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The Mindy Project: unoriginal, yet unprecedented

Sassy, successful single seeks soulmate? Been there. Seen that. The Mindy Project? Let’s just say it’s complicated.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Mindy Kaling. Her book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? was delightful. It was relatable, smart, funny, and quietly empowering in its own way. Her audiobook version was pure gold. That’s why I was surprised when I found myself conflicted after viewing her new sitcom, The Mindy Project.

The show, which is part of the 2012 Fox fall lineup, is created by and starring Kaling herself. Her television career launched on the set of The Office where she started as a staff writer and later joined the cast as the token space cadet, Kelly Kapoor.

On The Mindy Project, Kaling portrays Mindy Lahiri, a single, Indian-American, rom-com loving OBGYN who is navigating the complicated terrain of her personal and professional life. Novel premise, I know (insert eye roll), but the pilot proved to be comical and clever in its own right; the dialogue quick and witty.

What bothered me wasn’t the clichéd premise of a successful singleton looking for love, but rather the way in which finding a mate felt like a pre-requisite to fully enjoying the other aspects of her life.

Additionally, there were a few weight jokes that I felt were inappropriate and gratuitous. I think it’s beyond refreshing to see a woman of color in a body that doesn’t match the exhausted, Hollywood waif prototype, but this is a missed opportunity when the character fails to own and embrace this aspect of herself. I would love to see Mindy Lahiri ditch the body-snarking and embrace her shape. Shows where female leads accept their bodies and their flaws contribute to collective female body image in a positive way.

While I know The Mindy Project isn’t pioneering in its plot, it is historic for other reasons. It is the first sitcom created by and starring an Indian-American woman. On this front alone it gains major points with me, despite the limits of her narrative that need improvement.

During her tenure at The Office, Kaling wrote 24 episodes and directed two. This is pretty huge considering the latest “Boxed In” report from The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University that reported that women comprised 26% of all individuals working behind the scenes in the 2011-12 prime-time television season.

Percentage of female producers? 38%. Writers? 30%. Creators? 26%. Despite an overall one-percentage-point increase in the number of major female players in broadcast television, we still have a ways to go before achieving creative equality on screen.

Yes, the show lacks in feminist merits and is slacking in providing a supporting three-dimensional cast that showcases diversity (all the characters felt unoriginal, as though I’d seen them in a thousand sitcoms before). But it has potential.

Seeing another female front-runner in the male-dominated land of comedy also rebuts the question (or non-question) of whether or not women are funny. But most importantly, I love that Mindy Lahiri’s ethnicity is not a major plot point, yet it is a defining milestone for female comedy show creators. That alone is groundbreaking. Kaling is a charming and talented writer and here’s hoping that she uses her sharp voice and distinct position to empower the female collective in future episodes.

Heather Klem spends her days working in the corporate business world, and can be found sharing her own experience, insights, and pop culture commentary at www.msmettle.com.

One thought on “The Mindy Project: unoriginal, yet unprecedented

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  1. I’ve been watching this show and really enjoying it – it’s not groundbreaking, but it is fun. One bit I loved was when that awful interviewee asked Mindy to touch his tattoo and she refused, and he responded “Indian girls never want to touch it.” It was such a brilliant and understated little bit about how frustrating it can be when your personal decisions are brushed off due to your membership in some group (like hearing “you’re probably on your period”). I think Mindy has some interesting stuff to say, it’s just piled under a lot of typical sitcom conventions (which I find entertaining, so it’s fine by me).

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