After six seasons and 117 episodes, The Mindy Project has officially said goodbye to its much-beloved team of doctors and nurses. Thanks to the brilliance of Mindy Kaling, the comedy was a Mary Tyler Moore Show for a new generation of 20- and 30-somethings navigating the murky waters of dating, career, marriage, and motherhood. Dr. Mindy Lahiri didn’t always make the best decisions, but she sure had fun trying.
And in the series finale the show harkened back to the pilot episode in 2012, when Mindy gave a drunken speech at her ex-boyfriend’s wedding, rode her bicycle into a pool, and ended the day by watching TV with Danny in the doctors lounge. (Of course, in that first episode, she also unbelievably had sex with Jeremy and had an office that barely resembled the Jonathan Adler–designed mecca we were graced with in later seasons.)
While the series finale was a perfect bookend to that first episode, more important, it left viewers with a sense of growth and renewed empowerment for Mindy. (Spoilers ahead!) Danny and Mindy decided to give romance another try—but on her terms this time—and she was able to continue the success of Lahiri Fertility after Jody’s departure.
“Pride is my number-one feeling about it,” executive producer Matt Warburton says of the episode. “Pride at what we were able to accomplish. To pull off anything at this scale nowadays is tough, and I think the episode is one of the best we’ve done.”
Producing a well-received series finale is probably the hardest thing to do for a show, especially one that relied on the return on an integral character to make that happen. And yet, just like The Mindy Project has done before, they rose to the occasion, all while keeping true to the heart of the series. Still, we had plenty of questions about how it all came to be, so Matt Warburton hopped on the phone to fill us in. Get the tissues ready.
Glamour: At what point throughout the series did you know how you and Mindy were going to end the show?
Matt Warburton: We started preproduction on this season in mid-May, so probably by early June we figured out where we wanted it to end up. Then we had to make sure that Chris [Messina] was on board and available. Once we got assurances about that, we dug in. We knew very early on where we were ending and what was going to happen. Basically, the entire season was shaped around showing the audience that if Mindy never dated another guy again, she’d be OK. She figured her life out, and she was at a place where she could get back with Danny on her own terms.
Glamour: And Danny needed to earn that place in her life since he screwed up so much before.
MW: We knew we didn’t have Chris around for that much time, so we had to show that Danny has evolved, especially his attitude toward [Lahiri Fertility]. We also thought Danny’s mom was a great person who would kind of, in a crisis, bring them together, and then show Mindy a little bit weary of Danny’s intentions given his behavior in the past. [In that last scene] we hope it’s going to work. It might not work, but Mindy’s going in with her eyes open, which is empowering. It’s giving the audience what they want, but making sure they know that the character that they love is being smart about this and not weak. It was nice to be able to have 10 episodes with that clearly in mind, so we could prove it to the audience so they could enjoy the last episode.
Glamour: Did Mindy always know Mindy and Danny would be the last scene in the series, or that they would wind up together?
MW: No. I would say we tried to treat each season like real life, where we would get together and talk about what’s going on in Mindy’s life and try to figure out if we’re going to be able to put all the production parts together to pull this off. This year we got really lucky, and the stars aligned.
Glamour: You touched on this briefly, but once you got Chris on board, what were some of the challenges in the writers room to make Danny someone viewers could forgive? The character is so set in his ways.
MW: Yeah, that’s a great question. I’m waiting to see if the audience thinks we succeeded. We were limited in how much Danny we were going to be able to put into the last season, so I think one thing that really helped us was that we were able to put him in an episode early on this season—just to see Mindy and Danny coparenting, which we really hadn’t seen much of. In the short amount of time we got him, we got to see him really caring about his mother and really caring about his son. I think that reminds the audience that even though the last time we saw Danny, [he and Mindy] were fighting all the time; there were these good parts of him too. He’s a loving son and father. Also, the resolution with Mindy’s company is basically him completely admitting that he was wrong [with doubting her before]. It was Danny saying, “I was wrong, and I’m going to help you out of this jam.” I think the audience—in order to forgive Danny—needed him to admit he was completely in the wrong. So those are the two things we needed to do: remind people he’s a good guy in a lot of ways, even though he messed up, and have him realize that he messed up as clearly as possible.
Glamour: Danny and Mindy were basically bickering until the end, which is classic Danny and Mindy. But I love that she shot down all of his requests—from where to live to—shocker—he apparently wants to get married considering he brought up her taking his last name….
MW: I know! The nice thing about that was that she found a better way to deal with him, which is to stop him from arguing. They are just going to watch TV. [Laughs.] It’s showing the audience what the rest of their relationship is going to be, even if it falls apart again, which I would also believe.
Glamour: No, don’t say that!
MW: [Laughs.] But it’s always possible! You know, it’s going to be a lot of bickering [with them together], but they found a way to change the subject.
Glamour: Very true. By the way, what were they watching on TV in that last scene: Blue Bloods or The Real Housewives?
MW: [Laughs.] I’m trying to think what the compromise would be [between] what Danny likes and what Mindy likes. That’s a really tough one. The thing I always like about Danny is he’s obsessed with watching the local news. So maybe that’s what they were watching.
Glamour: Before that moment on the couch, I loved that Danny walked in on Mindy in the floor of the doctors lounge with her hand stuck in the vending machine. She couldn’t have been more authentically herself in that moment. She wasn’t putting on airs around him. Was that something you guys were thinking of when you did that scene?
MW: Actually, we just thought it was one last funny sight gag for the character. But now that you say that, if Danny would have encountered this situation before they were dating, he would have given her so much crap about this position she’s in. Instead of doing that, he just quietly helps her. I think that by itself shows just how much that character has grown. He doesn’t make a crack about how much junk food she eats or anything like that.
Glamour: It was also great to see Mindy back on the bicycle in this episode, as an ode to the pilot. How long had you planned to link the two episodes that way?
MW: I hope the audience remembers that far back to the pilot episode! That idea came later in the process, as we were writing these last 10 episodes. But I think if you had to guess, people would have thought that the series would end with a wedding—probably Mindy’s wedding—because the pilot opened with a big wedding scene with Bill Hader’s character. We wanted to bookend that, [which we did, but with] Morgan and Tamra’s wedding. It’s almost a fun mislead as to what the episode is actually about.
Glamour: I was glad Mindy didn’t get married, because Mindy and Danny have a long way to go before they could even get to that point again.
MW: Yes, absolutely. And Danny starts jumping ahead with that last comment [about their last names], and Mindy’s like, “No, no, no, we have a lot of time before we get there. We have a whole lifetime to figure some of these things out.” That’s not how she would have thought in the beginning of the series.
Glamour: Well, that’s why it’s called The Mindy Project. Life is a work in progress. By the way, how great and appropriate that we hear a Bruce Springsteen song to close out the series since he is one of Danny’s favorite singers. How did you guys decide on that particular song?
MW: That was Mindy’s pick. We’ve been very, very lucky [because] it is very difficult to clear his songs. He doesn’t let it happen very often. We’re very honored that at least two times he’s let us [use his songs]. We always save it for very important moments, especially covers, which is what this version of “I’m on Fire” [by the Chromatics] is. It combines a feminine voice with his song, and we felt like it blended their worlds in a nice way. That was completely Mindy’s idea. It’s a version of that song she really loves.
Glamour: If there were to be an episode next week, what would be next for Danny and Mindy? Where would we pick up?
MW: It would be what speed is this going to go [now that they’re together again]? I’m glad that we kind of leave that open. If we’re ever lucky enough to revisit these characters, that’s what I think viewers will want to know. You want it to kind of be like what Mindy and Danny were the last time [they were together], but you want to see it be different. When they are first getting back together, they can still get out of it pretty easily. A lot of times people fall back [in love], and that lasts the weekend. Then they realize, “No, I remember why this was a mistake the last time.” I would want to see that. I would want to see if this is as permanent as they think it is at the end of episode 10.
Glamour: Did it ever scare you guys how good the chemistry was between these two? It was lightning in a bottle, but I’d imagine that was terrifying as writers because what the audience wants is not always what’s able to happen.
MW: Definitely. We were scared when we broke them up. We were like, “Is this going to ruin the show?” The thing we were scared about was writing out a beloved character that was really fun to write for and that the audience loved. Chris is a busy guy, and we wish we had him more once he was gone. But the nice thing was—and that was the season we had a mega season that year, 26 episodes—was that breaking them up and picking up the pieces gave us a lot of great stories. Those were stories we couldn’t have done if Mindy and Danny were a bickering but happy couple. We got to see her dating again as a single mom, struggling to do things on her own. Hopefully, that filled that hole that Danny had left, but yeah, that was season four, and that was the scary one, creatively.
Glamour: Speaking of scary, how terrifying was it to choreograph the dance sequence at Morgan and Tamra’s wedding?
MW: The cast put in an enormous amount of work, and we had great choreographers that we’ve used in the past for other iconic dance moments on the show. We had a lot of faith, but the challenge was we knew Chris Messina was a great dancer. Whereas this was with people with a wide variety of dance backgrounds, so it had to be learnable by a person who wasn’t an expert dancer the way Chris Messina was and still fun and satisfying. I think it turned out really well. As a writer, you write in the script, “The staff does an amazing dance number.” It’s easy to write that, but you cross your fingers and hope it works. I’m very proud of our cast, let’s put it that way.
Glamour: Was there ever any thought of having Danny do one last dance?
MW: Uh, no. [Laughs.] There was enough dancing; we thought we’d give him a break. I think Danny was too worried about his mom’s health to dance in these last couple of episodes.
Glamour: Lastly, what is your parting message to the fans?
MW: Thanks for coming on this journey with us. The reason the show survived was that the audience found us on Hulu. Hulu knew that was happening, and the audience was so important to them and has always been very important to us. I hope the fans loved the last episode, and stay tuned for all the new stuff we’re working on.
Glamour: You’re going to bring it back Will & Grace–style in five or 10 years, right?
MW: Right, we’ll speed the timeline up! We miss the characters already. [Laughs.] Who knows?