The Mindy Project may be a smart, silly, starry-eyed comedy about an urban gynecologist looking for love, but executive producer Matt Warburton says the Fox series’ second season took major inspiration from AMC’s gritty Rick Grimes and his haggard band of zombie fighters.
When Fox offered Mindy the chance to take a midseason break, the EP tells TVLine, the team behind Shulman & Associates saw “a tremendous opportunity.”
“The way we thought of it, at least, was the way that The Walking Dead does it, where they split their season into two chunks,” he says. “There’s a natural climax in the middle.”
Interesting choice of words, considering Mindy and Danny’s steamy airplane-galley hook-up in the final episode before the break. When the series — which, along with star Mindy Kaling, is among TVLine’s 2014 dream Emmy nominees — returned in April, audiences couldn’t wait to see if the polar-opposite obstetricians would be able to make it work. And having Mindy and Danny’s saga play out uninterrupted as the season drew to a close, Warburton says, was “really worth its weight in gold.”
Read on to hear Warburton and Kaling’s thoughts on teasing viewers (but not too much), walking the fine line between rom-com and slapstick and having Danny’s mom meet Dr. Lahiri in Season 3.
TVLINE | The show really hit its stride this season, especially after you came back from the break.
WARBURTON | Thank you. What’s cool is, we were actually really excited when we heard that we were going to get to show all the episodes in a row, because it really allowed us in the middle of the season to have a huge climax, when Mindy and Danny finally kiss. And to build up the anticipation of what was going to happen next. It was so exciting to engage with fans and not tip too much and get them all excited.
KALING | I’m so proud of our Season 2 finale, “Danny & Mindy.” It just has so much of what I love in my favorite movies, it’s super cinematic — Chris and I actually shot in New York City — and is full of secrets and lies. Also: some hardcore making out.
TVLINE | Can you pinpoint an episode, either when you were watching it or when you were breaking it, when you were like, “This is what we want the show to be”?
WARBURTON | The episode that Mindy wrote, “You Got Sext,” was a great episode because, for all of our success with huge guest stars, I think it used our cast really well. It had an A story and a B story that both worked in sync. What was interesting about that episode was we more or less broke that episode Season 1. Even kind of early in Season 1.
We were very excited about it, and we just felt it was too early to tell that story… This happens with us. We have certain things that we weren’t able to use last season that we hope to use this season, which I’ll keep secret for now. But it was one of those things where we had this episode we loved and we were like, “We need to know these characters a little bit better.”
And then when we added Peter, we were like, “Oh, Peter will make this story even better.” So, in Season 2, when we were able to use this thing that we’d always loved, it was a symbol that, “Oh, our characters have kind of progressed to the point where we can tell all the different stories we’ve always wanted to tell.” When it got such a tremendous fan reaction, that episode, we were more confident than ever that we were on to something.
TVLINE | I know you’ve said before that this wasn’t the case, but have Danny/Mindy actually been endgame since the show’s beginning?
WARBURTON | It’s something we knew. No matter what happened to the characters long-term, we knew we wanted to get them together at some point. The first thing that we built to was their missed connection at Christmas. We’d been very carefully setting up Glenn Howerton’s character, Cliff, to kick off with that episode. Then our next big tent pole was the kiss. Then, yeah, we had the ability to see how those things felt to us and could get people’s reaction to it as we were ramping into the last piece of the season. And obviously, you never let that drive the train, but more than anything, we wanted to see how we felt when we saw those moments on television.
Our internal feeling was, “Look, we know the stories we want to tell. A lot of them are going to be when Mindy and Danny are a couple and what that’s going to look like to people. Because it’s one of those relationships that only gets more interesting when the people are together because the characters are so different from each other.”
And we just felt like we did not want to jerk the audience around for another second. If it felt like another thing where they almost kiss and they don’t, or get together and they don’t… we were going to have protestors outside the Universal lot. So we were committed to making them a couple and really exploring what that looks like without the moment-to-moment, every-single-episode, existential dread of “Will they or won’t they?” So that was really the decision-making arrangement.
But up until… over the winter, I would say, we wanted to see how everyone from our fans to our parents and friends to just each other, how it felt. Because you have to tell certain kinds of stories when they’re apart and different kinds of stories when they’re together, and we wanted to tell the best of both.
TVLINE | Chris Messina said he wouldn’t mind meeting Danny’s mom in the coming season. Thoughts on that?
KALING | We are definitely going to see Danny’s mom this season. I hope she and Mindy get along terribly.
TVLINE | Any plans to return to New York in Season 3? Any ideas where you’d shoot?
WARBURTON | We’d love to. Any chance we get. I mean, it’s hard, schedule-wise and everything, but we love the way it looked. And we’d love, if anything, to do it again, or if possible, spend more time there.
KALING | I would probably have Mindy and Danny skate at Rockefeller Center at Christmastime. You can’t fake that in Los Angeles, and I would love to wipe out on that ice, maybe accidentally fall on [New York] Mayor DiBlasio. You know, that kind of thing.
TVLINE | The show does a great job of walking the slapstick line without turning into total farce. In particular, I’m thinking about the airplane-bathroom makeout session that starts off hot and winds up with Mindy’s hair getting flushed down the toilet. I’m wondering if there are ever times when you’ve thought, “This is going a little too far, even for us”?
WARBURTON | Yeah, there’s always a lot that ends up on the cutting room floor, as you can imagine. There were moments where I remember watching it on set and I’m thinking, “This is going to be too crazy.” And it ends up being people’s favorite moment.
There’s an episode early in the season where Mindy is acting so crazy that Morgan traps her in a pizza box. Like a clamshell. And I remember they were just kind of improvising using props that were around, and Mindy had been eating pizza. And I was like, “They’ve never seen that before. I’m not sure if the audience will buy this.” And when we saw it, we were like, “It’s just the perfect visualization of Mindy out of control and her friend needs to physically restrain her.”
It’s like we get as far as we can on set and then just sort of look at each other in the cold light of day and say, “Will our audience accept this on TV?” But somewhere in the Universal lot, there’s a storehouse where we could put together a pretty creative Three Stooges reel. That’d be too crazy. Maybe the DVD some year.
TVLINE | Do you have a favorite scene/moment/joke from the season?
KALING | There’s a scene in “Danny & Mindy” where Danny follows Mindy into the women’s restroom and tells Mindy he loves her, and Mindy can’t believe it even though she wants desperately to believe it. It’s so emotional and romantic, but it takes place in the least romantic place ever. Chris is so moving in that. I felt lucky to be on a comedy show and get to act in scenes like that.
WARBURTON | There’s a scene in “The Girl Next Door.” It’s a dramatic scene and it’s a comedy scene that played so well, which was the showdown between Tim Daly and Chris Messina. We have so many great scenes. I’d say Danny’s dance and Mindy’s response to it at Christmas was one of my favorite moments. And just the battle between those guys and the way that Danny asked, “What are you making?” and Tim Daly just says one word – “sauce” — and the way that just devastated Danny. It was the most emasculating thing Tim Daly could have said. It was great.