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The Mindy Project dropped not one but two bombshells when it unveiled its season-five finale in March.
Onscreen came the surprise that Mindy (series creator and star Mindy Kaling) had eloped with beau Ben (Bryan Greenberg) — a decision she appeared ambivalent about, to say the least, as she looked out the subway window in the final moments of the episode.
The following day came the surprising offscreen news that the show had been renewed for its sixth and final season.
Those major changes ahead have only added to the creative process behind the scenes at the half-hour comedy, which opened its writers’ room several weeks ago ahead of a September return to Hulu.
“Everything has a lot of emotional weight in ways that other seasons haven’t,” Kaling tells The Hollywood Reporter. “When you only do 10 episodes for a final season, every character and all of her interactions in every storyline have so much more import because it’s the last time we’re going to do it.”
With the writers hard at work on the final season and all those final moments, Kaling and showrunner Matt Warburton talked with THR about the thinking behind Mindy’s “impulsive” choice, their new rule for the final season and the “satisfying” ending they’re writing toward.
Speaking about the finale, where did the decision come from to have Mindy get married?
Matt Warburton: Part of it came from our knowledge that we had one more season left and so it felt the perfect timing to do something like that. Also, I think you can tell from the last shot of the episode that Mindy’s not 100 percent sure it was the right idea and people are going to notice that that is the first thing we deal with.
It’s important for the character, over the course of six years, to have checked off all the different boxes of the things that she’s trying to learn about herself to see what she wants. Which are the things that she’s dreamed of since she was a kid that will ultimately be still important to her as a fully integrated adult and which ones are maybe just fantasies. The audience will like how we handle it, to give her a little time to process this really big thing that, I think, for Mindy as a little girl and for a lot of little girls they assume is going to be the biggest moment in their life. Some people thought it was very tossed off and happened very casually. The character thinks that, too, so it’s one of the first things that we’re going to address moving forward in the last season.
What more can you say about that last look? There’s a lot to unpack there.
Mindy Kaling: We have this saying, and it’s been very useful when a series goes for longer than a hundred episodes, which is this character can never get what she wants when she wants it. We enjoyed it because it felt very real to her character to make a big impulsive move and it seems like she has everything, this instant family, a guy she loves and then there’s a moment of panic.
Warburton: To us, it was our Graduate moment. It’s a character that’s gone through five years of growth making a decision that harkens back a little bit to her impulsiveness earlier in the series, and so what I think she’s going to have to do is wrestle with, and this is something we’ve been talking about a lot in dealing with season six: to what extent is she a completely different person than she was when the show started because of all the things that she’s gone through, and to what extent does she feel like there’s still value to the person she was before.
In any show with a character that you really love, one inclination is to cure them of all their flaws but you remember that you like those flaws. Those were really cool things about that person and flaw is just a negative word for what might be something that makes you unique or interesting. One of the things that we’re going to have to deal with this season, and I’m excited about the direction we’re going, is having her find that balance. We’ve done so much work curing her of the various things that we loved about the character at the beginning, but we want to make sure that she’s able to say, “Yes, I’ve grown in different ways but I’m still myself.” The marriage was, in some ways, her most pragmatic move she’s ever made and her most impulsive.
What made you want to explore marriage and see Mindy as a married woman in the final season?
Kaling: What Mindy has in common with a lot of women in their mid-30s is that she’s obsessed with marriage. It’s the entire premise of the show. The pilot is her wanting to get married and her ruining her ex-boyfriend’s wedding. For someone who fetishizes marriage so much, we’re like, “OK, let’s give it to her and let’s see if it’s as good as she thinks it’s going to be.” That’s been the fun of the beginning part of this season is showing her what the challenges are of being married.
How soon after the finale does the premiere pick up?
Warburton: It will be about six months later.
How does marriage itself impact and change Mindy in the final season?
Warburton: One of the things is Ben, Bryan Greenberg’s character, is so different from Danny that she’s basically going to say, “Well, I tried the Danny thing and it was a colossal disaster. I’m going in a very different direction with Ben and the second I pull trigger, I have all these qualms about it.” I think she has to say, “OK, if all these different extremes are a problem, is it me? Is it them? Is there something wrong with me or something wrong with the world? What’s going on here?” She going to be thinking about that a lot.
How has knowing it’s the final season impacted the work and the writing process?
Kaling: Everything has a lot of emotional weight in ways that other seasons haven’t. When you only do 10 episodes for a final season, every character and all of her interactions in every storyline have so much more import because it’s the last time we’re going to do it. It’s been really helpful saying, “OK, where do we want each of these characters to end?” We have 10 episodes to do it and working backward from that, I kind of envy my friends who have always been on a cable network because this is really that great benefit of doing it this way. When we did 26 episodes two years ago, you can’t even think about the end of it because it would make you go mad. And we also know what works, we know what people want to see, we know what we enjoy writing.
I want it to feel very satisfying, the ending, so you’ve felt like you were going on a journey and we were trying to lead you somewhere. So going into that, it’s made it extremely funny but also a very emotional season.
Warburton: When you have only 10 episodes to do and you know there’s so many fun things that you have left unresolved, you have to figure out what happens to all of your supporting characters. We can definitely promise the audience we’ll be bringing back a laundry list of fan-favorite guest stars. People would kill us if we didn’t bring back some of these people. So we get to see everybody and find out what happens to them, and take Mindy on this big epic, 10-episode journey.
What else is your personal bucket list for the final season?
Warburton: Mindy has such personal relationships with all of our supporting cast, Jeremy and Tamra and Morgan. We’re leaving them behind, but they all still get to be friends with each other. It’s sadder for us than for them, so we just wanted to make sure that we revisited a great moment or storyline between them and there will be a lot more of romance among the people at Shulman and Associates. We ship the characters just like the fans do so hopefully we’re doing it the same way and land in a good place for everybody.
At this point, do you know how the show ends?
Kaling: Yes, Matt and I have known for about a year and a half how we want the show to end. For the last season, we’ve kind of said no new friends, so we’ve just had people who had been there from the very beginning because we’ve had so many amazing guest stars, but we’ve decided in the last year to scale it back and just have the people that are series regulars and our recurring guest stars that everyone has known and loved, like Mark Duplass and B.J. [Novak], but we also decided to do that because there’s so little screen time but we have some fan favorites coming back for their little swan songs.
What can you say about that last episode and that last scene now that you know what you’re moving toward?
Kaling: I really have a fondness and affection for the pilot and I think it did a lot of cool things that I hadn’t seen in a show before. So we really studied it in a way that I haven’t for the beginnings of others seasons — and really the whole first season — looking back six years ago when I had just come from The Office and what I was trying to say back then. I feel like we don’t revisit our younger idealistic selves, you just get in this pattern of churning these episodes out. Now I was like, “Let’s try and get in my mind back then,” because my life personally has changed so much, too. I just thought, “What was I trying to say? And now can I make it look like it was all part of one larger story.”
The final season of The Mindy Project kicks off in September on Hulu.
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