Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Pilot Review: The Mindy Project

The Mindy Project (Tuesdays at 9:30 on Fox; Premieres September 25)

Okay, let's get this out of the way: I don't get The Office. I don't find that type of awkward humor funny; I watched one episode of the show with my mouth open, disgusted that that is what people laugh at. I just don't understand. But I will say that I found Mindy Kaling insanely charming in The 40 Year Old Virgin, and the pieces I've read of her book are cute. But The Mindy Project is painfully dumb.

I'll give Mindy Kaling credit where its due: it's very refreshing (and realistic) to see a show with a romantic lead who isn't white or stick thin. I appreciate that aspect very much. Unfortunately, The Mindy Project is backwards-thinking in almost every other aspect. It follows Mindy Lahiri, an OB/GYN with a lousy love life and an obsession with romantic comedies. When her ex gets married to someone younger and prettier, she ends up in a public pool, drunk out of her mind and deciding to turn over a new leaf. No longer will Mindy be all about sex and charm: she's going to make her own romantic comedy, fall in love, have the happy-ever-after.

The main problem here is that The Mindy Project isn't all that interesting. Aside from the ridiculous gender problems, which I'll get into in a minute, Mindy Kaling forgot to make her story funny. She's clearly the star here: creator, writer, performer, namesake (ugh, the title annoys me beyond belief; conceited, boring and inappropriate, it sounds like a reality competition show). Perhaps somewhere in between wearing these many hats, Kaling just didn't remember that a comedy should have jokes... funny ones. Arguments over Springsteen vs. Mellencamp, a talking Barbie, and references to Michael Fassbender's genitalia are not funny. She also plays everything very expectedly, not really creating a new character but extending ones we've seen before. The same can be said of the supporting cast, all playing underdevloped types rather than people: Ed Weeks as Jeremy, a gorgeous British doctor who loves sex; Chris Messina as Danny, a hypermasculine and semi-misogynistic doctor; Anna Camp as Gwen, a supermom best friend; etc, etc. The only really successful performance in the pilot is from Zoe Jarman as Mindy's clueless secretary Betsy, who gets the only laugh-out-loud funny moment in the entire episode:

Mindy: Why do you keep giving me patients without insurance?... I need more patients that are like these guys.
Betsy: More white patients, done.

That's about it as far as comedy goes. The remainder of the pilot is a messy combination of gender stereotypes and misogny, which is strange coming from a female writer. There are a handful of scenes in which Danny is presented as both a misogynist and a romantic lead. As Mindy gets ready for a blind date, Danny tries to get her to change, insisting that men don't care what a woman is wearing and prefer less makeup, for them to "just look hot." Their pre-established love/hate relationship takes a turn for the worse when she rejects his advice, and he tells her, "You know what would really look great?... If you lost 15 pounds." So Mindy completely undermines herself with this scene, negating whatever good will she had from me by being a leading lady who isn't the typical Hollywood definition of such. Later, after Mindy's date (by the way, she has taken Danny's advice and changed into a simpler dress...) they are in the break room at the hospital watching When Harry Met Sally, with Mindy recounting how great her date was; Danny starts to question whether or not he's a man (as opposed to just being a man), someone who will get up in the night when he hears a sound rather than cowering under the covers. Is he the type of guy who will start a fistfight at a Springsteen show? Because apparently that's the kind of guy Mindy should be going for, a guy like Danny... AKA, a guy who will call her fat one minute and then try to protect her the next with his archaic definitions of masculinity and self-worth.

It's a frustrating half-hour of television, no matter how you look at it. If you want to be entertained by Mindy Kaling, it fails at being funny. If you want to just watch something while you wait for another show you actually care about to start, it fails at being interesting. If you want something smart from a clever female writer and star, it fails at being forward-thinking.

Incidentally, the original title of this show was It's Messy. And I can't help but think that would've been a much more appropriate name.

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