The Office lost a bright star Mindy Kaling when she left the show to headline her own sitcom, Fox’s The Mindy Project. Taking obvious inspiration from 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation, Kaling’s show is a workplace comedy that centers on a young, single professional who tries “to have it all.” Kaling plays Dr. Mindy Lahiri, a successful but flighty OB/GYN, who goes on romantic adventures. At work, she’s surrounded by oddball colleagues like her partners Danny Castellano (Chris Messina) and Jeremy Reed (Ed Weeks), her awesome receptionists Betsy and Shauna (Zoe Jarman and Amanda Setton), and a lovable, if troubled nurse, Morgan (Ike Barinholtz, a producer and writer on the show). As with most freshman shows, The Mindy Project goes through quite a few cast changes, shedding some characters and adding on a few newer ones, and it takes a few episodes for the episode to find its footing, but once the writers (including Kaling) find their rhythm, the show ends up being a consistently funny and heart-warming comedy.
As a lead, Kaling does an admirable job anchoring her own show. On The Office, her character, Kelly Kapoor, was a savagely self-involved monster who cared about no one but herself; in The Mindy Project, Kaling’s alter-ego is much more intelligent and kind, but there are shades of Kelly – especially Mindy’s obsession with pop culture (she’s obsessed with romantic comedies). But unlike Kelly Kapoor, Mindy Lahiri is an admirable woman, flaws and all – and Dr. Lahiri’s got some mighty flaws, including a near-bionic ability to make some disastrous choices in men – sometimes her choices are shockingly bad, and though it’s difficult to watch such a likable character go through so much, the bad dates provide the show with some of the best comedic moments.
And though romance is important in the show, it’s not the only draw, as the friendships also drive much of the episodes. The cast of actors have wonderful chemistry, especially Messina and Kaling. Messina’s Danny is a sour, prickly doctor, devoted to his work, but piss-poor in social relations – a bit of a cliché, but Messina sells it. And Barinholtz is a constant scene-stealer, as the doofy, but lovable Morgan who can’t seem to get anything right. And though there are few hankie moments, the love among these misfits is palpable.
Like any generous star, Kaling doesn’t hog the limelight, but the show bears a distinctive stamp of her brand of humor. She has a nervy, sarcastic sense of comedy and has a wonderful way with tossed-off one-liners (she’s reminiscent of Thelma Ritter); even if the episodes are written by other writers, they are able to write in her unique voice very well (some of the writers include former Office star/scribe B.J. Novak, Chris McKenna, Tracey Wigfield, among others). There are lots of laugh-out-loud moments that spring from Kaling’s chatty voice.
The Mindy Project isn’t a perfect show – it’s far too focused on love and romance, and can sometimes come off as single-minded in its emphasis on romantic pursuits. And Kaling needs a BFF to bounce off of – she needs an Ann Perkins to link arms with and face off against the world. She briefly has one, Gwen (Anna Camp), but the character’s demoted to recurring status half way through the season – a shame because Camp’s a funny presence and Mindy and Gwen have a nice little relationship that is woefully unexplored. Still, the show grows in strength from episode-to-episode as the directors, writers, and actors all gain confidence.