My TV

26 September 2012

Pilot Watch: The Mindy Project

By // TV

Let’s just start here- I am a Mindy Kaling girl. For awhile I thought I might be a Tina Fey girl- idiosyncrasies, writerly personality, glasses – or a Rosie O’Donnell girl- commanding, opinionated, occasionally funny. But that’s just because I didn’t know about Mindy Kaling.  It’s uncanny; I feel like she’s quoting me half the time. The other half is when she’s being all “I was plucked out of near obscurity to be on and write for The Office; BJ Novak and I have an epic relationship-friendship thing that could be a screenplay; I went to an Ivy League school; I go to the Emmys; I consider Ellie Kemper one of my best friends;  I have my own TV show on FOX that I run and star in, wherein I can pretend that I’m a party girl/brilliant doctor instead of a homebody with a blog”. To my knowledge, Mindy Kaling has never said any of those things, but they are nonetheless true and they are the points on which we differ (also: race, but Mindy and I both know that that’s not a game-changing detail). Mindy Kaling, in all her messy imperfect not-Tina-Fey ness, is the closest thing to a Hollywood idol I’ve ever had (in that please-be-my-best-friend way, not in the we-should-all-strive-to-be-more-like-Oprah way).

Mindy and Ellie Kemper in “Subtle Sexuality” the music video

Mindy as Kelly and BJ Novak as Ryan on The Office

Mindy’s episodes of The Office are some of the best in history (“The Dundies”? I mean, come on!) and she took Kelly Kapoor from blend-in background player to scene-stealing sitcom icon. But I fell in love with Mindy last year when she randomly decided “hey, I’ve got things to say, I’m smart and interesting- I’m gonna write a book” (again, not a direct quote) And She Wrote A Book. And it’s my favourite book possibly ever (or at least since Roald Dahl stopped writing, or maybe Harry Potter. Okay, maybe it’s not as awesome as Harry Potter, but It’s Close). In her book- Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me? (and other concerns), best title ever!- Mindy gives men instructions on how to be dreamy (they only need 2 pairs of shoes- one pair of nice dress shoes, and one pair of Chuck Taylors. Agreed.), talks about fundamentally not understanding the appeal of a one-night-stand (what if he murders you?! Agreed.), details her official “Best Friend Rights and Responsibilities”(“It is okay to take me for granted”- I say this one all the time, it’s often misunderstood, but Agreed.), gives advice on the best way to sneak out of a party without getting caught (because she wants to go home! Agreed.) and reveals that her relationship to her family essentially boils down to embarrassing her older brother (Yes) and wanting to hang out with her mom (Yes again). And that title- IEHOWM?(aoc)-? Basically, Mindy had a group of friends in middle school that she didn’t actually want to hang out with all that much, but she was still sad to find out they were hanging out without her (whatever, Jane. It’s not as if I even wanted to go see Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone with you anyway!). The book is hilarious for the writing style, I don’t mean to say that it’s not, but it’s mostly hilarious in that awkward seeing-int0-your-soul kind of way, or at least seeing-into-My-soul. And my childhood. And my relationship to food. And my relationships in general. And my weird bro-ish girlyness. And that phenomenon that only happens to people who will end up as writers where you study those around you until they think you’re creepy then you start to talk people’s ears off about your chosen medium until everyone hates you and wishes you would just shut up and stop staring and just go far away.

Of course, as I’m sure you’ve gleaned by now, I’m a complete narcissist, and I like Mindy because she reminds me of me, and I’m awfully fond of me. But Mindy’s like me if I were WAY more awesome. And had my own TV show. And Ellie Kemper was my friend (Ellie Kemper is so great, guys). Mindy Kaling’s just the Best. Just The Best. And, in a not-at-all-surprising twist that confirms and highlights the previous two sentences, her TV show is The Best.

Elevator+Bill Hader+ her hair came out of its bun. Mindy’s basically Sandra Bullock.

I have now seen it 4 times. FOUR TIMES, and I’m busy, people, this is fall TV season, I do not have time to be watching something 4 times. But I kept wanting to show people the pilot of The Mindy Project, because sometimes I like to be self revelatory in sort-of sneaky ways like making people watch/read things that I over-relate to, or writing about myself-via-celebrity in a TV review no one who knows me is actually going to read. But I’ve mostly been re-watching Mindy’s pilot because it’s fantastic and I really really really want her show to do well (not that my watching it over and over will make a difference on that front, but maybe it can somehow make a karmic difference!).

Mindy goes on a date with the adorable, sweet, underrated Ed Helms.

My only fear is that the writing will ease up on the perfection as the staff takes over from the creator and starts turning out scripts on a network timetable (as in they don’t have months to perfect 23 minutes like one does with a pilot script). But I don’t have any reason to believe that the writing staff on The Mindy Project isn’t up to her standard, so I’m just going to ignore that nagging little worry.Every time I watch the episode, the jokes seem to get sharper. At this point I still haven’t tired of a single one, even though I can now quote most. My favourite is still probably “I think he is Hugh Grant in real life”, Gwen’s response to Mindy thinking the guy she’s sleeping with might be “Hugh Grant in About a Boy” (Gwen, for the Mindy newbies among you, is Fictional Mindy’s perfect best friend, clearly based on Real Mindy’s perfect best friend Brenda- a beloved character from IEHOWM?(aoc)-). Other highlights include the moment when Fictional Mindy yells “racist!” after a car almost hits her (she’s riding a bicycle, drunk, down the middle of the road), “Never speak for Meg Ryan again”, and “There are different episodes of this?!”.

Mindy and Danny Costellano (Chris Messina)

Those last two come at the expense of the show’s best non-Mindy character. I’m gonna take a wild stab here and say that the very few of you who’ve made it this far into this ridiculous “review” are regular readers/people from my real life who like me enough to just roll their eyes and hope the end comes soon. So you are the people who already know about The Summer of Chris Messina. For the past month and a half I’ve been meaning to write an article brilliantly titled “Oh Hey, Chris Messina” but it’s looking more and more like I’m never going to bother to do that. The point of that nonexistent article would have been to tie together Ruby Sparks, Celeste & Jesse Forever, The Newsroom, and The Mindy Project and make some sort of point about how Chris Messina came out of nowhere to absolutely steal my summer. I mean, really, those are four of my five (maybe 6, The Avengers was up there) absolute favourite things all year (the other thing is The Hunger Games. Chris Messina wasn’t in The Hunger Games, right?). It’s not as if he actually came out of nowhere, he’s one of those guys that people see and go “oh, that’s That guy”. But after this summer, I (and hopefully many many many other people) will forever see him and go “ooh, that’s Chris Messina!”. Anyway, long story sort-of short, he’s awesome in Ruby Sparks and Celeste & Jesse Forever, and good as someone yucky in The Newsroom, but he’s flippin’ Fantastic in The Mindy Project where he plays Danny Castellano. Danny is Mindy’s endgame romantic interest. If you have ever seen a TV show in your life you could figure that out. But even if this is the very first show you’ve ever seen, first of all- really?, and second of all, Danny gives Fictional Mindy a big speech about what a “real man” is like (as compared to her recent date, Ed Helms) and Real Mindy (who wrote the scene) has a thing about “real men”. In her book she talks about chest hair and owning a house and her childhood crush on Pierce Brosnan (from Mrs. Doubtfire– that’a girl!), so when Danny starts in on “was this the kind of guy who, if you heard glass breaking in the middle of the night, is he gonna jump out of bed, say ‘stay here’ and  look through the house naked with a baseball bat?” there’s no arguing with his endgame-ness. However, what the pilot of The Mindy Project does that most pilots setting up a romantic comedy with an endgame player don’t do, is put up honest-to-god barriers between Danny and Mindy. Not “Pam is engaged to Roy” barriers or even “Grayson doesn’t know that Deb is in Jane’s body!” barriers, but real emotional barriers. Yes, Mindy and Danny bicker in that cure banter-y way that any student of rom-coms has perfected, but there’s a touch of cruelty in their interactions that makes them so much more interesting. When I say cruelty, I don’t mean “Dr. Brennan is a bitch who completely disregards Booth’s feelings 98% of the time” (which is true), I mean that both Mindy and Danny hold cards to truly (and when I say truly, I mean metaphorically) stab the other in the gut, and they use them when they’re feeling overexposed and defensive (he picks on her weight, she goes after his divorce). Both attacks feel honest, which makes them hurt more, and therein lies the excellence in the dynamic. Danny and Mindy are in competition with each other professionally (she’s an Ob/Gyn, just like Real Mindy’s mom was before she tragically passed away last year), and they like each other (they just do, the actors do a fantastic job of planting the chemistry) but they really don’t want to like each other (they each have a picture in their head- hers is not of a snarky 5’9 New Yorker with no fashion sense, among other things).

Mindy gives a drunk speech at Bill Hader’s wedding to the Serbian Bagel Girl.

The relationship is awesome, Chris Messina is awesome (in fact, kudos to Mindy across the board on casting, it’s a rare girl who picks Bill Hader and Ed Helms to play the perfect men she keeps losing!), but I mostly just really love how Danny is written (including his heartless jab at Mindy’s weight. It was defensive and, sadly, a real thing for that character to do in that moment- most real guys would have done the same thing). He wonders aloud at a wedding “what the hell is this show and why does everybody keep talking about it?” when Downton Abbey is mentioned, gives the characters notes while watching the end of When Harry Met Sally (prompting the aforementioned Meg Ryan line from Mindy), and gives very good date-fashion advice (“tight dress, shoes that won’t make you complain about walking two blocks, not a lot of makeup”- True!). He flips the channel from When Harry Met Sally to Deadliest Catch during a heartfelt exchange (Mindy: “I’m sharing my feelings with you!”, Danny: “I wanna share this show with you”). And he goes toe-to-toe with the wit-tastic Fictional Mindy “[after she says she was wrongly imprisoned] I wonder if they’ll ever catch the real drunk girl who fell into the pool”. Ding Ding Ding- point, Castellano. Danny’s awesome. He had to be pretty great if he was gonna be endgame to the smart and wonderful Mindy, but Danny (via Chris Messina) is well above that bar.

Woah, that was a long paragraph. Apparently I’m really into the Danny Costellano. I learn some surprising new thing about my taste every day!

Other amazing things about The Mindy Project:
– “In high school, Tom Hanks was my first boyfriend”. Excellent taste, Minds; go for the nice boy!
– All the movies in the opening- When Harry Met Sally, You’ve Got Mail, Notting Hill– are my favourites. I literally just took a break from this article to go watch THIS. Isn’t it Beautiful?! Oh Tom!
– Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) plays Mindy’s boss!
– When drunk Mindy falls into a pool, she hallucinates the taunting of a “hot, mean doll”.
– Mindy wants her date to have “the personality of Jon Stewart”- good call.
– Ed Helms is Dashing as Mindy’s date-gone-wrong; his “it’s a date” delivery is Adorable.
– “We get it, Danny, you’re so much smarter than us”. Mindy repeats the hot guy’s joke (which is a real thing we do when we think someone’s awesome. By “we”, I mean humans, of course, not just me and Mindy!)
– This quote: “one time I left a flea market with a samurai sword”. Mindy can’t say no (specifically to “non-English speaking pregnant immigrants with no health insurance, with literally like burkas and stuff”)
– Mindy’s list of date red flags includes skinny jeans, drugs and “into ‘Occupy’ stuff”.
– “hello, caprese!” Now I want to date Ed Helms. (is that weird?)
– This quote: “Maybe I’ll just do one of those Eat-Pray-Love things. Ugh, no, I dont’t wanna pray. Forget it, I’ll just die alone”.
– And this: “He was exactly seven inches taller than me, which you know is very important to me”
– AND THIS (which I literally just found when editing this article but it makes So Much Sense).

That’s it, I swear, I’ll stop writing now. I just really think you should watch The Mindy Project. I really want you to watch The Mindy Project. It’s a great show and it should stay on the air so I can continue to adore it. But it should also stay on the air because Mindy Kaling should be the creator-writer-producer-star of a hit. Also, because she’s my Hollywood soulmate and I love living vicariously through her success.

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