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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Keep working on The Mindy Project

Grade: 73%

I really wanted to like THE MINDY PROJECT. The star and creator, Mindy Kaling, has not only played Kelly Kapoor on The Office for all of these years, but has also written some of the funniest episodes of that show. It is time for her to get her own vehicle, and to let her voice be heard outside of the protective bubble of the long-running, popular sitcom.

Sadly, it’s really hard to be a fan of this new effort. At least, the “Pilot” isn’t very good. The jokes are predictable, the situations a little too “been-there, done-that,” and the characters don’t seem fresh. It may grow into something great, and I really hope it does. But it is not there yet, as of the first episode.

Kaling’s character, not coincidentally named Mindy, is a lot like Kelly, though toned down slightly to be more realistic. She is a relatable girl, smart and cute, even if she worries about her weight issues. She loves romantic comedies, and longs so much for her life to be one. But, like many girls who can relate to this attitude, her dreams will not come true. She struggles to find any guy who can live up to her ridiculous standards, but even those who fall far below that seem to be scarce. She doesn’t help herself by sleeping around, a habit hinted at, but not shown in the “Pilot.” All in all, the best adjective to describer this character, meant on a couple different levels, is sad.

The writing is as uneven as the character herself. There are lots of great pop culture references, which might date the show in the future, but seem timely enough for now. But the delivery of them isn’t goofy, like Kelly, or witty, as in other shows. Instead, it just adds to the mental delusions that keep Mindy out of touch with reality. Perhaps if she had a little more confidence, or didn’t sound like she believed them so sincerely, they would land better.

Much of the first episode is given over to Mindy’s romantic adventures. First, there is an oral surgeon (Saturday Night Live’s Bill Hader) who dumps her to marry a younger model. Then, there is the sane and handsome first date (Kaling’s former co-star, Ed Helms), who may be scared off by her crazy. The thing is, neither of these men feel like they have chemistry with Mindy, making the whole thing seem off.

Of course, the man Mindy is supposed to be with is right in front of her face and she is blind to it. His name is Danny (Chris Messina, Damages, The Newsroom), and he is a man’s man, as well as a co-worker. While Mindy is seeking romance, he tries to tell her to alter her expectations and look for a “real” guy. She ignores him, not willing to abandon her mission.

If THE MINDY PROJECT would allow Mindy to calm down and ditch her silly, unrealistic ideas, it would work much better. Danny isn’t just the opposite of what she thinks she wants, but really needs, he is also someone who will challenge her and help her to grow. An element that takes a back seat in the first episode is that Mindy is a doctor, and Danny is her competition. He is driven at work, and if she’d stop seeing Danny as an obstacle, but rather, someone she can have a friendly game with, things would change for her. This will probably happen. Eventually.

No one else really stands out in the “Pilot.” The cast is full of wonderful performers like Anna Camp (True Blood, The Good Wife), Stephen Tobolowsky (Californication, Glee), Richard Schiff (The West Wing), and Amanda Setton (Gossip Girl). But none of them are given much to work with, and if one wasn’t familiar with their other work, one probably wouldn’t notice them here. THE MINDY PROJECT is the type of show that screams for an ensemble, and has a very capable one. It just needs to figure out how to use it.

THE MINDY PROJECT premieres Tuesday, September 25th at 9:30 p.m. ET on FOX.

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