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5 rom-com lessons from 'The Mindy Project'

Kelly Woo
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Mindy Kaling as Mindy Lahiri in The Mindy Project (Photo: Hulu)

The meet-cute. The falling-in-love montage. The obstacle to overcome. And, of course, the happily ever after.

These are the familiar, warm-and-fuzzy tropes of romantic comedies, both on the big and small screens. A romantic comedy done well is sure to find a place in people’s hearts. (Who hasn’t rewatched Pretty Woman or When Harry Met Sally a million times?)

But rom-coms aren’t easy to do well — especially on television. Remember the 2014 fall TV season, which introduced rom-sitcoms A to Z, Manhattan Love Story, and Selfie? No? Well, not surprising, since they all flopped in the ratings.

That’s what makes The Mindy Project stand out. The series is concluding Tuesday after six seasons, a cancellation by Fox (thanks, Hulu!), major tonal changes, and a lot of cast reshuffling. And it departs with still-snappy writing, a still-charming performance by star/creator Mindy Kaling, and still-fresh takes on modern dating.

Over the seasons, Mindy has had quite a few boyfriends, from the casual to put-a-ring-on-it. Here’s what those relationships can teach future rom-coms:

1. Play the field!

B.J. Novak as Jamie in  The Mindy Project (Photo: Hulu)

When The Mindy Project premiered, it wasn’t totally clear whom Mindy should be with. Yes, it seemed highly likely she’d hook up with Danny (Chris Messina) at some point, but the writers never boxed her into an OTP.

Instead, in Season 1, Mindy got involved with a multitude of dudes, including co-worker Jeremy (Ed Weeks), Josh (Tommy Dewey), Brendan (Mark Duplass), Jamie (B.J. Novak), Sam (Seth Rogen), and Casey (Anders Holms).

Building a premise on two characters who are “destined” to be together limits storytelling possibilities (and opportunities for really funny guest stars).

2. Opposites shouldn’t always attract.

Chris Messina as Danny and Mindy Kaling as Mindy Lahiri in The Mindy Project (Photo: Hulu)

One of the reasons fans got behind Mindy and Danny as a couple was how different they were — she bubbly and sometimes bubble-headed, he an often-curmudgeonly cynic. She’s a Snapchatter; he probably still has a Hotmail account.

And yet they eventually broke up. So did Mindy and several other opposites-attract boyfriends, like Princeton football coach Drew (Jay R. Ferguson) and the good Rev. Casey.

Many (not very good) romantic comedies set up the couple as oil and water, and just want us to assume that they’ll make it work somehow. Well, it usually doesn’t work, and The Mindy Project never shied from busting that cliché.

3. “Good on paper” means nothing.

Mindy Kaling as Mindy Lahiri and Ed Weeks as Jeremy in The Mindy Project (Photo: Hulu)

Tall, dark, handsome, and British? Sign Mindy up! Or not. As we saw with Jeremy, those words sounded good, but they didn’t translate into a good relationship.

It was the same with Marcus (Ne-Yo), a very cool guy who took Mindy out on some amazing dates, but ultimately was a bit too cool for school. And there was Cliff (Glenn Howerton), a successful lawyer who was a bit too boring for school. They prove that love isn’t created by checklists.

4. Sizzling chemistry doesn’t have to lead to romance.

Mindy Kaling as Mindy Lahiri and Adam Pally as Peter in The Mindy Project (Photo: Hulu)

Kaling is a rock star who has chemistry with everybody, but there have been several men her character really sparked with — and fortunately didn’t hook up with.

Her co-workers Jody (Garret Dillahunt) and Peter (Adam Pally) are two examples. Both had crazy chemistry with Mindy — the former was an opposites-attract situation, the latter was more of a zany, “Are we secretly twins?” thing — and eventually became very dear friends.

Jody nearly became a love interest, but their romance was nipped in the bud and the show turned out better for it. Sometimes the best relationships are platonic.

5. Happily ever after doesn’t have to last forever.

Bryan Greenberg as Ben and Mindy Kaling as Mindy Lahiri in The Mindy Project (Photo: Evans Vestal Ward/Hulu)

Marriage is kind of the point of a romantic comedy, right? Or at least, the promise of one. So, it seemed Mindy had found “The One” in Ben (Bryan Greenberg). They got married, they moved in together, they blended their families … and then they got divorced.

The show wasn’t shy about pulling the plug on a marriage that Mindy never seemed all that jazzed about. A romantic comedy is, first and foremost, a comedy. The romance part is fun, but the most important thing is that it should be funny. And in Season 6, the show has mined a lot of jokes from Mindy’s reentry into single life.

The Mindy Project might end up with the title character “alone.” By alone, we mean surrounded by friends, co-workers, her son, and an unending stream of new boyfriends. And maybe that’s how it should be.

The series finale of The Mindy Project premieres Tuesday, Nov. 14, on Hulu.

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