Mindy Kaling’s The Mindy Project Proves That ‘Smart’ And ‘Girly’ Are Not Mutually Exclusive

I will admit to some trepidation in the months leading up to the premiere of Mindy Kaling‘s new sitcom The Mindy Project. I loved her so much on The Office that I was scared she wasn’t going to live up to her former greatness, and I was a little bit frightened by her sincere love of romantic comedies. But as soon as the pilot (which I’ve embedded at the bottom) went up on Hulu, I watched it, and I’m happy to report that my fears were foolish and unfounded.

From the very beginning, writer/star Mindy Kaling is intent on showing how a steady diet of saccharine chick flicks can mess with the heads of even very smart women. The Mindy character is a high achieving OBGYN resident, but she still can’t resist the lure of a meet cute in an elevator, and goes completely insane when Bill Hader leaves her for a younger woman. (The fact that she’s basically in love with Stefon only makes it funnier.) And despite wanting marriage and children, she keeps going back to the sexy bad boy for validation, another cliche of sorts. And this is a woman who finished medical school! Mindy Kaling knows you don’t have to be stupid to be affected by society’s bullshit. But for the record, I don’t see anything wrong with having a roll in the hay with the sexy bad boy while you are looking for a more well-suited partner, so I was happy when she went for it at the end of the episode. Hooray for the female gaze!

And Mindy is not afraid to satirize her own character. Much like the characters on Girls, she’s not some neutral, cheerful, klutzy canvas for viewers to project themselves onto; she can also be vain, selfish, and oblivious. It’s especially cringeworthy when she, a doctor, starts talking about her concern for her own career to an uninsured immigrant woman seeking medical attention from her. It’s a delicious moment of irony when she drunkenly yells “I’m Sandra Bullock!” because she so clearly is not.

And while we’re on the subject of Mindy’s poorer patients, this show deals with race and racism in a far more nuanced way than any network sitcom I’ve seen before. We’re only one episode in, and we’ve already seen Mindy use racism as an irrational explanation for why a car was honking at her (it was honking because she was riding a stolen bike in the middle of the road), as well as shrug off actual racism when a co-worker incorrectly assumes (despite her Valley girl accent) that she didn’t grow up in America. She also implies that the Eastern European bagel girl is secretly a war criminal. And things get even more complicated when Mindy’s co-workers tell her they assumed the Arab immigrant woman was “rich with oil money,” and instead of telling them off she’s like, “well, she wasn’t. She was poor with nothing money” and tells them to send her more patients with money, which she makes clear to mean “more white patients,” despite being a minority herself. This is why we need more diversity in writing rooms.

Most importantly, the dialogue is quick and clever, whether Mindy is being an asshole or telling off her prancing co-worker Danny Castellano for being one. And despite her flaws, Mindy is someone we can root for; when her uninsured patient needs an emergency delivery, she runs out on her important date with Ed Helms(!), because she knows in her heart what’s right.

It warms me to the the cockles of my heart to see a female protagonist on television who is not white or movie star skinny looking hot, banging babes, making mistakes, and being hilarious, and I can’t wait to see the rest of what Mindy has in store for us. And if that sounds impossibly positive coming from me, you can stream The Mindy Project below and decide for yourself.

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    • Taylor

      I LOVED this pilot. Mindy Kaling is one of my comedy heroes
      and I am so glad her new show is so far living up to my expectations. I thought
      it was original and easy to relate to and yes, very funny. I’ve already
      recommended it to several of my Dish co-workers, and if they don’t watch it, I’m
      going to nag them about it until they do. I work nights so I’m definitely glad
      my Hopper will record this for me. Of all the new shows this fall, I’m pretty
      sure The Mindy Project is the one I’m looking forward to the most, and I don’t
      want to miss an episode.

    • Serena

      I love The Office and enjoyed reading Mindy’s book, but this show looks god awful. The trailer made me cringe months ago and the pilot isn’t much better. I don’t think Mindy’s race is relevant; I’m a south asian female too but it’s not like this is some ethnic/cultural comedy. Mindy may not look like Jennifer Aniston but this is very much a typical American rom-com, just in TV show form.

      • jamiepeck

        Did you and I watch the same show? Race and racism (and Mindy’s not always perfect negotiation of them) are a huge theme so far.

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    • Marie

      The pilot was promising but not that great. Race and racism were not a theme in that episode; they’re fodder for laughs (as Mindy herself has said in interviews, she’s not trying to be an avatar for diversity and inclusion in television. She’s trying to be funny).

      My disappointment was more in the lack of comedic timing. There were a lot of unnaturally awkward pauses in the dialogue, and Mindy needs to grow into her character, who is, btw, utterly unbelievable as a doctor. It seems like the only reason why she’s a doctor is to save her from being a complete facsimile of Bridget Jones.