September 3, 2012
Like countless ladies and men across the country, I am a big fan of Mindy Kaling. I’ve long loved her as Kelly Kapoor on “The Office,” and have been impressed by the episodes of the show that she’s written over its many seasons. When her book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? came out last year, I bought it immediately and read it voraciously, laughing out loud at her musings. I follow her on Twitter, and all summer her tweets have increased my expectations for her new sitcom, “The Mindy Project,” which airs this fall. I had every reason to believe it would be awesome, as everything-Mindy has been thus far.
Although the show doesn’t premiere on Fox until September 25th, the pilot episode has been pre-released on Hulu, and as an elite computer-owning member of society, I’ve had the opportunity to watch it. Here is my verdict: I’m not ready to give up all hope … but so far, I’m disappointed.
The premise, while not terribly original, is fine: Mindy plays an OB-GYN who is single and obsessed with romantic comedies. The pilot sets this up by giving Mindy an ex-boyfriend’s wedding to attend and get drunk at, and then a blind date to go on and mess up. In between, she is shown to be a smart and capable doctor with a big heart. The supporting cast provides two male colleagues—one Scum Bag who she sleeps with sometimes and one Asshole who she is clearly meant to end up with—as well as a best friend who Has It Together (we can tell that she has it together because she is married with children, wears collared shirts under sweaters, and paints eggs in her free time).
Within this generic-sitcom construct, the show does have a little bite, such as when Mindy tells her friends’ young daughter, who expresses her boredom while listening to her mom talk men with Mindy, “You’re boring, contribute something!” In this moment and a few others, Kaling’s delivery is spot-on, and the laugh comes naturally. There were maybe five or six of these moments in the episode, which is impressive, and I hope that the show moves further in that slightly politically-incorrect direction.
On a larger scale, though, I’m concerned that the show won’t be able to move past the cloying nature of its protagonist. “Mindy” is a disaster, and not in an endearing way. She is desperate for a boyfriend, and totally clueless about how to act on a date. Her stupid “girl” tricks of pretending to only eat salad and “hating drama” are not only annoying, they’re also an unnecessary portrayal of women as idiots. This character is obviously smart enough to have a successful career as a doctor; does she really have to act like a teenager in romantic situations? Feminist rant aside though, the big issue is this: as a viewer, I don’t respect the character. So why should I root for her?
I do want to make mention of the character’s similarities to Kelly on “The Office.” As you’ve probably gleaned from my description above, the two are remarkably similar in their attitudes towards men. The difference, though, is that we’re not supposed to root for Kelly—she’s just the comic relief, and she’s hilarious. But with the “Kelly” persona in a central role, her simple-girl mind becomes agitating and problematic.
Pilots, as a rule, are not as good as the shows that follow them. There are some typical pilot problems in this episode, like an awkwardness in Mindy’s acting and some hesitation from the rest of the cast, that might be worked out as they get into a groove. If that happens, and if they go for the darker comedy that they’ve thus far only touched on, the show might be watchable. But if it continues to mostly be about an idiot woman trying to get a date, then Mindy—an obviously talented writer and comedian—has let us down.
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