I have to admit that for me, The Mindy Project has never quite reached the status of appointment tv. Instead, it’s usually one that kind of piles up in my Hulu queue or my DRV list until I have lazy day to binge. That’s not to say it’s a bad show or I don’t like it. It consistently makes me laugh and leaves me feeling contented and upbeat after a marathon. It’s just that it’s not something I necessarily can’t wait for more of. I don’t think that’s a bad thing to say about it, or a bad way to feel about it. It’s solid. It’s like that work colleague who’s not in your department so you don’t hang out too much, but is always up to go for a coffee run with you if you need it (does anyone else have people like that?) You know, I’m not inviting you to my wedding, but I’ll probably make you a cupcake on your birthday. That kind of friend. That’s me and Mindy.
Now that we’ve got that settled, I will say that yesterday’s Season Four premier was one of the better episodes of the series. And not just because of what happened at then end (if you know what I mean….).
Maybe this is an odd thing to praise, but one of my favorite aspects of The Mindy Project is, for all it’s absurdity and wackiness, Danny and Mindy always come across as very real. Weird. But real. Mindy is flighty and self centered and insecure and struggles with her weight and has a hard time with the conflicting goals of living her fantasy rom-com life while being an independent career woman at the same time. And Danny is arrogant and caustic and has a strong dose of both misogyny and xenophobia. And I love them for it. I love when writers are willing to give their characters – especially characters like this who are supposed to be good, likable, leading men and women characters – actual, true faults. There are true failings in both Danny and Mindy’s person. And we’re not supposed to write them off or hate them for it. I think that’s so important to see.
Now, let’s be real, I’m not saying I just want awful people running around unchecked, doing awful things. No. That would be terrible. No one wants that. But what I do like to see is people struggling with actual, believable flaws. And Danny’s casual racism and xenophobia, which were brilliantly on display during “While I Was Sleeping,” is completely believable. His background, his upbringing, the life Danny has led – all of it lends itself to this particular of his character. It’s not something tacked on to make a “perfect man” seem rounded. It’s not some cute and quirky being passed off as a fault. It’s real. It’s everyday.
None of that means it shouldn’t be called out or challenged. Just because something is doesn’t mean it should be. But I do think it’s important to reflect the realities of privilege. Of bias. It’s important to show our everyday, favorite characters as they would be in the real world. That their privilege and bias and ignorance is ingrained in them, just like ours is, in whatever capacity, in real life. That it’s something that infects good, decent, every day people. Not just monsters.
And here’s why it’s important to reflect that fact on television. Because not only did we get to see reality reflected, but we also got to see Danny learn and grow and become just a little bit better.
Danny didn’t want to get married to Mindy. He loved her and her was committed to her and to raising their baby together. But he didn’t want to marry her. He didn’t believe in marriage. And that’s fine. That’s valid. As he says, he didn’t have the best role models growing up, at least when it came to marriage. His father did run out on he and his mom. And then during Danny’s own marriage to Christina, things didn’t end well. So no. Danny’s not big on the idea of marrying Mindy.
When Danny goes to India to talk to Mindy’s parents and tell them that – that he’s the father or her child and while he can’t marry her, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love her – his ignorance rears its ugly head. When he finds out Mindy’s parents (who, side note, were hilarious) are planning to arrange a marriage for her (since they don’t know Danny and Mindy are together), Danny’s pretty disgusted. He basically becomes the living embodiment of this emoticon: and says, “C’mon, an arranged marriage? That’s so medieval!” Naturally, Danny’s put his foot in his mouth because Tarun and Soru’s (Mindy’s parents) was an arranged marriage. He’s pretty shocked by that declaration and tries to explain away their great relationship: they must have known each other a little through the “festivals,” or when you push the lanterns out into the lake (nope, that’s Japan). But no, they didn’t meet until their wedding day and are still happy married and in love.
Danny ends up spending just a little bit of time with Tarun and Soru (I’m thinking about a day?) as they search through lists of eligible men for Mindy. And during that time he gets to see all the good that’s come from their marriage. All the love and joy and tenderness. He sees the way they laugh at each other, the way they support one another, the way they stand up for one another. He sees what they share. He’s sees what they’ve passed on to Mindy. Danny’s issues with the institution of marriage and the idea of marrying Mindy are real and are valid, but maybe, he says, maybe if he’d had them as a role model he would feel different about it.
And in the end, that’s what happens. Danny started off their visit completely writing off and insulting their cultural practice of arranged marriage. It’s medieval, he said. It’s weird and it’s wrong and it’s archaic. It’s not the right way to do things. But by the end of the episode, it’s their love and relationship that gives Danny the tools to reevaluate his own fears and anxieties around marriage. Enough to realize he does want to marry Mindy. He’s not going to go out and have someone arrange his own marriage to a stranger anytime soon, but he sees the value in it now, even if not something he wants to practice himself.
Of course Danny’s not suddenly cured of all the racist or xenophobic ideas he holds. That hasn’t been magicked out of him. That’s not real. No one really has the total, about face Amazing Grace moments. Instead, it’s small. It’s incremental. It’s gradually having your eyes opened to the ways your hurting other people and trying to do better. It’s someone who lives a life you don’t understand being the person to understand you. It’s the Indian, Hindu family made from an arranged marriage being able to pick up when Danny’s mother’s sacred Catholic marriage failed.
Danny and Mindy are getting married. And he’s become a little bit better because of it.