so I didn’t necessarily know.
DEADLINE: In this age of television when revivals and reboots are so frequent, do you feel like you would ever revisit this show again in the future?
KALING: Not anytime soon. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Like for Will and Grace, the palpable excitement that people had for the show coming back is huge. People have been talking about an Office reboot, and it’s been like less than five years since the office was on the air.
For me right now, I’m so proud of the finale and where the character has ended up so much. I would never rule it out. I love acting with this cast. I’m so close with Ike [Batinholtz]. Chris [Messina] and I are still close buds, so I could see it happening it in the future. But right now I haven’t begun to even think about it.
DEADLINE: The Mindy Project ran for six seasons ,which is considered very successful, especially in the era of Peak TV. What are you most proud of when it comes to the series?
KALING: There are three things, really. One is, when it was the last day of shooting, I got a direct message from Bill Lawrence and he said, ‘Congratulations on joining a club of people who have ended our shows on our own terms.’ It was such a nice thing for him to write, but I hadn’t really thought about that. It’s so infrequent to create a show, particularly with the journey that my show went through, from different formats and not knowing if you were going to come back and then being resurrected with even more episodes. It was such a roller coaster. Even people whose shows have lasted for many years get trampled and to be able to leave the show with Hulu saying, ‘You can have as many episodes as you want. You can come up with as many years as you want’ — and to be able to close it on my own terms, was such a rare gift. When you’re in the middle of it, you don’t realize that it’s just a huge blessing.
The other two things are small. It’s just that this character, Mindy Lahiri, is by far the most fun part I’ve ever gotten to play but also one of the best parts for women to get to play. She has so many wonderfully funny sides, but also, she surprises you all the time with her sense of morality when least expected.
She’s great doctor, good mom, but also could be very vicious and sarcastic and weak and cowardly. It’s just such a great character to play, and I am sad that I’m not going to be able play her again. Being able to create her and put her out into the world, particularly as an Indian-American character and she didn’t have to be someone’s sidekick or a boring lawyer, is something I’m very proud of. The last thing is that the show was always packed with jokes. We’re in a time now where there’s so many wonderful comedies on television which don’t necessarily pack their shows with jokes. If you’re a comedy writer, you know the hard work of crafting jokes and doing it week after week. I’m particularly proud of my writing staff. I think this is just one of the funniest, most densely comedic shows on television.
DEADLINE: Talk about the transition to Hulu. You had the three seasons on Fox before landing at Hulu. Do you feel like the show would have been different if it stayed on Fox, or was Hulu a better platform?
KALING: The Hulu transition was at an interesting time because I was starting to break out into writing for films and being cast in more movies, and that became more interesting to me. What was nice was that it coincided with this very open format that Hulu gave us both creatively, length of time and what the content could be on the show. On a network sitcom, there’s four acts, which it’s very difficult to write a satisfying story because there’s a beginning, middle and end, and then another act because of commercial considerations.
At Hulu, we got to go back to having three acts, which I think is much more normal for storytelling and particularly in movies. We were able to hear some of our cinematic urges that we had to break for movies. Matt Warburton and I were able to explore that a lot when we were in Hulu, and the show got to be darker and edgier. As an actress, I think I was particularly excited about that.
DEADLINE: It’s interesting, having the more open format on Hulu, the show didn’t get too raunchy. There weren’t curse words flying everywhere. What went into that decision because with Hulu you had the freedom to do all that stuff.
KALING: So many of the people who come up to us and say they like the show tend to be younger women, and we didn’t want the show to alienate them because we could show much more. The language could be more frank and the sexual situations could be more lurid, but we didn’t long to do that and the show still felt sophisticated and for an audience of our peers. We didn’t really want to change that. The length of time of the episodes was actually the biggest thing that was great because that let us give a lot more screen time to show characters that were not Mindy Lahiri, which was a very satisfying thing as a showrunner to be able to.
DEADLINE: You have so many other things going on with you — A Wrinkle in Time, your new show on NBC, The Champion. What are you most looking forward to with the ending of The Mindy Project?
KALING: I’ve been working in [television] for so long, since 2004 is when I started on The Office, and I just worked nonstop throughout that time and I’ve learned so much. I’ve definitely done that 10,000 hours. I know the format really well and I feel comfortable in it. I’m excited about going into something I’m not so comfortable in, which is film. Having had Ocean’s Eight and shot A Wrinkle in Time and waiting for them to come out and to see how different that process is than TV, it’s just, like anything else, I’m such an ambitious person and I just want to master a different medium.
We’ll see where my process ends up going, but it would be great to write for film. I would love to do that for a bit.
DEADLINE: You have a film project with Emma Thompson that Scott Rudin is producing?
DEADLINE: Is that your first film that you’ve written for?
KALING: Yeah. That’s really exciting and we’ll see what happens with that. It’s a great project.
DEADLINE: What’s the biggest difference that you found writing for film and then writing for television?
KALING: I’m actually an impatient person. I’m very suited for television because with the process, it’s six weeks from the time you come up with an episode until when it airs. We can’t drag it out that long. With film, and this is not a profound observation or an original one; it can go on endlessly unless the movie’s like incredibly topical.
That’s the challenge for me, as an impatient person who wants see things come to life. … I mean, it’s just this feeling I get when I see a movie I love. For instance, I just saw this movie Lady Bird; it does hit you in a very different way than sometimes television does. It’s worth the challenges. You have to adapt to your personality if you’re used to writing for TV when writing for film.
DEADLINE: Lastly, I like to ask about the unsung hero on a production — somebody we haven’t heard of who played a big part in like the process of The Mindy Project. Who would you say is an unsung hero of the series?
KALING: That’s such a good question and an enjoyable thing to answer as a showrunner. Ike Barinholtz and Chris Messina get so much rightful attention for their portrayals of their characters. Our line producer, Lorie Zerweck, has just been such a backbone of the show in a huge way.
When we hired her, it was the first show she’s ever been a line producer on, and she is so tireless and so good with actors and so good with writers that I’m just so impressed. We’ve had Stephen Colbert on the show; we’ve had Bruce Springsteen. We have a lot of like flashy, expensive, hard-to-figure-out things that we’ve done. We transitioned to Hulu, and the fact that she rolled with all of that transitioning from a network to a streaming platform, getting Chloë Sevigny and James Franco to come be on the show — it’s all because of her. She’s just an executor. She just executes at the highest level, and I can call her at 2 o’clock in the morning on a Saturday night and she will pick up the phone if it’s about work.
She’s truly an unsung hero on the show. I brought her on the new show, and I’ll bring her on to any projects I have. She’s incredible.
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