The Same but Better: How The Mindy Project Transitioned from FOX to Hulu

Yesterday, The Mindy Project made its online debut. After being canceled by FOX at the end of its 3rd season, the show found a new home on Hulu to go along with their exclusive streaming rights to the first 3 seasons. It’s not the first loved-but-low-rated comedy to be rescued from cancellation by an online service. Netflix started the trend when they revived Arrested Development and Yahoo jumped on the bandwagon with Community last year. However, based on the first episode, I would argue that The Mindy Project is the show that has best made the transition.

Transitioning a show between broadcast and streaming not only gives its creators and stars a second chance to tell their story but also comes with some creative perks. Online services tend to give fewer notes on individual scripts meaning that more of the creative control rests in the hands of the showrunners. They are also not tied to traditional episode lengths of 21-22 minutes for a comedy. They can get away with racier or more controversial material because there aren’t concerns about the FCC or, I’d imagine, quite as many viewers complaining about the content.

As the first up at bat, Arrested Development had a lot to prove. It had been years since the last episode had aired and just getting the cast back at all and coordinating filming schedules was a feat in itself. As a result, we ended up with a season that produced mixed reactions. In order to work around external complications, they had to change the basic format of the show so that it could be told by as few actors as possible at any one time. It took me a while to get through the 13 episodes and ultimately, I appreciated what they tried to do with the show more than I actually enjoyed the results. I hear it works better on a second watch, but it’s not a high priority for me to test that claim. It was much more of a reboot as opposed to a pure transition.

Community’s renewal by Yahoo Screen was both triumphant and surprising. The show had existed on middling ratings for years on NBC and it seemed its time was finally up. An online version hosted by Netflix or Hulu wouldn’t have been unexpected but Yahoo was nowhere on anyone’s radar. This last-minute save ensured that Community would be able to attain the first half of its “six seasons and a move” catchprase and fans were happy.

When it premiered in the spring, however, fan reactions were far from universal. While most (possibly all) would agree it was better than the Dan Harmon-less season four, it didn’t click with all of its fans. Including me, for full disclosure. Cast issues certainly played a role. Of the seven original members of the study group, three had left the show. They were replaced by a more prominent role for Ken Jeong’s Ben Chang and new characters played by Paget Brewster and Keith David. It necessarily changed the dynamics of the group, with some of the changes working and some not. Your mileage may vary on which changes fell into each category.

Free of NBC’s notes, Community was given the chance to be the weird, offbeat comedy Dan Harmon always wanted it to be. It was still recognizable as the Community that aired on NBC but it felt different, almost more of a reboot than a change of platform. There was more of it in almost every way. The episodes were longer, the endings weirder, the meta more pronounced. Sometimes, I loved that about the season. Other times, I wished for the notes that toned the show down a little. Ultimately the word to best describe the season was “uneven”. I’m glad Yahoo picked it up and that it led to the incredible finale – one of the show’s best and one of my favorite episodes of the year – but there were times when I didn’t see quite as much as the show I once loved as I would have liked.

Like Community, the s4 premiere of The Mindy Project was longer than a network comedy at 28 minutes. Despite the extra length, it never felt overstuffed or like it was long just because it could be. Both Mindy’s alternate universe and Danny’s trip to see Mindy’s parents felt well-served and balance. Shaving that extra 6 minutes off the story would have made one of the two plots feel a little lean and under-formed. It was needed to set up the remainder of the season and to get both characters to where they needed to be at the end of the episode. Could we have cut some of the Morgan scenes and maintained the plot integrity? Sure, probably. But Ike Barinholtz and his ability to make Morgan both over-the-top ridiculous and human at the same time is a treasure and I enjoyed every second of him.

While Mindy on FOX didn’t shy away from sexual innuendo (“It Slipped” did make it to air, after all), it felt like it had been turned up just a little for this week’s episode. It was a small change (slightly less oblique references to oral sex) but it never felt wrong for the show. For as forward as she is with her sexual behaviors and desires, Mindy’s never been a particularly explicit character in her language choices and that hasn’t suddenly changed just because it can.

Those small differences aside, Mindy on Hulu mostly just felt like the best possible version of the show that aired on FOX for three seasons. It had a clear vision for its future and the story it is trying to tell. It honored its rom-com roots with a Sliding Doors tribute and reaffirmed the small-screen love we’ve rooted for between Danny and Mindy. The casting for Mindy’s parents was wonderful and appearances by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Freida Pinto were a nice treat. Everything from the jokes to the sincerity of Mindy and Danny’s conversation before the proposal worked wonderfully and the end result was a confident, fully-formed episode that makes me excited for the future. If the rest of the season can maintain this quality, its cancellation by FOX may have been the greatest gift it could give its fans and creator.

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One thought on “The Same but Better: How The Mindy Project Transitioned from FOX to Hulu

  1. While I refuse to pay for HULU I did really appreciate this analysis of shows that have transitioned off broadcast to streaming. I agree with you wholeheartedly about Arrested Development not adding up to the sum of its parts. I am eager to see Mindy in this new free space but will wait until all episodes are available. I think certain things lend themselves to streaming – like Mindy and it speaks to the success of House of Cards and Transparent. These are shows that I think would not have survived the week to week delay of a broadcast schedule and in particular the flaws in House of Cards would have been glaring. I like the idea of creative works finding the best medium to thrive in and I think streaming is just the latest in a door that HBO opened back in the day when it started to create what I would argue remains its best original programming.

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