I don’t know about you, but the slate of new shows premiering this fall has me less than enthused. I worry that television may indeed be starting its decline, corresponding to the current state of film, where the money just isn’t being put into the right projects and quality storytelling resultantly suffers. The networks are playing it very safe this year with lots of gentle remakes - “Nashville” is just a country version of “Smash” or “Glee,” “666 Park Avenue” is trying to make big on the success of “American Horror Story,” “Revolution” still hasn’t learned that it can’t recapture the magic of “Lost,” and “Arrow,” “Elementary,” and “Beauty and the Beast” are just straight-up rehashings of old stories told “with a twist,” even though we all know that the twists are rarely as exciting or innovative as the original content.
Which is why I had high hopes for the fabulous and hilarious Mindy Kaling, starring and executive-producing in her own new comedy. Her show has a unique concept, a fresh voice, and a non-conforming female star at the helm. However, the title, “The Mindy Project,” ought to serve as a warning for the show’s unstable future - after all, it’s left over from the days when the show was being shopped around to networks and didn’t have a title yet. Apparently one was never settled upon, so the show was stuck with the most boring, vague title on TV right now.
The pilot, which aired last night, was also on boring, vague side of comedy, which landed as a giant disappointment. I’ve been a fan of Kaling’s since she first started writing and acting on “The Office” at the age of 24. I adore her 2011 book, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)” for its unflinching humor. Every time I’ve seen her speak in person, the woman radiates warmth and always makes people laugh.
“The Mindy Project” didn’t capture Kaling’s charm, intelligence, or humor - and although it’s only the pilot, and future episodes should be given a second (and maybe third) chance, I’m not optimistic. The basic concept of the show is that Kaling plays a gynecologist named Mindy Lahiri in her early 30s who’s got her professional life on lock but is a mess when it comes to her personal life. In the pilot, she gets arrested for drinking too much at an ex-boyfriend’s wedding and walks around her medical clinic in slutty dresses. She wants to find love of the Nora Ephron variety, exemplified by her obsession with romantic comedies. She tells herself she needs to shape up, but she ends the episode by hooking up with her hot coworker, putting off maturity for “tomorrow.”
One of the flattest jokes in the show is when fellow doctor Danny Castellano (Chris Messina) tells Mindy she needs to lose 15 pounds. And while Mindy gets mad, we know that Mindy actually agrees with him, as she makes many self-deprecating ”fat” jokes throughout the pilot, all stemming from a place of obvious insecurity That’s not funny; that just makes me sad. And while Mindy defends herself by threatening to punch Danny in the face, this viewer at least wanted to see her do more, especially since Danny is obviously being positioned as a future love interest for Mindy.
Mindy could be a great self-hating character if she had other redeeming qualities, but she really doesn’t. She’s shown as being sort of good (she accepts patients who don’t have insurance) and sort of funny (but none of her lines were of laugh-provoking quality), and she has at least one friend (who tells her she’s a big train-wreck). But mostly she’s just this depressing, annoying woman who needs to get her shit together. Hopefully that’s exactly what will happen over the course of the show, but some comedy would be nice to add in, as well. When you’ve got such strong comedic talent (Bill Hader and Ed Helms both guest-starred in small roles in the pilot), there’s no excuse for sub-par humor.
After all, that’s where Kaling is strongest, and everyone knows we need some strong women out there in the film and television world right now. I’ll keep watching “The Mindy Project” for now, but only because I’m in an optimistic state of my life. Here’s hoping it gets better.