With so many new series popping up on streaming services and DVD, it gets harder and harder to keep up with recent shows, much less the all-time classics. With TV Club 10, we point you toward the 10 episodes that best represent a TV series, classic or modern. They might not be the 10 best episodes, but they’re the 10 episodes that’ll help you understand what the show’s all about.
When The Office ended, few would have expected Mindy Kaling to be one of the show’s most successful post-series stars. Kaling was in her 20s (and the sole woman in the writers’ room) when she landed her gig on The Office, not only writing for the show but also playing chatty office assistant Kelly Kapoor, who was forever crushing on dreamy intern Ryan (Kaling’s real-life pal B.J. Novak).
The Mindy Project, Kaling’s post-Office series with Fox, was one of those work-in-progress titles that stuck. A longtime fan of romantic comedy, as she’s laid out in her smart New Yorker essays and first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Kaling set up her sitcom as a long-form rom-com. While she starts the series hooking up with Hugh Grant-wannabe Jeremy (Ed Weeks), the seeds for her will they/won’t they with Danny (Chris Messina) are planted in the very first episode. For three full seasons, Kaling deftly stretched out the Danny-and-Mindy romance, moving from barely acquaintances to real friends to the most effective comedic romance on TV.
At the end of season three, trouble brewed: Fox canceled the series, and Messina needed time off to work on other projects. Although Hulu quickly picked up the show, Messina’s schedule put Mindy and Danny on the rocks. It’s been an interesting year (for a discussion of Messina’s effect on the series, just check out any Mindy Project episode review comments section), but Kaling has crafted a solid sitcom after its four seasons.
Her status as the creator and producer of a show that she’s also writing and starring in should not be overlooked. As she mentioned in a New York Times interview, she decided that “no one is going to write a show for a chubby brown woman,” so she wrote one herself. Her writers’ room is solid: She pens some episodes along with Matt Warburton, and Charlie Grandy, Jeremy Bronson, and new adds like Lang Fisher have adapted to her absurdist sensibility. Others have improved as time has passed, like 30 Rock’s Tracey Wigfeld, who recently submitted her best-ever script.
Also on the upswing: Kaling’s cast has settled into a tidy rhythm after various ebbs and flows. Each season has seen a lot of shuffling, usually swapping female cast members for male ones (long gone are Mindy’s settled-down best friend Gwen, office assistants Shauna and Betsy, and the Shulman in Shulman And Associates). Besides Messina, the toughest downgrade from “series regular” status has been Happy Endings alum Adam Pally, who added a refreshing dose of bro-ness to the show. He’s stopped by for a few guest appearances, as has his fellow Happy Endings star Eliza Coupe, How I Met Your Mother’s Cristin Milioti, and various non-Danny suitors for Mindy, from Timothy Olyphant to Seth Rogen to Ben Feldman.
While the jump to Hulu was problematic in terms of the Danny plot, the cast has risen to the occasion. New characters played by Garret Dillahunt and Fortune Feimster have had varying levels of success, but the now-core office setup of Jeremy, Morgan, Tamra, and Beverly is solid. The loosened restrictions of a streaming service has allowed the Mindy character to get more open sexually, and it’s still a bit jarring to hear her swear.
The Mindy Project wraps up its fourth season tonight, and a fifth has been confirmed. These 10 episodes trace the development of The Mindy Project—before, during, and after the Danny relationship—while highlighting the show’s signature brand of absurdist humor. The entire series is available on Hulu, making it easy for you to catch up.
1. “In The Club” (season one, episode three, 10/9/12)
This early effort establishes Mindy’s desire for friends, celebrity, VIP rooms, and romantic comedy. The entire OB-GYN office heads out to a club, which at this point includes Mindy, Danny, Morgan, Shauna, and Betsy. It’s ironic how much Mindy totes her “girl squad,” as Shauna and Betsy were not long for the Mindy world (there’s even a phone call to BFF Gwen, who didn’t last long either). But most of the cast had solid chemistry from the get-go, especially when everyone gets their first (and fortunately, not last) view of Danny’s dance moves. Mindy also meets future boyfriend Josh at the club, after drumming up a rom-com discussion with a table full of NBA stars.
2. “Josh And Mindy’s Christmas Party” (season one, episode nine, 12/11/12)
Here we have the ruin of that relationship, as it turns out that Josh is cheating on Mindy with none other than Kimmy Schmidt herself (and fellow Office alum), Ellie Kemper. This effort established Mindy’s now-traditional pivotal Christmas episodes; it also helps draw Danny and Mindy closer together (he’s with her when she discovers the deception). We also get our first look at Danny’s gingerbread house decorations, Morgan’s karaoke, and Mindy’s love for Christmas, ending, of course, in an out-and-out party disaster, but a heartwarming denouement overall.
3. “Sk8r Man” (season two, episode seven, 11/5/13)
This episode showed what an inspired one-off date could bring to this sitcom: It helps when the one-off in question is the magnificent Timothy Olyphant. At this point, Mindy’s perennial singleness was a series theme, so she and Danny both hook up with unsuitable partners to show that they’re not too “picky.” (Danny’s companion is a hilarious Vanessa Bayer playing the most boring date in the world.) Olyphant’s Graham is an inspired bro send-up with a tattoo of a pregnant mermaid, health care that includes a sock and masking tape, and a tendency to dine and ditch. Mindy nails it with this line: “My body is very attracted to your body, but when you speak, my brain gets angry.”
4. “You’ve Got Sext” (season two, episode eight, 11/12/13)
In my first (immediate) evaluation of this episode, I was a little harsh. Mostly because it’s not the funniest effort in the Mindy canon, and the B-plot goes a little wonky. But as far as setting up the Mindy-Danny chemistry, this episode did it beautifully. Mindy gets locked out of her apartment and stays at Danny’s, as her host gets increasingly freaked out about their impending closeness. A need to pose as a couple in front of Danny’s obsessed neighbor only complicates matters. Looking back on it now, the episode, written by Kaling, perfectly crafts the opposites-attract part of their relationship. The first time he kisses her on the forehead, even the crazy neighbor can see what’s bound to happen.
5. “Indian BBW” (season two, episode 16, 4/1/14)
The first time Danny and Mindy get together, they are soon felled by a dual case of viral meningitis as Mindy tries to get an old sex tape back. Fortunately, that tape is with her ex, Bill Hader, in a brilliant, brilliant guest spot as a pervy dentist. The guest-star goodness doesn’t stop there, with Rob Huebel as a porn entrepreneur who sees the market value in Mindy’s “BBW” tape. Porn connoisseur Peter is Mindy’s sidekick in getting the tape back, which makes this escapade even better, as he gets closer than anyone to discovering the secret hookup Mindy and Danny are hiding. Pretty much a perfect episode. If you are thinking about getting into this show, this is the one to watch. If you love this episode, you’ll like the rest, and if not, it’s just not for you. One of numerous LOL lines: “Look how dainty my wrists are! They can barely hold the giant calzones that I eat!”
6. “Danny And Mindy” (season two, episode 22, 5/6/14)
There were a lot of stakes riding on Mindy’s season-two finale, which toppled the will-they/won’t-they line forever. Danny had an early freak-out over his relationship with Mindy and dumped her but soon realized his mistake. To get the rom-com fanatic of his dreams, he has to go big with a huge romantic gesture, which, in perfect cinematic fashion, happens on top of the Empire State Building. “Danny And Mindy” draws from You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless In Seattle, and even An Affair To Remember to craft the perfect valentine not just to the titular couple but also romance in general.
7. “Caramel Princess Time” (season three, episode six, 11/4/14)
Once Danny and Mindy were together, the show surprisingly found tons of sitcom fodder in their relationship, something that hadn’t been seen since the days of Mad About You. In this solid season-three effort, Danny and Mindy have an entire episode of just disagreeing about why she’s always late and he’s on time. This funny exercise was a perfect example of how well the two played off each other, while exploring how hard it is to make a relationship work between two people with different viewpoints on almost everything. As a bonus, the B-plot with Adam Pally’s Peter was also stellar, as he made a brief but fun connection with Fargo’s delightful Allison Tolman.
8. “Dinner At The Castellanos” (season three, episode 15, 2/10/15)
Mindy’s pregnancy threw everyone for a loop, characters and viewers alike. Mindy grapples with how to tell Danny, while a dinner party with the Castellanos in Staten Island highlights the concept of family. The Mindy Project has genius casting overall, and it might have hit its high point with Rhea Perlman and Dan Hedaya as Danny’s parents. Best of all, Mindy offers her own views on child-rearing and what makes her the formidable force that she is, with a romantic close scored by Beyoncé’s “XO” to bring our favorite couple back together again.
9. “While I Was Sleeping” (season four, episode one, 9/15/15)
Talk about great guest spots: Joseph Gordon-Levitt shows up in a season opener that finds Danny slow to propose. Mindy wakes up in an alternate universe where Gordon-Levitt is her perfect husband on the surface but not in actuality, and Danny has moved on. In this nightmare landscape, Mindy realizes it’s less important to be in the perfect apartment with room for your South Park pinball machine than to be with the right person. Meanwhile in the real world, Morgan and Danny court Mindy’s wonderful parents in India.
10. “Mindy Lahiri Is DTF” (season four, episode 16, 5/3/16)
A now-single Mindy takes full advantage of what her dating life, and streaming service, has to offer. Eliza Coupe is her Tinder tutor as she grapples with hookups, a boring date with her old Office friend Paul Lieberstein (“Oh, I never finished telling you about my cousin’s trip to Hartford”), and a promising flirtation with bartender Kyle Bornheimer. The subject matter, and a lot of the dialogue, offers Kaling the chance to ramp up Mindy’s sex life past the constraints of broadcast television. The rest of the cast steps up for a ridiculous Elementary viewing party (with Jeremy in full Baskerville wear) and a welcome visit from an irate Danny.