Set visits can be fun, especially if you get to hang out with interesting, and creative folks. That certainly was the case during the recent summer press tour when the television critics were invited to visit with the cast and producers of The Mindy Project on a soundstage at Universal Studios. The Fox Tuesday night comedy follows the ultra-chatty Dr. Mindy Lahiri, an Ob/Gyn who is proficient at her profession at New York’s Shulman Women’s Health Center, but struggles to manage her shambolic personal life.
The show’s creator, producer, writer, and star Mindy Kaling (yes, The Office alumna does it all!) was there to greet everyone and talk about what’s going to happen during the sophomore season, premiering Sept. 17 on Fox.
At the end of last season Mindy’s boyfriend Pastor Casey (Anders Holm) volunteered to help out in Haiti, and she decided to follow him. Yet on the set there was a “Happy Wedding Day” banner hanging in her apartment, and a cake on the table. Executive producer Matt Warburton told us “it’s not what it seems.” Kaling said in an interview session that “we follow my journey back to New York and see what happens. And Mindy gets to be single again pretty soon, which is fun.” But still she won’t be finding true love with her sweet co-worker Dr. Danny (Chris Messina). Apparently a happy relationship does not make for great comedy, but a parade of potential paramours does.
There was the big news that James Franco (Oscar-nominated for 127 Hours) has signed on as a guest star for the first two episodes of the new season, but not as a romantic interest. “He’s my nemesis, Dr. Paul, my replacement at the medical clinic while I’m in Haiti,” but he’s there when she gets back, Kaling revealed. “He’s the anti-Mindy,” reported writer Ike Barinholtz (MadTV), who also plays nurse Morgan Tookers on the show.
Among the other co-stars, producers, and writers who were on hand for the set visit were Chris Messina, Ed Weeks, Zoe Jarman, Beth Grant, Anders Holm, and Jack Burditt. Plus lovely Xosha Roquemore, the newest cast member who was signed after Kaling thought she was “so beautiful, funny, bright and bubbly, and just kind of pops off the screen” in the intense drama Precious. Other guest stars coming to the show are Bill Hader, Chloe Sevigny, and Kris Humphries, who plays himself. Also the indie rock band The National will make an appearance.
At a Fox network party I got to spend some time with Kaling and it was fun trying to keep up with her. She is a high-energy lady who doesn’t pretend to have false modesty about what she does so well, although she acknowledges she’s very lucky to have a dream job that puts her in charge. She credits her self-confidence to her parents who “rocked! They thought that I could do anything. And until two days before my mom passed away, she was like, ‘Don’t get married if the man is going to tell you not to do things. Just do whatever you want to do.’ I don’t know how many people really have parents like that.”
At the studio I mostly hung out with writers Tracey Wigfield, Jeremy Bronson, and super-impressive producer-writer Matt Warburton (The Simpsons, Community) who showed me around Mindy’s huge NYC apartment set, which, by-the-way from my experience of living in Manhattan, not even Dr. Oz could afford. But Warburton said the show is definitely set in reality “looking at a workplace through the lens of the romantic lives of the people there and how they kind of help each other, following Mindy home, out on the town, at work, all day long. Our inspirations are cliché, but coming from our actual lives, from talking to Mindy about her own vulnerabilities and the people on our writing staff. Coming from personal experiences it will feel real to the audience.”
The development of the show has brought the action out of the office more because “seeing Mindy on dates was fun. Seeing a person fail at romance in funny ways was enjoyable,” said Kaling about her fierce but flawed character. And her stellar likable supporting cast and their stories create a TV family you want to visit week after week.
It’s a great mix of creative folks that make the quirky workplace romantic comedy crystalize as the evolution of Mindy’s character continues. Like all of us, she’s a work in progress. That’s The Mindy Project.