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by Alison Willmore
September 26, 2012 1:29 PM
29 Comments
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Like 'Girls,' 'The Mindy Project' Offers a Challenge to the Typical Leading Lady

Mindy Kaling's new series "The Mindy Project," which had its premiere last night on Fox, is not "Girls." It's not on HBO, so it doesn't have the aggressive nudity of Lena Dunham's series, and the sex that takes place in the pilot happens off screen. Kaling's Mindy Lahiri has a few years and quite of bit of career success on Dunham's Hannah Horvath -- she's a doctor, not a writer, and as far as we can tell she's a pretty good one. But like Dunham, Kaling is the kind of actress you used to see unjustly relegated to the role of the sidekick, the funny best friend. She doesn't look like the type of leading lady common to the romantic comedies with which her character is so enamored, just as Dunham isn't exactly a match for the women of "Sex in the City," the series both followed and rebuked by "Girls."

The main character in "Sleepless in Seattle" watches "An Affair to Remember" before running off to have her own swooningly romantic encounter. The main character in "The Mindy Project" watches "Sleepless in Seattle" and then gets dumped by her boyfriend Tom (Bill Hader) in favor of someone younger, who he then marries. Like Hannah, Mindy's struggling with the expectations built up by all the pop culture she devoured, and is still floundering in the wake of the life she's living not matching up to the stories she's seen on screen.

But with all respect to Meg Ryan, Mindy's more fun to hang out with, and a lot less calculatedly adorable. What makes "Girls" so refreshing (and maddening or misread by plenty of others), and what "The Mindy Project" does to a lesser degree is allow its main character to be human, to be a little lazy and lame and to say the wrong things. The show works within a more traditional sitcom framework, and the pilot has a periodic frantic quality that I hope the following episodes tone down, but there are plenty of promising aspects that showcase genuine character imperfections instead of the artificially created ones that tend to be dabbed on after the fact on female comedy leads.

It's great that Kaling is an Indian-American lead in a TV landscape that's still very white. And it's great that she could be skinnier. But what's more of a kick to me is that her character's indulging in a dead-end friends-with-benefits relationship with dreamy British coworker Jeremy (Ed Weeks), who spews bullshit she's a little too eager to buy, and that she gets in a real, if brief, spat with her other colleague Danny (Chris Messina) when she hits a nerve making fun of his divorce and he responds in kind by honing in on her weight. The show doesn't seem eager to coddle its main character, and in truth that feels edgier than its casting. Kaling's a likable actress coming over from "The Office," a show with a real following -- she's more than merited a shot at her own series. That it's a series that will allow its protagonist to make mistakes that go beyond occasionally falling down is something that is, on network television, still a boundary pushing.

In targeting the romantic comedy as the failed imprint for Mindy's life to date, "The Mindy Project" also digs into the post-feminist confusion that's also been a hot topic in "Girls." Mindy has her convenient but confusing booty calls with the noncommittal Jeremy, but she's not sure how to navigate something more serious. When her first date with Dennis (Ed Helms) is interrupted after going well, she accidentally invites him over later, then realizes how that sounds and uninvites him, and finally, awkwardly, tells him "You -- I like you. Wouldn't want to... ruin it with sex." It's a funny, painful encapsulation of modern mores, and I hope it's the kind of thing the show explores more in what, fingers crossed, will be a successful run.

29 Comments

  • dweeb | January 11, 2014 10:46 PMReply

    Dear Chris Messina,

    As a middle of the road unattractive, more or less white woman (I could even pass for Indian), I want to apologize for your role in having to pretend finding Mindy Kaling lustfully hot. My heart goes out to you. God speed....and hope you get xmas bonus this year.

  • S kajla | January 9, 2014 6:09 AMReply

    Don't care for Mindy Kaling (real name?) at all. Hate her voice and the way she looks

  • Raj Singh | July 22, 2013 12:17 AMReply

    Clearly the Jewish casting directors and producers picked the ugliest Indian girl they could find (there are a lot of hot Indian actress girls who are out of work and 1000% times funnier) in order to punish India for siding with Iran in their oil sanctions.

  • Shel | May 23, 2013 12:06 PMReply

    I tired to watch the Mindy project, and I couldn't stand Mindy. She isn't funny, cute nor does she have an appealing personality. The only thing that's good about Mindy is that she proves that an unattractive, mediocre actress can get the coveted prize of starring in their own show.

  • Khulan | April 12, 2013 8:04 AMReply

    Mindy was so funny and edgy in the Office and I admire the fact that she is the only Indian American to get her own show. But I'm just not buying her in the lead character. I often find myself distracted by a huge gap between the attractiveness level the role requires and how Mindy Kaling actually looks. Sorry, but she is just not good-looking enough to pull off this role convincingly. What's most irritating is that she ACTS like the disillusioned but cute girl who gets the guys, the wrong or otherwise. But her look is just not supporting that premise.
    (I'm not saying you have to be attractive to be on a show. There are plenty of incredibly talented and charismatic actors who are not so great looking. Mindy is not one of them)

  • Scotty brown | April 10, 2013 12:30 AMReply

    Oh and her knees are permanently ashy son

  • scotty brown | April 10, 2013 12:29 AMReply

    Im sorry but if I was an actor I'd be super pissed off if I had to play her "depressed brokenhearted boyfriend" because she is seriously not attractive. She sticks out like a sore thumb looking like one of the dwarfs from the hobbits sister.

    I feel bad for writing that but get real

  • Smith | December 5, 2013 5:54 AM

    Spoken like a true uggo. Wonderful, all of you should have a show! There is nothing America loves more than watching average people tell mediocre jokes as they awkwardly pursue one another.

  • Juls | October 16, 2013 12:27 PM

    If you were a (serious) actor you could maybe understand that heartbreak also happens when not attractive people are involved. Oh, yeah, uggos experience love and the downsides of it too, big surprise.

  • Blast Off Bob | December 30, 2012 7:46 PMReply

    I agree with Vishnu and Jordan. There's a reason that funny or attractive people are in front of the camera. It's called charisma. Mindy Kaling is not funny or attractive. Her appeal seems to be the belief that she is somehow victimized? She's harsh and peevish looking - like an oily weasel. No wonder.

    With out charisma, charm or personal warmth how can anyone expect this show to be anything more than another in long series of horrible and canceled Fox shows?

  • Audrey | December 17, 2012 6:04 AMReply

    I agree with Vishnu. Also her voice makes me cringe.

  • Vishnu | December 7, 2012 8:37 PMReply

    She's fat and ugly and her show sucks. Someone get this brown cow off of the TV.

  • Jordan | November 16, 2012 10:56 AMReply

    She is chubby, has oily skin, small breasts, wide but not big butt, and her face is about a 3 out of 10. Her comedy is unoriginal as it is simply based on being percieved as dumb and pretty but she isn't pretty, just dumb. She is funny on the office but she doesn't write her own jokes. All in all she is a waste of time that hopes on popular themes like "I'm sandy bullock" when everyone was talking about her because of the blind side. She needs to come up with A. her own material and B. funny material.

  • Rick | October 2, 2012 12:00 AMReply

    I can’t wait to get home tomorrow and catch the premiere of this. Being a fan of The Office, I have a lot of faith in Kaling to be the star and writer of her own show. A coworker at DISH said that it seems to have an already large fan base. I’m sure I’ll add to that list, after I watch it on my Hopper. I’ll even have the option of skipping the commercials with my Auto Hop feature. It’s bound to save me enough time to squeeze in another episode of something on my never ending list. Cheers to a new romantic comedy.

  • sukienhay.com | September 27, 2012 2:37 AMReply

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  • Lisa Beth | September 26, 2012 6:40 PMReply

    Which channel is this on? Is it on youtube?

  • TV addict MUC | September 26, 2012 6:34 PMReply

    When is this coming out?

  • Fanzy | September 26, 2012 6:32 PMReply

    So did this hottie in Melrose Place, they say Dartmouth produces a lot of hot men....and gurlzz....they have this thing called Spring Green Party where there is something callef a fucktruck and they study together.

  • Mustafah-LBD | September 26, 2012 6:31 PMReply

    Is she Muslim or hindi?

  • Mary-Anne | September 26, 2012 6:30 PMReply

    I like her. She's so nice and huggable......

  • Beverly Hillbillie | September 26, 2012 6:29 PMReply

    Didn't this girl go to Dartmouth with Meryl Streep's son and Kai Wong? Dartmouth seems to be overtaking Yale in producing Hollywood who's who....

  • Bob | September 26, 2012 6:19 PMReply

    She's so ugly and fat and awful, not because she's Indian but because she's not cool and unfunny. Who watches this shit? NOT India.

  • CeeCee | November 7, 2012 1:49 PM

    I agree. She really isn't attractive. This is her fantasy however turned into a tv show where she's this hot stuff doctor. She's short and fat, nothing going on in the face department and skin is too shiny so it's just unrealistic that every man in the show is attracted to her. You're not fooling anybody.

  • No | September 26, 2012 3:08 PMReply

    By default, Mindy Kaling is the only "black" actress with her own show despite being of Indian descent.

  • Cece | February 18, 2013 2:45 AM

    Wrong dumbass, look up the show scandal

  • Stephanie | November 26, 2012 5:15 PM

    Sorry, wrong reply...my comment was meant for Ceecee and Bob.

  • Stephanie | November 26, 2012 5:14 PM

    Why is being attractive a prerequisite for having a TV show?

  • shelly | September 26, 2012 1:44 PMReply

    She is playing an doctor of Indian descent? Wow you are right. That is sooooo different.

  • Jonas | September 26, 2012 6:41 PM

    Is this sarcasm or jealousy? Show me your titties and lemme judge.