(Photo: Hulu)

There’s a problem with love triangles: They assume that all parties want to be involved, and, beyond that, that should two of the people choose each other, that they’ll be happy for the rest of their lives, even when we all know that’s statistically unlikely. “Will they or won’t they” crazed viewers are supposed to buy in wholeheartedly to these types of situations, knowing that should the love-starved heroine choose correctly, surely, definitely, her heart will be full forever.

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After all, Elizabeth Bennett chose Mr. Darcy, and they rode off happily into the sunset forever, right? Things didn’t get iffy after they had kids, and Darcy didn’t buy a fast horse and start taking mysterious trips to London when he hit 50. Titanic’s Rose chose Jack because she liked him, but what would have happened if she really had made room on that door? How would their relationship have worked? Would their love really conquer all, or would the stress of the struggles break them somewhere along the way?

That’s the question The Mindy Project asks in its fifth season premiere, where Mindy Kaling’s Mindy Lahiri is being asked to pick between the guy she knows—Danny Castellano, sexual volcano and father of her child—and Jody, the guy who claims to love her and bought her an apartment because he could. It’s a simple enough premise, but add in the complications—Danny’s a misogynist, and he’s actually engaged, and was thus cheating on his lovely fiancée Sara when he slept with Mindy in an elevator; Jody is nice and all, but he’s a bit of a cad, and Mindy doesn’t really feel a spark—and the question arises: Is the real choice in a love triangle sometimes no choice at all?

Ultimately, Mindy chooses herself, thus learning a whole new lesson: That just because a person might want to be in a romantic comedy doesn’t mean they always have to operate out of desperation. That model is passé. A 21st century romantic comedy should be about choices, and the person you choose to fall in love with could just be staring you back in the mirror.

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The Mindy Project has always been good at tipping its hat to the rom-com paradigm while subverting it all the same. Yes, Kaling’s Dr. Lahiri might be a love-starved flibbertigibbet, but she’s also a boss bitch at her job—jobs, even—as well as a woman who has sexual agency rather than sexual reluctancy. That’s probably due in part to Kaling’s own interest in the format, but also to the show’s collective insistence on not only working with in the rom-com genre, but in pushing it forward. After all, there’s no point in rehashing what’s already been done when there’s a whole world of stories—modern, 21st century stories, about modern, 21st century women—to be explored.

It’ll be interesting to see how both Mindy Lahiri and The Mindy Project manage to cope this season. After all, picking a guy is easy enough, especially in a writers room. Picking yourself—or, rather, picking the road less taken—can be much, much harder.

Stray observations:

  • Regular Mindy recap readers might note that I am not Gwen Ihnat. This is true. I have elected to take over for the venerable Gwen this season, though there’s a chance she’ll pop in for the occasional chat on weeks I’m unavailable. I will do my very best to pay tribute to her work in the past, and I appreciate the chance to put all my years of hard work watching romantic comedies (and The Mindy Project) to good use
  • Mindy says Jody is “handsome and rugged, like a lumberjack in a porno.”
  • “I’m not an adulterer. I’m barely an adult.”
  • Jody is convinced that Mindy is giving him doe eyes, “you know, like the way she looks at cookie dough?”
  • After finding out that Sara visited her fertility practice, Mindy (smartly) assumes it was because Sara wants to kill her, saying, “I’m going to be season three of Serial, and the worst part is that no one is going to listen because season two was so boring.” Preach, sister. Here’s hoping Sarah Koenig isn’t a Hulu subscriber.

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