Modern Romance in The Mindy Project

    The cast of The Mindy Project
The cast of The Mindy Project

The hopeless romantics among us are facing a difficult time. After each failed date, each awkward encounter with the opposite sex, each well intentioned foray into the world of OKCupid, one can hear young, single people bemoaning the fact that “chivalry is dead,” cursing the hook-up culture of our society, and wondering what causes so many to actively avoid commitment and serious relationships. The dating landscape has shifted from serious to casual, and label-less relationships and no-strings-attached sex are wildly popular and even preferred by many. Open relationships are becoming a viable option for many, and online dating is no longer viewed as desperate and creepy, rather, it’s now a strategy for casting a wider net. Adding to the confusion is the omnipresence of social media, which leads to miscommunications, jealousy, and the pressure to present oneself a certain way.

FOX’s The Mindy Project tackles all of these issues and more. Starring Mindy Kaling as Dr. Mindy Lahiri, an OB/GYN working at a practice in New York City, it combines the dynamics of a workplace comedy with Mindy’s seemingly endless quest to find love. Aspects of the current dating scene are presented in a humorous, ridiculous fashion, and Mindy’s love life is typically a mess. After all, in the pilot episode, she causes drunken chaos at her ex-boyfriend’s wedding, and that messy chaos never truly disappears.

Over the course of the series, Mindy ends up in plenty of cringe-worthy situations as she chases after the affections of various men, from accidentally hooking up with a male prostitute to starting a regretful secret relationship with a business competitor. While other shows often feature conventionally suave characters who are wildly successful when it comes to the opposite sex, it’s refreshing to see a character that is somewhat awkward in the romance department, and even more refreshing to see a character that wholly embraces it, saying “I figure if I’m going to be a mess, I might as well be a hot mess.” Mindy’s disastrous attempts at transforming her life into the romantic comedy she has always dreamed of living are highly relatable to those navigating the current dating scene, which seems to be characterized by the very same mishaps that Mindy experiences and odd situations she always happens to encounter.

Mindy and Dr. Jeremy Reed at work.

Hook up culture

In the pilot episode, “The Mindy Project,” Mindy is hooking up with Dr. Jeremy Reed to distract herself from the harsh reality of the break-up that she’s distraught over. A common trend nowadays is the idea that “the best way to get over someone is to get under someone else.” Often, the goal is to avoid real “emotions” by engaging in strictly casual sex. Although this works for some, it’s often a risky ploy, as the viewer sees when Mindy deals with the personal repercussions. She realizes that is using her “relationship” with Dr. Reed as a crutch, and that sleeping with him is just a failed attempt at getting over her ex-boyfriend.

Other characters are active players in the casual hookup game, such as Mindy’s friend and colleague turned love interest Danny Castellano and her former frat boy coworker Peter. Including Dr. Reed, most of the male characters display an interest in no-strings-attached “relationships,” often engaging in flings that last about an episode before pursuing something new.

Mindy and Casey at a party.

Fear of Commitment

Multiple characters are notorious for their “commitment phobic” attitudes. Mindy’s cheating ex-boyfriend Josh is a clear offender, but so is her former fiancée, Casey. Josh displays an inability to commit to one person. In Season 1, Episode 9 (“Josh and Mindy’s Christmas Party”), Mindy finds a voicemail on Josh’s phone from a woman named Heather, who is revealed to be a girlfriend who Josh did not break up with before he began dating Mindy. Casey, on the other hand, can’t commit to a stable lifestyle. In Season 2, Episode 3 (“Music Festival”), Mindy realizes that he simply flits between careers-missionary, DJ, event planner-without considering how his lifestyle changes affect his future with her. He seems to be caught in the same plight as many young people: what do I do with my life? His decisions cause Mindy to break off their engagement.

Mindy and Danny kiss.

Casual “relationships”

Our generation seems to live by the mantra “together, but not ‘together.’” People will act like boyfriend and girlfriend, but avoid putting a label on it until the last possible second-or not at all. Mindy and Danny struggle with this when they discuss their relationship in Season 2, Episode 18 (“Be Cool”). Danny tells Mindy to keep quiet about their relationship and “be cool” because he doesn’t feel that they should tell everyone in the office that they’re dating, and carefully avoids revealing that he has a girlfriend. Mindy tell herself over and over that she can “be cool” for Danny, thinking that “Dating is fun. But dating in secret is really fun.” But it’s hard to keep emotions in check when you’re ready to throw yourself into a serious relationship, yet the other person isn’t.

So many “label-less” relationships seem to pop up these days, as if both partners can simply avoid romantic feelings by also avoiding dirty words like “boyfriend” and “girlfriend.” But eschewing labels doesn’t inherently protect you from heartbreak. In fact, it can often cause more anguish, as we see when Danny ends things with Mindy in the very same episode, saying he doesn’t want a real relationships because he is scared of losing his best friend. As casual relationships and sex become more acceptable (and even celebrated), more and more people find themselves struggling with complicated transitions from friends to significant others.

Peter and Morgan get a flirty text from Cliff.

Technology and Miscommunications

In one of the most hilariously realistic episodes of The Mindy Project, Season 2, Episode 8 (“You’ve Got Sext”), Peter and Morgan steal Mindy’s phone and take this opportunity to sext her love interest, Cliff, a lawyer who works in the building. The texts appear across the screen so that the viewer is privy to “Dr. Lahiri’s” (surprisingly successful) attempts at seducing Cliff. The texts start out with the simple question of “What are you wearing?” and the sexual tension escalates from there.

This episode is painfully true to life. The two plan out exactly how to present Mindy to Cliff: bold, extremely flirty, sexually confident. They want Mindy to appear as someone who Cliff will instantly fall for. They come up with one-liners after putting their heads and celebrate appropriately when Cliff responds to one particularly raunchy text with a winking smiley face. Their ploys illustrate the issues that social media presents us with: how do we choose to portray ourselves to the world? What should we play up? What should we hide? What do we feel comfortable saying behind the protection of a glowing screen that we could never reveal in person?

Oftentimes, people are initially successful at creating a positive image for themselves online, and are able to cater to exactly what they think other people want them to be. But the problem arises once you start getting to know others in person, when you can no longer hide behind the façade that you crafted-what if they don’t like what they see when your true colors start to show?

Peter and Morgan definitely capture Cliff’s interest, and he and Mindy begin a serious relationship. But they ultimately end up going separate ways due to more trials that social media adds to the dating scene.

Mindy and Cliff pose for a photo.


Cliff and Mindy eventually break up in Season 2, Episode 13 (“L.A.”) because he sees a photo of her with Casey at a party in Los Angeles. She happened to run into him after promising Cliff that she wouldn’t see him, so naturally, this upsets Cliff. But he won’t accept her explanation: Cliff is a divorce attorney, and feels more cautious than most because of this. He breaks up with her because he feels that she violated his trust, and he doesn’t know how to bring that back. What we see on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram isn’t always the whole story, and when we take it as such, we do ourselves a disservice by ignoring the truth. This can result in ending a relationship due to jealousy over what we see online.

Television shows like The Mindy Project remind us that we are not alone when we end up in screwy, unsatisfying romantic situations. Mindy may seem to get knocked down every time she turns a corner, but she always gets back up again to continue seeking the love that she knows is out there. Dating can be discouraging, but The Mindy Project allows us to laugh at that discouragement and reminds us that if all else fails, at least we have a funny story to tell.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Christina Cady

    I love The Mindy Project so much,I’m so glad it got renewed for season 3! This article is a good overview of some of the recurrent themes seen in the show. I particularly like your discussion about the use of technology and communication, I think it is an element that really mimics contemporary society and recurrently used as a means to move the story along in an interesting modern way. Thanks for the read!

  2. Estelle Swanson

    There isn’t any natural chemistry between Danny and Mindy’s characters, but they continue to force the issue. If it had evolved naturally, it would’ve been more like Jack and Liz’s relationship from 30 Rock.

    • Stephanie

      I disagree. Despite my fangirl obsession of Dandy on TMP, I’m usually not a fan of unnecessary and forced relationships in most shows . However, when the chemistry is there and the writing supports and earns a relationship then I will root for it. Danny and Mindy were obvious from day 1, and the writers have really let them grow a lot as friends and characters who could work in a relationship.

    • No, this is what the show has always been about. If you look at the first reviews of the first episode, many reference Danny as a love interest for Mindy, even though she was sleeping with Jeremy in that episode, and even though he was such a jerk. In fact, one reviewer calls Jeremy Mindy’s “Hugh Grant” which I thought was kind of funny in light of the fact that she’s now obviously making Danny Mindy’s Colin Firth. If you’ve seen enough romances, you know that the guy who starts off making comments about how the lady is “not handsome enough to dance with” (or, “Know what would be hot? If you lost 15 pounds”) is going to end up in her arms. And TMP was always about romance. It starts off with her watching rom-coms.

      And I think they have great chemistry. He’s been giving her smoldering looks since the very first episode when he comments on the red dress, and when he watches her delivery. Her character’s actions have been more subtle. Mindy spent the entire first season alternately trying to include Danny when he ostensibly didn’t want to be included (the nightclub trip, the Thanksgiving dinner, the Christmas party) and snooping in his life, asking questions about his childhood, Christina, snooping in his bedroom and bathroom, obviously fascinated by him. Her character didn’t make the same physical moves toward him (obviously now, for fear he’d reject her because she wasn’t his type), but when you re-watch an episode like You’ve Got Sext KNOWING she had a crush on him, didn’t she? When she curled up on his bed and pretended to be fascinated by Animal Kingdom? IDK. I think it was pretty obvious.

    • Shawna Brock

      I completely disagree, as do the writers of the show, the actors involved, TV critics, and most of the audience. Mindy and Danny are good friends IRL and they play off each other really well. Their relationship actually evolved rather naturally, over time, from Danny initially getting regularly annoyed by Mindy to them becoming better friends, to eventually best friends whose attraction to each other has been growing for 2 years.

    • I agree about it feeling forced. I often compare them to Jim and Pam from The Office mainly because its Mindy’s former show but there’s really no comparison. I wish Danny and Mindy was as well written as Jim and Pam were at the start of their relationship.

    • I also disagree that the chemistry is forced. Even though the two are complete opposites, it seems as though they like each other for what they had initially perceived as faults. This is what a REAL relationship is about. How are you going to grow as a person if you date a person that only mirrors your personality? Both Danny and Mindy are growing as people thanks to their relationship, and I think that’s what the writers want to convey.

  3. I’ve liked the show from the first episode.

  4. I get that Mindy is the star and that Danny is 2nd lead but they have woefully neglected their talented supporting casts members who would be rife with comedic moments if they actually explored them. There is almost no character development when it comes to Betsy who has been on since season 1 and some episodes Bev, Tamra, and Betsy get 1-4 lines a piece and others none at all. It ridiculous. Never before have I seen so much imbalance in an ensemble cast.

    They’ve even given Peter more character development and he just came onboard this season. I already know more about him than I do Jeremy or Morgan. Frankly his character was never really needed since as I’ve said before he’s essentially Morgan with a stethoscope. I like the humor of this show but it’s becoming a bit ho-hum and predictable and I’m losing interest.

    • RitaPatton

      Why does it bother people so much if the supporting cast has a small role? Who would really care? It never seems like anyone is saying they just LOVE Beverly or something and want to see more of her. It’s always these vague, general complaints about the size of the cast.

      • Christina Cady

        I agree with this for the most part. But I will say that I do like the little roles given to these characters, it actually works to make their story lines more absurd and oddly funny. The one liners kill me and they are also oddly very revealing without detracting time from the main story arcs.

        • I am on your page, Christina. Every story needs supporting characters, and they act as a foil to the main storyline. The show is, after all, called The Mindy Project, so it seems obvious that it would revolve around her. Much like the life of her character does! It would ruin the small-part characters for me if I knew more about their backgrounds: parching it together from the absurdities is what makes the show funny.

    • Whoa, Peter is Morgan with a stethoscope? My conception off the former is that of a fratty dude-bro and I think of the latter as a very an oddball ex-con whose jokes come mostly from miscellany. Other than that I’ve got to agree with you (it’s gotta suck to be the actress who plays Beverly).

    • Crystal

      I would love for the ancillary characters to get a little more character development every once and a while, but I admit I love the large role Peter plays in the show. Adam Pally is an amazing comedic actor and fits perfectly into the show. Peter being Mindy’s new BFF has a lot of great potential for new story lines.

      I do want to see more from some of the side characters, but not to the point where they have continual plots in the show. There is a difference between being an ensemble cast and having supporting characters; The Mindy Project is not an ensemble comedy. As much as I enjoy Jeremy, Betsy, Tamra(she’s really grown on me), and Mindy’s girlfriends, they are meant to be an extension of larger characters like Mindy, Danny, Peter, and occasionally Morgan.

      Betsy’s story about how she came to work at Shulman and Associates and her path to religion was an incredibly sweet moment in the show, but what made it work was the affect it had on Mindy’s feelings about her religion(no matter how ambiguous she feels about it). Jeremy’s random reflections on his dysfunctional family are funny, but mostly serve to boost someone else’s story.

  5. I really enjoyed your article. I think the Mindy Project is highly representative of the moods towards romance held by most people today, and you did a really great job at exploring the different aspects that make romance a challenge for those pursuing it. I don’t watch the Mindy Project too often but it’s definitely refreshing to see an awkward in love WOC starring in her own show.

  6. amandaperrin

    I feel like the success of the show is dependent upon all of the different aspects that are covered in this article. I do feel, however, that a lot of the things the show demonstrates and explores about relationships are too quickly cast under the category of “quirky rom-com” scenarios. In a lot of ways, the series is almost like a more in-depth version of “500 Days of Summer”, where true love is the ultimate goal, but the natural coming together and falling apart of relationships. Mindy’s experiences are a lot like Tom’s is with summer, just more encompassing. I also think that the struggles of dating and technology, as well as secret keeping and self-disclosure within “The Mindy Project” offer an easily understandable representation of the dark side of interpersonal communication. This article really outlines a lot of those elements that may sometimes get lost among the humor of the show.

  7. I am a huge fan of “The Mindy Project” and really enjoyed reading this article. I particularly enjoyed your discussion of “label-less” relationships and the way the show handles that topic. Today, label-less is the way to go and this show perpetuates that idea. Is this a good or a bad thing? I like the way the show stays current and real, but I personally dislike this new label-less culture. Great article!

  8. Mary Awad

    I’ve never heard of this show but you approached it in a very interesting way. It sounds really interesting. Love is so complex and has so many different layers and you talked about them all really nicely. Thanks for the read~

  9. I love Mindy Kaling and The Mindy Project. I’m just not a big fan of the relationship between Mindy and Danny. Seems too forced.

  10. I love The Mindy Project and I thought you did a really good job of giving a synopsis of what the show was all about. I think this show is a really great example of dating in the 21st century with technology and new attitudes to sexual relationships, as you mentioned in the article. I also think there is something to be said for Mindy as a charter being a move towards showing a modern female lead in a romantic comedy. Anyway I thought the article was very interesting!

  11. I think it can be hard to be “real” for comedy shows but the writers for the Mindy Project do a really great job! I’m a girl, living in New York and dating so I feel like I have been through the same awkward dating situations as Mindy

  12. Christmas Party Sex Trap had one of the best scenes in the series with Jeremy eating the building, Danny and Mindy probably about to kiss, Peter grabbing for the boob wine and Morgan walking in talking about weird energy all at the same time. It was just fantastic and I love how all four of them were together.

  13. Maria the Writer

    Great topic! I never really viewed the show from your standpoint, but I would have to agree. I just wish Mindy and Danny would get together for good, but then, well the show would be over, right? LoL.

  14. drcruz

    The Mindy Project is a leader in highlighting lives of racially and ethnically diverse females. Nice job on the article about different styles of relationships!!

  15. I’ve watched a few episodes of The Mindy Project and because of this article will take up watching it again. I do enjoy New Girl and now, due to Netflix and Hulu, I only watch one show at a time until I indulge on every episode available. Romance seems to be getting lost in many shows of today filled with zombies, drug lords, grit and sex. Jane, I’m excited to watch a new show! Well, for me anyway. Thank you for sharing.

  16. Jessica Lancaster

    I think one of the best things about The Mindy Project is how it incorporates so many of these relatable relationship approaches/ideals you mentioned. The psychology behind “labels” as the end-all, be-all of romantic relationships fascinates me – why does using a different word cause this kind of distress?

  17. I love the show! I wondered, though, did she name her main character after the brilliant Indian author Jhumpa Lahiri? She is very talented, and many of her short stories deal with relationships and their oftentimes tricky issues. If so, great reference. If not, still pretty neat.

    • She named the character after her mother who was also a Bengali gynaecologist with that last name.

  18. I am a big fan. Agree though that some of the side characters like Jeremy and Beverly are underutilized at present until they settle the Mindy Danny relationship in a big way since it is at the heart of the show. Hoping we get more interesting B plots in season 3.

    The Mindy Danny chemistry though has to be the most sizzling I’ve ever seen on TV and makes the show. So wonder what show people who say its “forced” are watching.

  19. chaneleg

    The thing about Mindy as with Girls, is that she is relatable. She is a relatable woman looking for love. And the success of both of these shows rest on that because more women look like the characters on the Mindy Project than the characters on Friends. (And Mindy’s willingness to be vulnerable intrigues and comforts us.)

  20. Jessica Pedersen

    I was hesitant to start watching The Mindy Project at first. It always gave off a really “silly” kind of vibe to me, and it didn’t seem appealing. However, I love The Office and my favorite episodes are ones that Mindy wrote, so eventually I broke down and pressed play. I am so happy I did, as what I found was a smart, snappy comedy that, as your article discusses, deals with real-world dating scenarios. It’s now one of my favorite shows on television.
    It definitely has room for improvement, as discussed earlier in the comments. The background characters are hilarious but underdeveloped, and honestly at some points, I feel like the amount of random single men Mindy runs in to on the street is unrealistic, even for NYC. I know she’s trying to find guest spots for her friends, and I think that’s really interesting and I do love their characters, but half of me is always unwilling to stretch my suspension of belief that far.
    That being said, what I love about the show is exactly what your article discusses. Very few shows are willing to have such a relatable female character. Lahiri gets herself in actually awkward situations, as opposed to “cute quirky” mishaps, and that is refreshing.

  21. Toni Lee Ruggiano

    This was a very interesting article! I am a big fan of The Mindy Project but never thought of her relationships quite the way you put them. When I think of shows such as Friends, the characters seem to be going in and out of relationships almost as often as Mindy does but they end for different reasons. The Mindy Project has done a great putting into place outside forces that affect relationships today.

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