When a series switches up its home, whether it’s shifting networks (Cougar Town moving from ABC to TBS) or going from television to online streaming (Arrested Development moving from Fox to Netflix), the focus is always on whether the move was smart, or a total waste.
The differences in some series are easier to see: On Yahoo, Community was able to go back to its roots, experiment with different episode lengths, and go full-creative-speed ahead — a few episodes on NBC felt as if Harmon and co. were holding back. With other series, there’s hardly any change at all: Cougar Town remained the same throughout its run, the most noticeable post-move change being that TBS promoted the series more (and with a bigger emphasis on the cul-de-sac crew being booze hounds).
The Mindy Project, which premieres its fourth season on Hulu Tuesday, seems mostly the same as it was on Fox — which, depending on how you look at it, could be either a blessing or a curse (or, to different extents, both). What’s always been true about The Mindy Project — and Mindy Kaling herself, I suppose — is that the fans will always be there for what the series has to offer, and those who dislike it will reliably continue to do so. Rarely does it switch things up enough to give viewers a reason to change their opinion. Tomorrow’s season premiere, “While I Was Sleeping,” only reinforces those preexisting divisions.
Last season threw a few obstacles Mindy’s way: her surprise pregnancy, her attempt to open a fertility clinic, and Danny refusing to marry her (after a bad marriage, he prefers to avoid the institution). The season ended on a cliffhanger, as he traveled to meet and introduce himself to her parents. Without giving away too much, the Season 4 premiere is a Sliding Doors scenario featuring Mindy waking up next to Joseph Gordon-Levitt (playing a producer of the Real Housewives franchise) and learning what her life would be like if she never got together with Danny.
It’s not exactly an inspiring creative choice, but it is a direction that plenty of rom-coms (and sitcoms in general) have taken, which makes it a perfect note for The Mindy Project to begin its Hulu run. It’s a neat introduction to the general sensibility of the show for any viewers who are new to it, but also it’s a reminder to fans of why they like the show to begin with. (And, of course, it will remind detractors why they don’t like the show.)
“While I Was Sleeping” fits in perfectly with every other episode in the series; nothing has changed, especially for those who watched the show on Hulu after its first airing on Fox. It can be tempting to make the argument that the show should have changed — it has a new home, which is a good excuse to make a fresh start, tighten the storylines, flesh out some of the one-note characters, and bring some continuity to Mindy Lahiri herself, whose dueling traits can make her seem like a different character from one episode to the next. But it’s clear that The Mindy Project knows what works for it, and that it wants to stick with that route.
When a series switches to an online streaming site, one of the common predictions is that it will get racier, or involve more swearing, or push the boundaries of what it can get away with now that it’s free of network television. That’s why, I suspect, Hannibal fans were pushing for the series to continue on Netflix; that would give it more creative freedom, more gore, more everything. It makes sense with a series like that, or even with Community, a show whose distinctive voice was noticeably stifled by the network.
But The Mindy Project never really had these problems — it is, after all, a series that devoted an entire episode to Danny “accidentally” trying anal sex with Mindy. The issue with The Mindy Project isn’t that it was too much or too unconventional or too bizarre for network television (adjectives that you can easily attribute to Arrested Development or Community), but that it is simply nothing more than a conventional sitcom. This isn’t a bad thing — there are plenty of sitcom-y sitcoms that work and are great. What it means, though, is that The Mindy Project doesn’t necessarily have an interest in challenging itself or breaking out of any stylistic constraints, because Mindy Kaling and her writing team are aware that the series has found its sweet spot in simply existing, and entertaining its devoted fans — fans who will follow it to Hulu because, let’s face it, they were probably watching more on the Internet than on cable to begin with.
Without tweaking its general approach, The Mindy Project is free to plunk along as it always has: occasionally funny, mostly messy, and just consistent enough to delight viewers who already love it.