After The Office‘s Kelly Kapoor, played by Kaling, garnered few laughs from this reviewer, we were a bit doubtful whether we’d like her take on the latest entry into “Lady Hot Mess” that she’s set to introduce us to over the course of this inaugural season of The Mindy Project.
It’s not that we strongly disliked Kaling per se. No, it’s more about whether or not we’re tired of this particular trope, and if Kaling has the chops to bring something new and unique to a character made famous most recently by Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon, and even Kaling’s Fox channel-mate, Zooey Deschanel. All of which can also be lumped into women actresses we’ve witnessed cavorting on the big and small screen ever since Renée Zellweger donned some extra padding and started running around Britain saying “bollocks!” in Bridget Jones’ Diary.
To her credit Kaling has been making the rounds lately as one of the coveted “Funny It Girls” and we’ve been able to follow her trajectory and evolution from writer/actress to the non-head scratcher leading lady, unlike others (cough, Whitney Cummings) who seem to have appeared out of thin air and into a sitcom. We’re also looking at you Chelsea Handler and your disciples.
The set-up to the show is pretty simple. Mindy Lahiri is more than a bit of a mess. She has trouble finding the right guy, possibly because she’s romanticized them so much. She’s also a bit of a floundering fish at her career as an OB/GYN who keeps getting one-upped by a surly, snarky, short man who apparently wears jeans tighter than they should be. In addition, she’s a bit judgmental and particular when it comes to her patients and attitude about many, many things. Mostly though she’s aware of this pervasive “messiness” that is her life, and desperately wants to zero in on her flaws, fix them all, and have that moment where she’s standing in front of a guy in the right light, hair perfect, as the credits roll and she and Richard Gere are about to trot off into the sunset. Yet, she’s the kind of girl who would actually fall for whatever jazz that John Mayer keeps slinging that gets girls to go to his hotel room. Know what we mean?
The potential problem with The Mindy Project, as we reviewed the premiere last night, is the subtle bit of triteness that’s infused throughout; from the dependence on Rom-Coms, to the embarrassing display at the ex-boyfriend’s wedding, to the combination predictable bad-boy hookup/Billy Crystal to Kaling’s Meg Ryan “hate you/love you” Dr. Danny banter. And we were not amused by Dr. Danny Crystal telling Mindy that she should lose fifteen pounds, and then the immediate Prince Charming affirmation by Dr. Sexy Australian pants. Really? Did we need that moment to show vulnerability in this character? Was it necessary to find some way to reproduce Crystal’s When Harry Met Sally “You’re the worst type because you think you’re low maintenance, but you’re really high maintenance” line? Along with that, somewhere in there is this sentiment of “I’m 31! I really need to get my shit together!” thing that’s so eye-rollable. The question we’d like to ask Mindy is “or what?” Meaning, “You’re 31 and you have to get your shit together or what?” You’ll be an old maid? Urgh. Your biological clock is ticking? Urgh! Urgh! The world won’t take you seriously! Urgh! Urgh! URGH!
It’s not that we expect Mindy to have all the answers in one episode, but what we’d like is for this “Hot Mess” of a post-gen-xer to either embrace the messy wackiness and not apologize for it a la Zooey Deschanel on New Girl, if you can believe it, or make it less obvious the set-up and knock down of all the overplayed themes in the show. We say this because it’s not always fun to watch someone else’s journey to discovery when you aren’t adding any particularly new elements that we haven’t seen in nearly every one of Meg Ryan’s, Sandra Bullock’s, and Julia Roberts’ early movies. Being crass, a bit politically incorrect, and well, oftentimes silly inexplicably, un-ironically, and worse, unoriginally, isn’t enough. What Zooey and Lena Dunham have managed to do is tell their stories from inside the inner-working of their worlds and outward. They’re not asking us to forget that we’ve ever seen Renée Zellweger do this shtick before — and perhaps better.
We certainly hope that Kaling’s show starts to find its grove and throws us a few curveballs, because that’s really how you win the sitcom game.