As TV pregnancy storylines are wont to do, The Mindy Project’s little bundle of unplanned joy came at a pretty lousy time: Mindy was making plans to establish a fertility clinic on the East Coast, baby daddy Danny was unaware of the pregnancy but had made it very clear that he would never leave New York, and the couple was bickering over whether it’s appropriate to bitch-slap a sullen teenager during a dinner party (the jury is still out on that one). Then Mindy told Danny about the baby, they kissed on a couch, Beyoncé’s “XO” started playing, and we knew that everything was going to work out.
A couple of episodes later, it looks like things are indeed going well for Mindy, if only because the show’s writers have effectively bulldozed over every conflict that cropped up earlier in the season. Last week, in spite of her prior assertions that San Francisco was “starting to feel like home,” Mindy decided that she was actually not so keen on launching a new phase of her career in California. With just a few minutes left in the episode, she remarked to a prospective colleague that at her old clinic in New York, “practically everyone was damaged goods.” Then a light bulb went off: “Maybe Mark and Donnie Wahlberg are onto something,” Mindy said. “When you’re starting a business, only three things should matter: family, second chances, and juicy, delicious hamburgers.” The setup for Mindy’s rather abrupt change of heart is as watery as it sounds. Who exactly is getting a second chance here? Why does Mindy suddenly find it so hard to be apart from her ragtag band of colleagues? What about Paul Wahlberg?
Instead of trying to hash things out on the West Coast, Mindy decides to return to New York and set up a clinic in the same building as her old practice. I had been holding out hope that Mindy’s writers would refrain from allowing her pregnancy to consume the show, just as she had begun to explore her newfound independence in San Francisco. But things don’t seem to be moving in that direction. In spite of weak rationalizations about business, family, and second chances, it’s clear that mini-Mindy is driving the plot here: a baby is on the way, and the show evidently isn’t prepared to take on the messiness of his or her parents living apart.
The most confounding thing of all is that Danny has, by the time she makes her decision, offered to move to San Francisco so the family can stay together while Mindy launches her clinic. And still, Mindy goes back home. There are, of course, practical reasons for this development: The Mindy Project is a workplace comedy, and leaving San Fran gets Mindy back under the same roof as her colleagues. It also creates a very convenient scenario in which Danny doesn’t have to do anything that makes him unhappy, and Mindy has convinced herself that she doesn’t either. Everyone wins, but The Mindy Project loses, because its female lead — who has made such strides for the representation of women on television — is modifying her dreams to suit the needs of her boyfriend and her baby. I would be far more sympathetic had Mindy finished her doctoral fellowship before moving back to New York to be with Danny when she gives birth. But she drops out in the middle of the program, which she had very much wanted to attend and seemed to be enjoying. Mindy’s decision to give up on her dreams might be framed as a self-directed triumph, but it is a sacrifice.
That sacrifice did not inevitably have to be a disappointing feature of the show’s new storyline. When babies come as a surprise — and even when they don’t — parents often give up on things they want to do. If The Mindy Project’s writers are committed to making Mindy’s pregnancy a central part of the show’s narrative — and it certainly seems like they are, considering how many times Mindy morning-sickness-puked into her bedazzled barf bucket during this week’s episode — they should be treating the situation with some honesty and specificity. Mindy’s departure from San Francisco could have even said something a little bit profound about the nature of motherhood in the 21st century: perhaps that working mothers still have to struggle if they want to “have it all,” or that it’s actually valid and OK for a woman with an established career to decide that she wants to put her professional ambitions aside so she can start a family. But the show glosses over all of the conflicts sparked by Mindy’s pregnancy, as though we might forget that our girl Mindy is kind of, in her own words, “just another pregnant teen dropout”
This isn’t the first time that Mindy has made changes to accommodate a relationship. When she dated an arts and culture writer, she pretended to be more interested in fine arts than Katy Perry. She tried to find her free spirit when she went out with a skater dude. She followed her former fiancé to Haiti, even though living in a tent for several months seems like it would be the stuff of Mindy’s nightmares. In each of those instances, however, The Mindy Project was wise enough to cast doubt on its leading lady’s choices. The relationships didn’t work because Mindy’s personality can’t really be manipulated to conform to anyone’s whims. She is loud, she wears absurdly colorful outfits, she is unabashed in her gooey love for pop culture. Her relationship with Danny has been successful because they have reached a sort of symmetry in their weirdness: they are polar-opposite nut jobs who are in constant conflict with one another, but they seem to have embraced the fact that the other person isn’t going to change.
Mindy and Danny’s romance shows no signs of faltering now that Mindy has strayed from her professional path to start a family in New York, and I wouldn’t want it to. But since the show is definitely running with the much-overused Pregnancy Storyline, I wish the stakes were a little higher than morning sickness and a glittery barf bucket.