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The Mindy Project: Series Premiere

Mindy Kaling, of The Office fame, has moved on from the popular NBC comedy to her own primetime show on FOX titled The Mindy Project, which premiered this past Tuesday, September 25th. The Mindy Project has a tough act to follow, for it starts right after the cult comedy hit New Girl with Zooey Deschanel. “How is Mindy Kaling going to pull this one off?” I wondered.

The premise of The Mindy Project that has been going around is that Mindy Lahiri, the main character played by Mindy Kaling, is a single doctor who is trying to have it all: career, love, and fortune. The premise sounds familiar—it’s the premise of a lot of romantic comedies, the same romantic comedies that Mindy loves. In fact, the show’s pilot returns again and again to the idea of Mindy’s obsession with trying to live her life as a romantic comedy. The challenge, however, is that The Mindy Project needs to be different particularly because this premise is so familiar to so many viewers.

The show starts with a mini montage of romantic comedies. We see young Mindy watching When Harry Met Sally, a teenage Mindy watching You've Got Mail, college-age Mindy watching Notting Hill; the montage leads up to medical resident Mindy meeting dental surgeon Tom, played by Bill Hader, and they fall in love in a stalled elevator—in pure rom-com style.

Unfortunately, the pilot played on the rom-com stereotypes too much for my taste. Mindy and her friend Gwen (Anna Camp) talk about her relationships and how she expects her relationships to be like the movies. Later in the show Mindy repeats again and again that she wants her life to “change” and that she wants love. After a while the topic felt forced; if The Mindy Project is trying to spoof romantic comedies it would be better off showing instead of telling.  

However The Mindy Project excelled at the times when the show was not invoking rom-coms. For example, right after Mindy’s voiceover tells us about the romantic encounter with destiny in the elevator, the camera turns to a disheveled Mindy in a police station, in handcuffs. We learn that Mindy has been telling this story not to us, the viewers, but to the arresting officer who picked her up after she drunkenly fell into a pool after walking out on her ex’s wedding reception. Also, the show’s one-liners are where the writers show off their comedy skills. Early in the show Mindy complains about how the front office staff continues to send her way patients without health care. One of the receptionists states she’ll send more white patients her way, to which Mindy replies “don’t write that,” followed by a nod. Later in the show, Mindy’s co-worker Danny (Chris Messina) complains about the end of When Harry Met Sally, and Mindy snaps, “never speak for Meg Ryan again.” In fact, the second half of the show took a turn for the better when it focused more on Mindy and her life versus how Mindy is obsessed with living her life like a romantic comedy. This was noticeable when the jokes seemed more organic. 

The pilot is trying to be too many things at once, which is why pilots can be tricky. In this case, The Mindy Show tried to be romantic, funny, silly, while at the same time introducing us to the main characters of the show. However, the end of the show left me wanting more Mindy Project. I look forward to episode two, when the writers will surely start settling into a groove and do not have to worry about juggling all the balls that a pilot throws into the air—or on overemphasizing the idea of Mindy’s obsession with romantic comedies.

Is The Mindy Project a comedy making fun of romantic comedies, while adding a dose of love, sex, and jokes? Maybe. But the writers shouldn’t try so hard with that theme. Let the characters lead the way; the themes (and the jokes) will follow suit.