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Writer-comedian stars in lackluster TV pilot

By Fiona Lockyer
On September 3, 2012

A television show about the life and romantic misadventures of a slightly overweight OB/GYN obsessed with romantic comedies. Sounds good to me, but sadly, I lack a TV. So naturally, I turned to the internet. After watching the pilot episode of the new Fox sitcom The Mindy Project on Hulu, I took a look at the comments to see if any of my thoughts while watching the show had also registered with other viewers.
Debate was roaring in the comment section. One commenter, Meena Adams, wrote, "I expected not to like it, but an [sic] chunky Indian female lead that looks just like me? Yeah, I guess I'll buy that! ... And to the black man who said she is Indian and 'acts white', please tell me what American-born Indians should act like so I'll know how to not sell out my race in the future."
So, it seemed that someone else shared my thoughts. Mindy Kaling's (The Office) The Mindy Project, for as run-of-the-mill and normal as it seems to be, is special in the sense that it features a main character, Mindy Lahiri (Kaling), that one does not often see on television: namely, a slightly-overweight, Indian female.
It's easy to compare Kaling and Lena Dunham, creator and star of HBO's latest Girls. Well, it's easy for a few reasons, but racial/ethnic diversity in casting (or lack thereof) certainly is a hot topic of discussion. Yes, both Kaling and Dunham are in the same general age bracket, they both have a large social-media following and they both have written shows focused on female characters. But though they share some similarities, there is one difference: Kaling has some racial/ethnic diversity in her show (although in the pilot, it's only herself), and Dunham does not.
After the recent criticism surrounding Girls, the topic of casting in Hollywood has found itself back in the blogosphere's spotlight. NPR's "Fresh Air" interviewed Dunham about the lack of diversity in her show, to which she responded, "Not that the experience of an African-American girl and a white girl are drastically different, but there has to be specificity to that experience [that] I wasn't able to speak to. I really wrote the show from a gut-level place, and each character was a piece of me or based on someone close to me." If it is indeed impossible to write for characters outside of one's race, theoretically, casting diversity is going to rely on diverse writers coming along.
So now, the Mindy Project is here to add a little diversity to the TV scene. But outside of what it provides in color-and the necessary conversations it can start about diversity in casting and what "acting white" means, as the aforementioned commenter brought up-does it hit all the right notes in terms of being funny?
Well, I laughed quite a bit. Mindy's character is all at once boring and out of control.
She spends all of her time watching romantic comedies (and tells us that she's been doing so since elementary school). She's made it through medical school, but when her ex-boyfriend gets married, she becomes an outrageous ball of black-out energy, causing a scene at the wedding and riding a bike into someone's in-ground pool.
She delivers a baby, and then her office-hottie-turned-hook-up, Jeremy (Ed Weeks), comes over, and it's clear where the episode is going to go. It's all funny, but it's also difficult at times to gauge whether Mindy is going to come out as the doctor or the drunk, which can be distractingly confusing.
So this is where I find fault with the pilot. It's fine that the character is multifaceted, that the plot, following her life, twists and turns often. It's fine that it's laden with classic romantic comedy conventions, like when it becomes clear that Danny (Chris Messina), who mocks her weight and her outfit choice, is going to be the guy with whom she of course ends up.
What's hard to understand is why a doctor, at 30-something years old, would be oscillating between dorky-chic and drunken and disorderly.
For a pilot episode, is scatterbrained, but entertaining. What the rest of the season holds, and what the show itself means for the ethnic and racial landscape of sitcom television, is still unclear.

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