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TV review: 'The Mindy Project' is going to be just fine

On her new show, Mindy Kaling is looking for love and looking for fulfillment. Until she finds it, life can be messy.

September 24, 2012|By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • Mindy Kaling, Ed Weeks, center, and Chris Messina star in "The Mindy Project."
Mindy Kaling, Ed Weeks, center, and Chris Messina star in "The Mindy… (Beth Dubber, Fox )

Mindy Kaling, who was Kelly Kapoor on "The Office" and also one of that show's writers, has her own series now, "The Mindy Project," premiering Tuesday on Fox. It is possible that I have a small crush on the creator and star — inspired in no small part by her writing, as published in various magazines and her comic-essays memoir, "Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)" — so I may not be entirely reliable on this subject.

But, to the degree I can be objective, I like this a lot.

Needy and controlling and terribly sure of herself, Kelly Kapoor was a handful. Here Kaling plays a less difficult person, also named Mindy — or, in any case, a person who mostly makes trouble for herself and whose self-involvement is not so blinding as to make self-reflection impossible. Raised on rom-coms, she is the woman Nora Ephron wrought, strong and capable and yet waiting for ... something: not merely for Mr. Right, but the knowledge that she's all right without him.

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Zooey Deschanel, whose "New Girl" is Mindy's lead-in, is a sterling example of what film critic Nathan Rabin memorably dubbed the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Kaling, who is not the usual size, shape or color for a television heroine — still! — is something else again. Her mere presence at the head of this show is a kind of small triumph, a bulletin from the future.

She is no pixie — she's something earthier, which is not exactly to say down-to-earth — but she is certainly manic, and something of a dream girl too, albeit one whose dreaminess is masked by poor impulse control, alcohol (see: poor impulse control, above), a forthrightness both admirable and alienating, her blue, baggy surgical scrubs — she's an OB-GYN — and even her eyeglasses. (They leave no mask untried.)

The original title for the series was "It's Messy," and Kaling spends a good deal of the pilot as an actual mess, having ridden a bike into a swimming pool and spent the night in jail after making a fool of herself with a drunken toast at the wedding of her former boyfriend (Bill Hader, celebrity guest No. 1). (Celebrity guest No. 2 is blind date Ed Helms from "The Office.")

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But we're also shown that she has a heart. She convinces herself to take on an uninsured patient she already knows she will treat for free by getting her translator-son to promise that his mother will have insurance before the baby comes: "It doesn't have to be true," she tells him, "I just need to hear it. I do this with guys all the time."

"Your life is not a romantic comedy," best friend Gwen (Anna Camp) tells Mindy after springing her from jail. "Right now it seems more like a sad documentary about a criminally insane spinster."

But the show they are in is, indeed, a romantic comedy — a sometimes ironic meta-rom-com, but a rom-com all the same, with cute meets and significant glances and bickering-as-courtship and the clearly intimated possibility that love is an answer, if not necessarily the answer.

Not yet completing that picture is colleague Danny (Chris Messina) — a Balanced Grumpy Regular Guy, if you will — who in the normal course of romantic comedy would be the guy Mindy discovers was The Guy all along. But they are barely friends for now. Other colleague Jeremy (Ed Weeks) is meanwhile around for sex. ("Let's hang out ... deep," is how he puts it.)

"Tomorrow is going to be different," Mindy tells Gwen. "And if not tomorrow the next day, I swear." It will take her some time to get where she's going. But I'm in no hurry.

robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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'The Mindy Project'

Where: Fox

When: 9:30 p.m. Tuesday

Rating: TV-14-DL (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)

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