I can see why NBC passed on this. The fact that it is a romantic comedy series is not what I don’t like about it. Sure, I don’t think it’s helping my case for why I did not enjoy this pilot that much, but really, I don’t mind rom-coms that much. They might be as cliche as they come, but there can be some good qualities to them, especially when you know you need to find them when you’re trying to impress your date on a certain night. But with Mindy Kaling’s new series, there’s no romanticism for the genre. There are lots of references to them, but references do not make a show and what kills me here is that for a show with such an impressive cast, everything about it feels lackluster.
In the series, Mindy Kaling, who is also the star and creator, plays an OBGYN named (well you guessed it) Mindy and she must battle the ups and downs of dating, which gets exasperated when she gets drunk at her ex’s wedding and proceeds to ride a stolen bike into someone’s random pool. It is that setup which gives way to the rest of the episode, as Mindy explains the pilot’s events in a series of pseudo flashbacks that soon turn into flashforwards. It is a weird framing device, but it oddly works. I just hope that it is only used this once for the pilot as a way to set up everything, but if they plan on making this a recurring device, I’m going to be tuning out fairly quickly. In fact, there’s one portion of the pilot that deals with a Muslim woman and a young child that seek Mindy’s advice, and then deliver a baby… meaning that the single episode spans more then eight months. And I had no idea if the kid was the father of said baby, since they never explained it. This was rather unfortunate because it made that subplot more confusing then it should have been.
As a comedy, it’s unfortunate that the trailer gives away all the funny jokes from the pilot. Future episodes will likely not be that way, but what that tells me is that, with Mindy writing, it could mean that the jokes are few and far between. I am not comfortable with that potential future, but one thing this show has going for it is that it has apparently poached half the writing staff from Community which means it should start bringing the funny. The likes of Chris McKenna (Emmy nominated writer for the classic Community episode “Remedial Chaos Theory”), Adam Countee (who penned my favorite episode from season 3 “Curriculum Unavailable”), and Ike Barinholtz (my favorite MAD TV cast member) will be writing future episodes. In Barinholtz’s case, he’ll be performing in the show as a new regular, so I’m hoping that elevates the show’s quality.
The other thing this show has going for it is that it has a truly insane cast. Chris Messina, Anna Camp, Ed Weeks, and even the likeable Mindy Kaling do good work in their roles, especially Anna Camp who seems to be an actress who is above playing such a small, supporting role (though I suspect her part will expand as the series grows). They all elevate what is really weak material and seem to be having fun doing so, especially Messina who portrays Dr. Danny Castellano, the Nick Wagner (New Girl reference, anyone?!?) of the show. And if the show can attract guest stars of Bill Hader and Ed Helms’ caliber on a consistent basis, they could draw some extra eyes.
I’m just hoping that Mindy Kaling sticks with the acting here. Sure, her pilot does have its moment, but with her attention divided, I feel like it could deliver an overall weaker series and that’s where the worry comes in. There’s definitely going to be some people who are instant fans of the series and that’s fine. For the woman, I expect them to be the first ones aboard the bandwagon, but to draw a wider, male net, the show is going to need to deliver more funny while appealing the female sentimentality. I was hoping to like this more as, like I’ve said before, I do enjoy the work of a lot of people involved with this show. They are going to need to find their footing fast or it could lose me as a viewer. This is a series that has been overhyped (probably the most overhyped of the fall freshman class) and I suspect there are going to be people who are let down by the final product. The Mindy Project is not going to be the worst show that hits the air this fall (my money is on The Neighbors or The Mob Doctor to take that title), but it is definitely not an upper echelon comedy. Approach with caution and keep in mind that better comedies are premiering.
The Mindy Project premieres on September 25, 2012 at 9:30pm on FOX.