Commenting on Nora Ephron’s influence on Mindy Kaling is not like cracking an undiscovered code as the references to Ephron’s work in style and tone weaves its way through The Mindy Project. The nods come in a variety of ways and yet this is no copycat as Kaling’s voice is clear and her own; instead she uses what are now considered rom-com tropes (some of which Ephron pioneered) as jumping off points to subvert or celebrate.
Mindy Kaling’s love of this sadly currently much maligned genre (good rom-coms still exist with indie dominating in the decent stakes) is worn on her sleeve, sometimes also covered in hearts. With The Mindy Project this season we have seen what happens after the credits normally roll on a rom-com movie, as the couple has beaten whatever obstacle split them up mid story and they ask “What next?” This entails crossing into potentially creative choppy waters by turning a “will they/won’t they” couple into Facebook official and with whole new set of plot points to keep the tension high. Other shows have tried and failed with curses being cited to explain why others should be wary of attempting this shift. And of course we know the curse talk is bs; there are plenty of shows which have proved this and The Mindy Project is a shining example of why a “will they/won’t they” couple should take the plunge rather than forever dancing around maybe.
Returning to the influence factor and I recently bought The Most of Nora Ephron – an anthology of Ephron’s writing both fiction and non-fiction – and while I’ve previously read a lot of these pieces (and they’re so worth rereading) some are completely new to me. Quotes stand out with “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim” being one of the defining Ephron sentiments, but it was while I burned my way through this book that I realized I had never read or seen the speech it came from in full. It is Nora Ephron’s commencement address to the Wellesley Class of 1996 which unleashed this inspiring notion (I say this in all sincerity while also eye rolling at myself) and one which is particularly relevant to Mindy’s journey this season.
In it Ephron discusses the dreaded ‘having it all’ debate and she manages to do it in a way which elicits fist pumps, giving the kind of confidence boost I mentioned in reference to Broad City last week. Here is a big, fabulous section which feels like it rather successfully points to Mindy Lahiri’s journey this season.
“Maybe young women don’t wonder whether they can have it all any longer, but in case any of you are wondering, of course you can have it all. What are you going to do? Everything, is my guess. It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications. It will not be anything like what you think it will be like, but surprises are good for you. And don’t be frightened: you can always change your mind. I know: I’ve had four careers and three husbands. And this is something else I want to tell you, one of the hundreds of things I didn’t know when I was sitting here so many years ago: you are not going to be you, fixed and immutable you, forever.”
Mindy faced messiness and triumph in both her personal and professional life this season; she moved to San Francisco to further her career and moved back to New York to create something of her own. With Danny there have been bumps along the way and a bump of another kind changes this dynamic in an unplanned way for the couple. While everything is moving with some haste – which could be attributed to uncertainty about renewal – the confidence with how The Mindy Project has plotted the Mindy/Danny arc reads like the message in Ephron’s address.
For most of this season TV Ate My Wardrobe has focussed on the amazing costume design elements and along with the Mindy/Danny pairing this is where Mindy really shines. Yes there are other elements which are still on the messy side including the supporting cast revolving door – miss you, Adam Pally – and Jeremy’s been through so many tweaks it’s hard to remember which version of this character we are now viewing.
The season 3 finale is tonight, hopefully not the series finale because I want to see how Mindy and Danny will handle the next stage in their life and I want to see how this show will deal with having a baby. Their work place is babies, not their home life and we don’t tend to see any even there. Plus I like the idea of Mindy playing Ephron’s five things game:
“We have a game we play when we’re waiting for tables in restaurants, where you have to write the five things that describe yourself on a piece of paper. When I was your age, I would have put: ambitious, Wellesley graduate, daughter, Democrat, single. Ten years later not one of those five things turned up on my list. I was: journalist, feminist, New Yorker, divorced, funny. Today not one of those five things turns up in my list: writer, director, mother, sister, happy. Whatever those five things are for you today, they won’t make the list in ten years—not that you still won’t be some of those things, but they won’t be the five most important things about you.”
Confidence will bleed through and I’m pretty sure hot will definitely be on there no matter how many different roads present themselves for Mindy Lahiri; I just really want to see this next part of her journey.