Why I Adore “The Mindy Project”

I’m an ardent television junkie who’s spent the past 18 or so hours flipping between MSNBC’s weekend overdose of politics, the “48 Hours” marathon on OWN and HBO movies. Since I’m a devoted television viewer, I am introducing TV Blocks, a new segment, to this platform.

Once a week (or more when needed), I will discuss the programs I adore. Expect “Scandal,” “Real Time with Bill Maher” and “Dexter” to appear in November. I will also spotlight network shows that were surprisingly and unfairly canceled e.g. “Jane by Design” and “Made in Jersey” and nostalgic memories attached to classics such as “Martin,” “Living Single” and “Good Times.” Consider this is the first block.

I’ve never watched a single episode of “The Office.” Though I’ve been informed that it’s brilliant, the comedic staple has never appealed to me. I recognize and appreciate the cult-like following it’s achieved, but I haven’t sipped the koolaid and I won’t be indulging anytime soon.

Mindy Kaling was hysterical in her brief role in The 40-year old Virgin, but I had no clue that she was establishing herself as a leading woman comic on “The Office.” In that shunning of the popular situational comedy, I was missing out on Kaling’s  funny, feminist wit.

I discovered Kaling’s brilliance when UPTOWN assigned me to compile a roundup of the best shows debuting in the fall 2012 season. While researching reviews, I happened upon Fox’s “The Mindy Project.” It is the latest in a series of single-camera comedies and stars Kaling as a hapless romantic trapped in an OB/GYN’s body.

I penned this brief synopsis to tease the show for viewers:

“Our lives might not be as tantalizing as our beloved romantic comedies, but Mindy Lahiri’s is. “The Mindy Project” combines scrubs, love strikeouts and drunken intoxication. We can’t wait to watch! Mindy Kaling, who is “The Office” alum, stars in Fox’s newest single-camera comedy. In the premiere season, we follow her life as she spews Meg Ryan quotes on date after unsuccessful date in hopes that she will stumble on her Prince Charming. Mindy might not find her soul mate this season, but her dating trials (and the intervention her friends and colleagues organize) will be enough to keep us entertained.”

Since debuting this season, “The Mindy Project” has performed well on the Nielsen charts. It recently pulled a 1.9 rating among adults 18-49 and has been extended to 24 episodes for the season. It’s also managed to snag a new, eager viewer: me.

I’ve watched all of the episodes and often rave about the importance and hilarity of “The Mindy Project” on social networks. It’s one of my must-watches each week and I find myself penciling it in between homework and freelance assignments.

Here’s why.

There are unrealistic expectations of whimsical, unconditional love and perfect relationships, which always snags my attention. Mindy is a hapless romantic, who still hasn’t forgone her Cinderella dreams in favor of embracing her relationship realities.

She obsesses over romantic comedies and quotes Meg Ryan as black feminists quote bell hooks and Tricia Rose, which reminds me so much of me. That ceaseless optimism is one of Mindy’s most valuable character traits. It, along with the dynamic cast, makes “The Mindy Project” relatable and worth the weekly wait.

Quirky comedy and perfect timing makes for laughs. I crack up laughing as I watch Kaling interact with her coworkers. Sometimes the jokes are so subliminal that I find myself watching episodes again, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything I can laugh with sisterfriends about later.

Mindy Kaling is joking her way into the history books. I don’t categorize women as sheroes often, but Kaling has earned her spot in that elite group. She joined “The Office” when she was 24 as a writer and provided a woman’s perspective on a staff of eight.

She’s written 22 episodes of the sitcom and has been nominated for an Emmy for her comedic work. Now, Kaling has been promoted to executive producer of “The Office,” and also has an opportunity to write and star in a NBC pilot.

If that isn’t historical enough, Kaling, a Dartmouth College alumna, is the only Indian woman in a starring role on network television. She’s also written a New York Times bestseller, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Kaling’s shattering glass ceilings.

There is a positive promotion of the independent woman. Nothing evokes the womanist scholar in me more than the perpetuation of negative stereotypes of women on television. Though “The Mindy Project” is flawed and presents some problematic privilege-power politics within character dialogue, it has risen above the “independence is unattractive trait” that seems to dominate network sitcoms.

Mindy is a practicing OB/GYN and she has never had to compromise her intelligence or wit to appeal to male characters. It’s refreshing to watch a successful woman navigating relationships on TV. I hope Tyler Perry is observing and noting ways in which women can be successful, witty, single and not in dire need of a savior.

“The Mindy Project” promotes true diversity. Kaling is Indian, but there’s also a British character and several other minorities in co-starring roles. It’s supreme inclusion at a time when women, particularly minority women, are either underrepresented or inaccurately depicted.

You can watch episodes of “The Mindy Project” online here. It airs Tuesdays at 8:30/7:30c on Fox.

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