Our beloved Mindy Project is happily ensconced at Hulu now, though you wouldn’t know it from watching the first episode of season four (other than the fact that we wake up to a new episode Tuesday morning, rather than getting it at 9:30 p.m.). Mindy Kaling has hinted in interviews that things will get a little racier on the streaming service, referring to “the way that we temper[ed] everything for network television,” but we didn’t see that in the premiere.
The episode, in fact, picks up precisely where we left off in the third season finale on Fox, with Danny flying to India to meet her parents now that Mindy is pregnant with his child. “I’m Danny Castellano,” he says when the door opens, “and I’m in love with your daughter … But I don’t believe in marriage, due to some personal experiences that I won’t get into now.” Of course, he does get into them, and, of course, the guy who answered the door doesn’t speak English and isn’t Mindy’s father. Mindy’s father does appear then, wielding a small sword. The gag is predictable, but Mr. Lahiri saves it when Danny backpedals and says he’s just a co-worker of Mindy’s who’s in town visiting. “Are you Morgan? At last we meet. Share this mango with me.” This is the first of several jokes that hinge on the Lahiris seeming to conform to Indian stereotypes, then veering sharply away from them — it reminds me of Jane Krakowski’s Native-American parents on Kimmy Schmidt, which I kinda liked (but others did not).
In an interesting twist, Mindy has an alternative-universe plotline back at home: She’s so angry that Danny’s gone missing that she wishes she’d never gotten together with him, then falls asleep … to a dream, of course, in which her wish is granted. She’s married instead to Joseph Gordon-Levitt. (He’s not playing himself, though one can certainly imagine Mindy wanting to be married to JGL.) He is, instead, a TV producer. She has a huge engagement ring, which, JGL informs her, she demanded or he’d be “S-ing my own D for the rest of L.” This is a moment when we could have seen saltier language on Hulu, but, really, the code version is funnier. She lives on Gramercy Park, a very nice location in Manhattan that Mindy describes as “Jon Stewarty.”
At first she can’t figure out why a guy with so much money and a shelf full of Emmys would want “to marry my fat ass.” This felt slightly out of character to me — since when does Mindy body-shame herself? I do, however, love her vision of her dream life: marriage to a Real Housewives producer.
Back in “reality” in India, Mrs. Lahiri makes her entrance singing “Strangers in the Night,” and this is when I realize how great it is to finally meet Mindy’s parents. They fit her perfectly, and they toss off very Mindy lines with ease. Mom is an actress, but she’s having a hard time since they moved from Boston to India: “Now I can’t even get a callback for ‘old woman who can’t believe yogurt is fat-free.’”
I didn’t totally buy that Mindy’s parents knew she was pregnant but not that Danny was the father; they’ve been dating for a while, and Mindy wouldn’t keep that a secret from her parents. I was willing to go along with it, however, for the plotline: Her parents enlist Danny’s help with finding her a suitable husband. They plan to arrange a marriage for her. Danny learns that they, too, had an arranged marriage, though he learns it the hard way, only after declaring the practice “so medieval.” He can’t believe they hadn’t known each other in the slightest before getting married: “You must have seen each other at the festivals. You know, when you push the lantern in the water.” No, Mrs. Lahiri corrects him, that’s Japan.
Morgan shows up in India looking for Danny, though he went to Pakistan first and had to fend off advances from the Taliban. He and Danny then proceed to help the Lahiris go through a binder full of prospects for Mindy. Danny doesn’t think she’d like any of them: “Is there a binder of white NBA players?” Morgan pushes the process along, hoping to pressure Danny into asking for Mindy’s hand in marriage.
It’s a solid rom-com premise.
In dreamland, nothing is rom-com-like at all. It’s basically the anti-rom-com. Danny appears to hate Mindy, and not even in the cute sexual-tension way he appeared not to like her at the beginning of the series. Morgan’s in a wheelchair, though that’s only because Danny couldn’t stand listening to Morgan’s shoes squeak when he walked around. Mindy’s having an affair with Brendan Deslaurier. (He enters with a good Mindy throwaway line: “You look happy. Let me guess, there’s a new pop song out celebrating butt size.”)
Alterna-Mindy wears an amazing low-cut black dress. She gets a shot at her own reality show thanks to her husband’s success with Real Housewives: Black vs. White. (So perfect.) She’s launching her own company, but it’s not a fertility clinic; it’s Delectable Desires, “slutty girdles for the sexually active obese.” She’s in, horror of horrors, an open relationship. She doesn’t want kids; she told her husband she’d rather have a recording studio and a South Park pinball machine. Things blow up when she asks if they’re getting ready to meet his college roommate because they’re having a three-way with him. “Yes we were gonna have a three-way with him!” JGL huffs. “I don’t even know you anymore!”
In India, Morgan has found a suitable suitor for Mindy, who seems to be passing his interview with the Lahiris until he hears Mindy is pregnant and he calls her “a lemon.” Her parents, naturally, take offense and lecture him about how lucky he’d be to join their family. Their daughter is perfect, they insist, and Mrs. Lahiri is the finest undiscovered Bollywood actress of her time, and Mr. Lahiri, his wife insists, is a great chemistry teacher. “His office hours are poorly attended because he teaches it right the first time,” she rants. Danny can see how much they truly love each other, despite their arranged marriage, and this appears to renew his faith in marriage.
In Mindy’s nightmare, she finally tracks Danny down to try to explain to him what’s happening to her. But, of course, he is on a date with Freida Pinto, whom he met in spin class. Mindy drags him outside into the rain (rom-com alert!) to explain that this was what happened when he didn’t kiss her on the plane back from Los Angeles. She met the producer and ended up with a terrible life. She tries kissing Danny, but he backs away. Then he tries kissing her and backs away again. Finally, she’s hit by a bus and wakes up.
Danny is home next to her! She tells him about the dream: “It was like It’s a Wonderful Life, but it was in color and it wasn’t boring.” Danny gets down on one knee, and, at last, we get our proposal. Hulu, it seems, is not afraid to commit.