It’s on Hulu, though it hasn’t aired yet. You can check it out here. The rest of this review is pretty spoilery, so you might wanna watch before you read.
Short version: it’s worth watching, and I’ll most assuredly follow the show for at least three episodes when it starts.
Now, I love Mindy Kaling. I love Mindy Kaling about as much as someone can love Mindy Kaling without having read her book (though I keep meaning to). I think she’s easily the biggest breakout from The Office and is destined for more, better things.
Is one of these better things being the lead in a TV series? Maybe not. But she’s trying, dammit.
I’m going to spare you the summary of the episode, as I’m assuming you already watched it and have your own opinions, I’ll just bulletpoint the issues (good and bad) as I see them.
- Voice-over. C’mon, Mindy. You’re smarter than this. Admittedly, most of the rest of the episode is devoid of the tired practice, but it was annoying before it even started. Hopefully, we have fewer flashbacks and less voice-over.
- We get “romantic swoony music” twice in the episode, once when we meet Bill Hader, and again when we meet Ed Helms. Interestingly, we don’t get it when we meet Mindy’s co-workers (the jerkass and the one she’s fooling around with on the side), even though they’re… well… conventionally attractive. Like, TV-hot. Bill Hader and Ed Helms aren’t homely by any means, but there’s only so much suspension of disbelief before the rope snaps and I realize I’m supposed to find Andy Bernard “dreamy”. A part of me hopes this is a running gag (weird looking funny dudes get the “ooh la la”, the type of guy you’d see on Vampire Diaries* is still hot but not given soft focus and mood music), but I don’t think that’s the case. We’ll see.
- The supporting cast is loosely defined. The best friend with a kid (who I’m pretty sure blew Don Draper in the back of a car during the fourth season of Mad Men), the antsy assistant who’s eager to please, the dreamboat she’s sleeping with, the dreamboat who’s currently a jerkass to her but she will sleep with (I give it six episodes), Ned Ryerson from Groundhog Day as her boss with little to do, and Ike Barinholtz, who hasn’t actually shown up yet but should spice things up, if he brings it as hard as he brought it on Eastbound and Down. What’s the big takeaway from this cast? White people. This show is not In Living Color, George Lopez, or (to a lesser extant) Sullivan and Son. They’re not presenting race as a central theme. Mindy isn’t excluded and awkward because she’s Indian, it’s because she’s excluded and awkward. They built the show around her and, as a result, they built it the way they build every sitcom: whiten it the fuck up. The toke minority is now the lead. It remains to be seen how they’ll address it, but I’m very excited. Will Mindy’s parents be treated respectfully, or will they be characters left from the cutting room floor of the Outsourced editing room?
- This pilot, like most sitcom pilots, suffers from extreme compression issues. In a sitcom pilot, you need to accomplish three goals: 1) introduce the lead character and at least a couple supporters, 2) set up the overall premise of the show and what we’re going to be doing every week, and 3) tell a story with whatever time you have left to illustrate the points of 1 and 2. We have a tenuous grasp on those two points (except the part about establishing the lead character, no issues there) but more time was dedicated to telling the story of the episode. Mindy goes to the wedding, gets arrested, does hospital stuff, goes on her date, does more hospital stuff, and ends up getting crammed full of British Guy, though she knows it’s a bad idea. Compare the pilots to The Office (U.S.), which heavily favored goal 1, and Parks and Recreation, which had more to do with goal 2. Frequently, sitcoms don’t try, and just dive in with a story, hoping we’ll piece it together as the show wears on. (No exposition, no establishing roles or themes, just making it happen and going “oh, they’ll figure it out. It’s a good call, in my opinion.) Mindy succeeds on all three counts, there’s no disputing that, it just casts too wide of a net. But it’s a sitcom pilot. You have to cut it some slack.
Overall, you have to remember that sitcom pilots often are the worst episodes of the series. The characters are underdeveloped, the chemistry hasn’t clicked, they’re trying to keep it open-ended in case they get a better idea than the one they have, and they’re just hoping they get picked up. (Spoiler: they did. I’m pretty sure it was a foregone conclusion, what with all the hype this show has been getting the last year or so. I mean, they get MAD TV’s Ike Barinholtz! Ike!) Kaling’s a strong writer, if a little self-indulgent (the prayer in the cab was unnecessary, and the prodding at Deadliest Catch was horrifically dated, but I guess she thought it was really funny). I think it could be good. The cast is made of strong actors with sexy faces. We’ll see how it fares this season.
On the other hand, if it gets cancelled and I someday bump into Mindy Kaling at a party or something, I can tell her I always liked it and maybe we’ll end up making out. That would be the tits.
* I’ve never seen Vampire Diaries, but promos have led me to believe it’s about a bunch of cheekbones running in the woods.