I’m Over You, Mindy Kaling

Posted on September 1, 2012 by

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Spoiler alert for TMP’s pilot episode.

I’m no television buff, but I’ll suffer a few boob-less hours in front of the “boob tube” if it’s worth it. I’m no huge fan of Fox either, so tracking down “The Office” veteran and supposed comedienne Mindy Kaling’s new project–interestingly titled “The Mindy Project”– was something of a small feat for me. Until my first viewing of the pilot, I hadn’t paid much attention to Mindy Kaling, outside of the fact that I knew she was wasting her (and my) time on The Office. Aside from a few quotes floating about on Tumblr and some admittedly funny out-of-context photosets, I hadn’t been truly exposed to the talent everyone seemed to gush about. When Fox announced her new show and “dropped” the pilot early, I decided to dive in.

And I swear to God, I was ready for Mindy Kaling. I was ready to go hard in the paint for another cute, forward woman of color; it is, after all, my specialty.

I was not ready for a shitshow of haggard jokes and regurgitated Tina Fey quirkiness–but now I can say that I’m truly, truly over Mindy Kaling…for now.

A little background: “The Mindy Project” follows titular character Mindy Lahiri, a Bridget Jones-esque character with a booming career as a doctor and the saddest love life on the down-lo. Her love life is so sad that it consumes her entire show. She’s clumsy, awkward and perpetually unsure of her male interests; she runs off at the mouth, constantly embarrasses herself, takes cues from the romantic comedies she is obsessed with–but do I seriously need to go on? Right off the bat, the show’s premise seems to be another dump in the long line of toilet-worthy romantic comedy tropes. With lines and giggles and smiles that I have only seen on the white heroines of these types of movies, Mindy tends to fall flat.

I have to admit: I initially wasn’t bothered with the idea of watching Mindy Kaling struggle through her relationships. Curious, maybe–but not bothered. After all, relationships are tough–and the added component of watching a woman of color flounder her way through love and lust like we all do (with just a tad more comedy) was alluring enough for me to give it a chance. Of course, I wasn’t expecting any deep discourse or any rallying cries for women of color exclusively; the most I could just hope for was for Kaling to be…well, funny.

So I waited. And I waited. And I waited.

The Mindy Project reads like a mishmash of the shit Hollywood expects from female writers nowadays. Now that Bridesmaids has finally opened the floodgates for poop jokes and “forever alone” storylines, it’s been really hard to get certain things across to female writers and the producers who support them. I’m really over the concept of the awkward, fucked-out-of-love main female character; you know, the woman who runs into more cringe-worthy (but really ‘funny’) hardships than she does love interests. Sprinkled throughout Bridesmaids was the idea that women could be strangesf and silly and shit in the middle of the street; that abnormality was the new normality and Kristen Wiig too has a had a day just like yours. I’m not particularly wary of the need to connect with female audiences or the need to ensure again and again that women can too be fucked up and funny. I’m just wary of the fact that we keep forgetting to write something else.

In the pilot episode, Mindy Lahiri gets drunk at her ex’s wedding, tells embarrassing stories about him, insults his new wife and crashes out of the party and into a pool. She gets strangely specific advice from a long-sunken Barbie doll (“get your shit together or no one’s ever going to love you”) and cries underwater when even the doll admits to having a boyfriend. Everything revolves around her also sunken love life. She has the hardest time realizing that she’s not part of a romantic comedy. She spends half her time trying to decipher the code to her unpopularity with men and the other half insisting she’s dateable.

She somehow manages to fit in being a doctor between her hilarious strings of fuck-ups, but it’s hard to buy completely; in fact, it’s a little confusing. I just spent all this time being convinced that Lahiri is incompetent, awkward and even a little immature–but apparently she’s competent enough and not too self-absorbed to dart between taxis barefoot to deliver a patient she had already  totally forgotten about while being drunk and breaking and entering into her ex’s home. Alright. Okay.

This isn’t even half of the episode, to be honest. To be even more honest, I didn’t finish the episode.

Yeah, I totally hear you; maybe it is douchey to critique an episode you didn’t even finish. It’s also douchey to sell the same tired concepts and ideas under the guise of a new project and expect me to sit through it. You know, even now I don’t doubt that Mindy Kaling has talent. Maybe it’s because I’m an optimist, or because I really understand the way the television industry works. Do I blame Mindy Kaling exclusively for giving me the same kind of boring I’m-so-great-what’s-wrong-with-me bullshit that usually helps Tina Fey stick out of a line up? Nah, not really. But just because the blame does not rest solely upon her shoulders does not mean that it can’t be spread around. In the same way Mindy Kaling shares in the failure of this pilot, she shares in my disappointment.

Female characters and femininity in television has been changing for sure; a few decades ago a character like Mindy Lahiri would be unimaginable. A woman who doesn’t have it altogether? A woman who flirts kind of desperately and gossips kind of easily and self-depreciates as quickly as she breathes? Unthinkable, perfectly ludicrous. For all my bitching and moaning, Lahiri as a character is still worthy of a thumbs-up.

Even as I groan my way through her pilot, I have to admit that it’s refreshing to know that Lahiri is only a few degrees away from us in some areas. It’s just that I’m not interested. I don’t want to see Mindy face plant every five seconds. I don’t want to be convinced of her normalcy, how she’s just like every other woman out there–weird and nervous and awkward. I’m tired of the idea that women are perpetually fucked up being used as the source of comedy. The self-depreciating era of humor, while original in its genesis and revolutionary in its application to the lives and minds of female characters, died a particularly invigorating death ages ago. The Mindy Project is beating the shit out of a dead horse.

It’s not only just that; I’m also just not used to stuff like this. I’m not accustomed to a woman of color having to resort to the same kind of tactics that romantic comedies use to put asses into seats. I’m definitely not used to the idea of having to grapple with supporting a woman of color who could’ve done so much but put very little on the table. Some part of me wants to blindly go forth in the name of  solidarity, but the other, more sensible parts of me just can’t swallow the bullshit.

Thus, I’m still on the hunt for the perfect show of support.  The obvious choice would be to recommend it to friends and family, but I’m only good at bullshitting about my own fuck-ups, not anyone else’s. Could I really enthusiastically submit people to Mindy Kaling’s various attempts at having Kristen Wiig and Liz Lemon’s love child? Do I really want to have to answer to why someone so good could create something so horrendously bad? Is it honestly that serious?

The answer is no. It’s also “maybe,” but only because I still feel that I can, someday, stir up something in my heart for this show that isn’t annoyance. I’m not banking on this though, and neither should you.

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