Writer-producer-actress and all-around comedienne Mindy Kaling abandons the sinking ship that is the final season of NBC’s “The Office” to head her own, self-titled sitcom over on FOX. It’s about time, too. Kaling, who played staff bimbo Kelly Kapoor, has long been a secret weapon on “The Office”—having written 22 episodes, directed several more and been promoted to full executive producer in season 8.
For “The Mindy Project,” Kaling does it all—writing, producing and starring as the title character, Dr. Mindy Lahiri. This fictional Mindy is a practicing OB/GYN. Pushing 30, our heroine has more or less modeled her life around every movie Julia Roberts ever starred in. This has led to a certain romantic confusion. Life, you see, isn’t anything like a Hollywood movie. Dr. Mindy keeps waiting for a “meet cute” with the perfect man—what she gets are married guys, utter screw-ups and the occasional booty call. It’s a familiar trope: The career woman who’s got it all together except for her personal life. The one-up here is that our heroine has bought entirely into the romantic fairy tale Hollywood has sold her. She’s a rom-com junkie who’s hung out so many times on the roof of the Empire State Building waiting for Mr. Right, she’s now banned.
So when another ruined relationship ends in drunken foolishness, utter embarrassment and an arrest, Mindy decides it’s time to change her life: No more drinking to excess, no more self-esteem issues, no more mooning around for Prince Charming. It’s a life plan she intends to stick to ... perhaps after one more booty call from her hospital’s resident sex addict doctor.
From the get-go, “The Mindy Project” has a fine, distinctive voice. You can really see Kaling’s personality shining through. There’s a lot of pie-eyed romantic hopefulness. There are also a lot of nasty jokes about Katherine Heigl movies. The mix is kinda perfect. Kaling adds plenty of self-deprecating humor—worrying about her neurotic tendencies, her impossible romantic ideals and her increasing body mass index. It’s a little like HBO’s “Girls,” but without all the embarrassing nudity. Finally, like the salt on the rim of the Margarita glass, Kaling adds a touch of the surreal—as when her character drunkenly plunges a stolen bicycle into a swimming pool and then proceeds to have an argument with a Barbie doll floating at the bottom of the pool. Funny, unexpected stuff.
So far, the supporting cast has yet to jell fully. Mostly, it feels like cameos from Kaling’s TV pals (Ed Helms from “The Office,” Bill Hader from “SNL”). Hopefully the ensemble will come together, affording Kaling more comic possibilities beyond just her character’s neuroses. Her mother is a real-life gynecologist, and I have confidence Kaling will put a realistic spin on this workplace setting. Despite a few early jitters, “The Mindy Project” is one of the most promising sitcoms of the new season, delivering some genuine laughs and a distinct comic style.