THE MINDY PROJECT: Tuesday 9:30PM on FOX – DVR Alert
Companion shows don’t come more perfectly designed than FOX’s THE MINDY PROJECT. When FOX launched New Girl last fall, it became an instant hit, with a quirky, likable heroine in Zooey Deschanel, a very strong supporting cast, and a sophisticated, urban tone. it’s been running for the most part with Raising Hope, which is a quality sitcom, but one that centers on an unconventional nuclear family in a small town, and Hope loses a chunk of New Girl‘s lead-in rating every week. With Mindy, the network has a show that hits all the same notes as New Girl–quirky, smart, likable, sophisticated–without in any way feeling like a clone.
The new show’s creator and star is Mindy Kaling, best known of course as part of the ensemble of The Office, who joins TV’s ranks of woman hyphenates that began in earnest last season. While Kaling’s work here may not rise to the auteurist heights of Lena Dunham’s Girls, it’ll push all nightmares of Whitney out of your mind. She plays Mindy Lahiri, an expert obstetrician whose love life is of course a mess. Mindy has more than a little in common with The Office‘s Kelly (she starts the pilot jailed for disturbing the peace after an ex’s wedding, which is certainly something one can imagine Kelly doing), but she’s a little more toned-down and self-aware. She works in a clinic that includes Jeremy (Ed Weeks), a charming, good-looking Englishman whom she knows is bad for her, and Danny (Chris Messina), the annoying guy who in the way of rom-coms she doesn’t realize is the one who digs her just the way she is. (In the series, the clinic will also have Stephen Tobolowsky as Mindy’s boss–Richard Schiff appeared as a guest star in the pilot–as well as a couple of other fellow employees.) Out of work, her best friend is Gwen (Anna Camp).
Mindy retraces fairly familiar rom-com territory–Mindy worries about her weight, goes out on bad dates, obsesses about things then makes the worst possible choice–albeit in a somewhat postmodern Friends With Benefits way (she’s a devotee of rom-coms herself). The writing is sharp, though, with fast, bright direction by Charles McDougall, and there are little comic curveballs that break out of the norm, like Mindy’s underwater (subtitled) heart-to-heart with a Barbie doll. Kaling has made sure that while her character may be an airhead in her personal life, she’s also intelligent and good at her job, and she and Messina, who’s been kicking around in a million indie movies and TV guest shots for the past few years (he’s currently Jane Fonda’s soulless son on The Newsroom), have terrific chemistry. Like New Girl, which started out mostly concentrated on Deschanel’s fizzy charm, then blossomed into a true ensemble as the season went on, there’s plenty of opportunity here for the other characters to develop. We know, for example, from True Blood and The Good Wife, that Anna Camp can handle a lot more than the bits the pilot has room to accommodate.
One never knows, of course, what will happen to a show once it goes to series (Matt Warburton, most recently part of the producing staff on Community, has come aboard post-pilot as showrunner), but Mindy Project seems to be the right show in the right timeslot, a combination that comes along less often than you’d think. For example: The Mindy Project was produced by NBC’s in-house production company, Universal Television, under its deal with Kaling that ties in to her acting and producing on The Office. There’s nothing NBC needs more than a good new upscale sitcom for its Thursday night, and under its deal, the network had first shot at the project… but passed. As is not unusual in the TV business, one network’s loss can be another’s gain, and Mindy will instead be drawing eyeballs for FOX. NBC (which still produces the series and has all the financial interests of ownership) will have very mixed feelings on Tuesday nights next fall, but the news for viewers is all good.