At the end of season 3 of The Mindy Project, Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling) and Danny Costellano (Chris Messina) are expecting their first child (who saw THAT coming in season 1?). In the season 3 finale episode, when Danny fails to make it to a going away party for Mindy’s parents, Mindy reveals that she has not, in fact, informed her parents of Danny’s existence.
The finale feels like a gleeful middle finger to Kaling’s critics. The episode includes a hilarious reunion of all the white men Mindy has seriously dated (“the Manhattan meat train”), and while the episode is centered around Lahiri’s family (and even includes scenes of Lahiri in a stunning sari), it never actually depicts her Indian American parents onscreen. I don’t want to give away the ending, as it’s one of the best I’ve seen in a sitcom finale, but it certainly takes The Mindy Project farther than it’s ever been before.
The criticism directed towards the show (largely based on the fact that Lahiri apparently dates only white men) has bothered me for a while, for many reasons. Mostly, however, the selective criticism directed at Kaling strikes me as…sexist.
ABC’s Selfie, AME’s The Walking Dead, and Netflix’s The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt are all shows that depict white/Asian interracial relationships. And they all have one thing in common: in each of these celebrated relationships, the man is the person of color, and his love interest is a white woman. In Selfie, it is everywhere implied that John Cho’s character Henry dates only white women, and that he will eventually end up with his co-lead, the red-headed Eliza (Karen Gillan). The pattern is established early on when Henry meets up with a blonde ex-girlfriend. Later, there is a somewhat uncomfortable scene in which Henry coldly rejects an Asian barista’s futile attempts to gain his affections with a free cookie. The rejection is inadvertent, but he later makes it abundantly clear to Eliza that he would never have pursued the cookie-lady’s affection anyway (“I am not interested in that cookie”). The episode ends with Henry meeting Julia (Allison Miller), the white woman he will date for the remainder of the short-lived series. The cookie-lady scene reads as funnier if you happen to realize that the actress playing the barista is Cho’s real-life wife Kerri Higuchi, but the uncomfortable (and critically unnoticed) implication is that this is a man who dates only white women.
However, rather than critique the show or its creator Emily Kapnek, many members of community, including MANAA, spearheaded the movement to save the show and lauded Kapnek for her efforts to promote diversity.
I support endeavors to see an increase in representation onscreen, but it is unfair to be willing to celebrate the advancement of Asian American women only if it accompanies the advancement of men. It is unfortunate that the reaction to Kaling’s success has been relentless criticism decrying her insufficient representation of men on her female-centric show, especially when the reaction to her male counterparts’ success is so overwhelmingly positive.
None of this is meant to suggest that The Mindy Project is somehow above reproach or beyond our ability to critique simply because it is produced by a woman of color. There is certainly room for improvement, and the show is already quite different at the end of this season than when it began three years ago. John Cho himself has actually guest starred (as a handsome drug lord), star Xosha Roquemore joined the full-time cast last season, and it’s been hinted that we’ll be seeing much more of Utkarsh Ambudkar next fall. I’m looking forward to it.
The Mindy Project airs on FOX Tuesdays 9:30/8:30c