'The Mindy Project' Review: Mindy Kaling's Time to Shine
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Mindy Kaling is a star. For eight years she's been a background player on NBC's The Office, but now she's stepping into the spotlight with her own show where she's as winning and charming as New Girl's Zooey Deschanel.
The Mindy Project stars Kaling as Mindy Lahiri, an OB/GYN who may be skilled as a doctor, but lacks any grace in her personal life. She's been raised on romantic comedies and dreams of being just like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally.
The irony is that her life is already a romantic comedy, she just doesn't seem to realize it. She's not-so-secretly hooking up with the sexy but condescending British doctor (Ed Weeks), a man she knows is a bit of an a-hole, but who she keeps going back to. Then there's the cocky and abrasive Danny Castellano (Chris Messina), another doctor who irritates Mindy so darn much that she can't see what the audience can already tell: They're meant to be together.
The show becomes an almost meta-commentary on rom-coms. It's a romantic comedy about a girl who desperately wants to be in a romantic comedy. That's a difficult balancing act to maintain. If the show goes too far in either direction, then it could easily become the kind of bland, generic rom-com it's trying to parody or it could become a heartless, soulless satire that falls flat.
It does neither thanks in large part to Kaling's terrific performance. She is a true comedy star, providing the right inflections and offering a skilled blend of intellectual and physical humor. She's also willing to go into some areas other comedies might avoid. The pilot includes one very mean-spirited joke about her weight that feels both uncomfortable but honest. It's something a character might say to get under Mindy's skin, and Kaling's willingness to let the show go there is brave and daring.
However, the most remarkable part of The Mindy Project is how seemingly unremarkable it is to have a woman of color as the lead on a TV comedy. Kaling's ethnicity doesn't play any role in the pilot, nor should it, but the mere fact that she's a non-white leading lady on a major network sitcom is astounding.
Think about it. Name another major network comedy in recent years with a non-white leading lady. Can you do it? Probably not. Just take a look at the Emmys. In the last 25 years, there has only been one non-white nominee for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, Ugly Betty's America Ferrera. She was nominated twice, but the other 135 nominations over the last quarter century all went to white actresses.
I don't point this out as a critique of any racial bias on television, simply as a fascinating statistic to see how far society has come. The Mindy Project isn't about race, it's just about being funny.
The Mindy Project airs Tuesdays at 9:30pm on FOX.
(Image courtesy of FOX)