‘The Mindy Project,’ personality enough
New Fox sitcom brings a fresh face to romantic comedy
September 17, 2012
They say you can't have your cake and eat it too. But sometimes comedies can satirize something while also being that thing.
Fox's new sitcom "The Mindy Project" has it both ways. While mocking the conventions of those romantic comedies in which a kooky girl tries to find true love, it makes us root for a kooky girl trying to find true love. But it also makes us laugh, thanks to offbeat dialogue and well-observed characters.
"The Mindy Project" stars and is created by Mindy Kaling, who's best known as the ditzy Kelly Kapoor on "The Office." Like many romantic comedy heroines, the character Mindy, an obstetrician, is a mess in her personal life but capable at work. Breaking genre convention, she's not a student or an intern but a real doctor.
In the opening of the premiere episode, which airs on Tuesday, Sept. 25, at 9:30 p.m., Mindy, who has been obsessed all her life with romantic comedies, has been arrested after making a drunken toast at the wedding of an ex-boyfriend and riding off on a stolen bicycle. Lest we think that the show is trying to sneak this cliché past us, Mindy screams, "I'm Sandra Bullock!" before careering into a swimming pool.
She and that boyfriend, Tom (guest star Bill Hader), "met cute" in an elevator that broke down. As further proof to Mindy that it was true love, they both dropped what they were carrying, and when she bent down to pick up her package, her hair came undone.
The episode is light on plot. The main story is Mindy's taking on a new patient, who goes into labor just as Mindy is enjoying a good blind date with a nice guy named Dennis (guest star Ed Helms). The main purpose of the story is to allow Mindy to be charmingly obtuse.
Getting to know Dennis, she says, "I'm basically a vegetarian. For moral reasons. I mean I eat eggs and fish and hamburgers. Never steak."
The new patient has no health insurance and also speaks no English. Mindy instructs the patient's boy, who serves as her translator, to promise her that they'll have insurance by the time the mother's baby comes. "It doesn't have to be true," she says. "I just need to hear it. I do this with guys all the time."
At another point, Mindy tries to end her no-strings-attached sexual relationship with a colleague named Jeremy (Ed Weeks). "I've got to give myself a chance," she tells him. "And if that doesn't work out, maybe we could resume this in my 40s and 50s and 60s."
The show has a large cast of supporting players who generally make a good impression while ceding the spotlight to Kaling. The character that stands out the most is Mindy's colleague Danny (Chris Messina). Their mutual hostility, masking what may be mutual attraction, is another cliché, but they play it well.
When he mocks her for getting arrested, she reminds him he was once arrested for assault at a "Bruce Springsteen concert."
"First of all," he replies, "it's a 'Springsteen show,' not a 'Bruce Springsteen concert.' You sound ignorant. Second of all, you don’t show up at a Springsteen show wearing a John Cougar Mellencamp T-shirt unless you want to get punched in the face."
"How did I get into the Springsteen-Mellencamp conversation again?" she says.
The dialogue on "The Mindy Project" may not sound realistic, but it is clever and not clichéd. Still, it takes a lot of personality to pull it off. Fortunately, Mindy the character and Kaling the actor-writer have enough. This project looks promising for both of them.
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