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Joining the powerhouse duo of Raising Hope and New Girl on Fox’s Tuesday nights is The Mindy Project, created by and starring The Office’s Mindy Kaling. While this series isn’t quite as fully realized as Ben and Kate, it nonetheless shows enough comedic snap in the pilot to hint at significant potential.
Kaling plays Mindy Lahiri, a successful OB-GYN and partner in a multi-doctor practice. It’s the familiar trope of the woman who has it all together in her professional life but has a personal life in utter disarray. At least in this version, Kaling completely delivers on the notion that her single life is a train wreck, but her belief in a fairy-tale ending keeps her relentlessly in the hunt. Part of the shtick is that Mindy was raised on sappy romantic comedies and has bought the lie entirely, which makes her journey that much less likely to succeed. (Also, she can’t see that she’s trying too hard and is terrible at choosing men and filtering her every thought.)
All of the humor mined from that comes from Kaling’s believable desperation as the character. What’s less defined and thus not yet working is the OB-GYN practice and myriad doctors in it. The conceit feels as tacked on as Christina Applegate’s job on NBC’s Up All Night. The show just doesn’t feel comfortable in its skin yet at the office (but there’s only so much you can show or do in a 22-minute pilot, obviously). What works brilliantly, however, is Chris Messina as Danny, another doctor in the practice whose tartly dismissive personality and cockiness are ripe for some of the show’s better jokes. Danny constantly is putting down Mindy for her social failings and desperation. In one scene, he douses Mindy’s enthusiasm that her shiny gold dress is “hot and awesome” by saying that girls like that look but guys don’t. “I’m pretty sure guys like it,” says Mindy with a snap. Retorts Danny: “Oh, really, is your date with Elton John? On New Year’s Eve?”
Obviously, there’s an attraction under that sparring, but the show would be wise to avoid it. Messina’s presence spikes the laughs, and his bluntness shouldn’t, well, be blunted by a relationship.
Beyond that, it also is refreshing to see Kaling’s fearlessness about displaying insecurities. Television doesn’t have many people who look like Kaling, for starters, nor many who are willing to flaunt their (by Hollywood standards) imperfect bodies (in that respect, Kaling is a lot like Girls’ Lena Dunham).
If, like most sitcoms, Mindy still is in a growth phase, it’s clear the writing and acting are there to be developed. Here’s to one of the few half-hours of merit this season, a beacon of hope among the bleak fall offerings.
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