The Mindy Project: What the Heck Happened to This Once-Great Show?

Warning: The following contains spoilers for The Mindy Project’s Season 5 finale.

The Mindy Project wrapped its fifth season Tuesday with an episode that found Dr. Lahiri (again) making a decision she’ll likely come to regret about a(nother) guy who has become important(ish) in her life but who will (likely) be gone by the next time her BFF Peter rolls into town. If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s ground the Hulu comedy has covered so many times since its debut. And it leaves this former fan with a sad question:

Exqueeze me, Beyoncé Pad Thai, but what the heck happened to you and your show?

Sure, all of this Guy-o’-the-week/season was fine when we were just getting to know Mindy Kaling’s OB-GYN alter ego. She’s fun! She’s odd! She’s flighty! She tends to attract weirdos! I enjoyed watching her realize Jamie was in love with his female bestie. I wanted to know more about Josh’s horrifying levels of energy-drink consumption. I watched, rapt, as Casey changed careers with the enthusiasm (and commitment) of a toddler high on Pixie Sticks.

The combination of high-caliber comedic talent and edgy, on-point scripts was electric. And when Mindy and Danny realized that they were into each other? Whoa nelly, Kaling and Chris Messina owned me, what with the airplane galley kiss and the Bridget Jones’ Diary storytime and the “American Woman” Diamond Dan performance. Because the show’s humor at that point — Season 3 — had something it has lacked for a while now: heart.

The Mindy Project‘s decline certainly didn’t start with Messina’s slow-trickle absence in Season 4, but the actor’s impending departure (technically, he remains with the show, though he was downgraded from series regular to recurring last year) seemed to throw Dr. L into reverse. All of the learning and growing she’d done as the future Mrs. Castellano faded into the background, leaving us with Season 1 Mindy redux. Only this time, she’s got a rarely seen kid.

It’s feminist blasphemy to admit that a show about a strong, accomplished professional woman hasn’t been as good since its leading man started heading toward the exit, yet here we are. I know. I KNOW. Feel free to join me on the floor in despair.

While we’re on the topic: I’ve written before about my disappointment in the weird left turn the Danny character took last season. But Bryan Greenberg’s Ben, aka the nurse to whom Mindy got married in the season finale, is an overcorrection. He’s kind, loving, normal… and totally forgettable in the pantheon of Lahiri’s kooky loves.

The show still has its laugh-out-loud funny moments; it has always excelled at the perfectly written/timed throwaway line. And Rebecca Rittenhouse’s portrayal of clipped Shulman & Associates newbie Anna is a fresh treat each week. But Mindy‘s major plots — such as Mindy crashing Ben’s daughter’s bat mitzvah with a ‘shroom-tripping Peter or Colette proposing to her girlfriend of five months then immediately getting cold feet — feel like the comedic equivalent of treading water. Even “Mindy Lahiri Is a White Man,” an episode in which Dr. L experienced the day in the skin of Veronica Mars‘ Ryan Hansen and which should have been a hilarious sendup of gender and racial politics, felt flat. (It didn’t help that one of the messages sent was that women of color should get a makeover and dress better in order to land the jobs for which they are more than qualified.)

In the closing shot of the finale, Mindy looked out the commuter rail window with an expression of regret following her (offscreen?!) marriage to Ben. It’s completely understandable: She’s been down this path before, and unless the show undergoes some big changes, she — and we — know how it’ll end.

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