Mindy Kaling’s New Show Looks Great

Slate's Culture Blog
May 15 2012 1:00 PM

NBC Passed on This?

kaling2
Mindy Kaling in the first trailer for The Mindy Project

Yesterday in Slate, Troy Patterson wrote about NBC’s unveiling of its upcoming shows for the fall season. “The news,” he said, “is that the new NBC sitcoms look rather like veteran ABC comedies.” Today, Alyssa Rosenberg at Think Progress also argues that NBC is looking backwards rather than forwards, noting that it passed on Mindy Kaling’s script, then called It’s Messy, now called The Mindy Project.

Judging from the trailer for the show, one has to wonder what in the world NBC was thinking:

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Granted, the trailer gets off to a so-so start with the Michael Fassbender penis joke. And yes, Mindy Kaling has made herself the latest in a long line of South Asian actors playing doctors. But her character here is no stereotype: In just three and a half minutes, she already seems more complicated than most current sitcom characters. And while the set-up—hard-working career woman struggles to find the right guy—may be a rom-com cliché, the show seems refreshingly self-aware about those clichés. I will be surprised if the series simply adheres to the conventions of the contemporary romantic comedy.

Most importantly, though, the trailer is funny. A couple highlights: Kaling’s character’s exchange with a cop about the relative seriousness of drunk and disorderly charges (“When you are disorderly, you are a rapist of peace and quiet”) and Chris Messina’s confident declaration to a new patient in the maternity ward (“I’m the man who’s gonna take a person out of you”). Happily, the humor seems more character-driven than one-liner dependent; the exchange between Kaling and inevitable love interest Messina about Springsteen and Mellencamp, for instance, is amusing despite its lack of traditional jokes.

And the cast is encouraging as well: In addition to Kaling and Messina, the trailer features Bill Hader, Ed Helms, and Richard Schiff (aka Toby Ziegler from The West Wing).

As Rosenberg notes, Deadline has speculated that NBC passed on The Mindy Project because it already had enough pilots with female leads. If true, this seems remarkably foolish, and doesn’t bode well for a network that continues to struggle. Then again, as Troy Patterson writes today, ad buyers were apparently unenthused at the presentation for The Mindy Project by FOX, which picked up the show after NBC passed. Of course, as Patterson himself notes, ad buyers are perhaps not the people we should turn to for good judgment regarding quality sitcoms.

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.

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