It wouldn’t be a stretch for Fox to position The Mindy Project, the new vehicle for Office star and writer Mindy Kaling, as “adorkable” – that justifiably loathed term coined to describe the ineffably eccentric lead of The Mindy Project’s fellow Tuesday night sitcom, New Girl. In fact, it wouldn’t necessarily be inaccurate, either – Kaling is incredible charming on the show, and made all the more winning as she frequently reminds us that she’s a nerd for romantic comedies who can quote You’ve Got Mail chapter and verse.
Yet while the quirk in New Girl frequently grates and veers towards self-aware artifice (though it has admittedly gotten better since its rocky start), The Mindy Project doesn’t have this problem. Rather, The Mindy Project takes self-awareness and turns it into self-deprecation. In essence, it’s the anti-New Girl.
Kaling’s been something of a cultural lightning rod herself lately, between her New York Magazine cover story (which, like every story ever written about her, notes her propensity as a teen for memorizing SNL transcripts) and Gawker’s subsequent, predictably nasty takedown, which labeled her in its headline as “the human equivalent of a retweeted compliment.” However, while it is admittedly easy to mistake Kaling’s particular brand of charm for narcissism, the opening minutes of The Mindy Project pilot immediately dispel any notions of pretension.
Is Kaling’s on-screen surrogate (who by all accounts basically is her, only an OB/GYN instead of a comedy writer) a bit self-obsessed? Sure, and no more than most, but the structure of the pilot makes that same self-obsession into the butt of the joke almost instantly. We see Mindy – that’s right, her name in the show is Mindy – drunkenly ride a stolen bicycle into a swimming pool after making a spectacle of herself at an ex’s wedding (what up, Bill Hader!), and that’s before the opening narration has even concluded. The comic premise of this sequence could easily go awry in the wrong hands, but there’s a distinct, goofy, and wholly endearing voice at work here in Kaling. Then again, we’re talking about the same voice that actually found a way to make Fashion Week really funny, and through a series of fake tweets and a well-timed Ronan Farrow reference at that.
The pilot of The Mindy Project, which premieres a week from tonight, is rounded out by a solid supporting cast (Stephen Tobolowsky!) and the flaws that most pilots share – it’s uneven at points, and the universe on display feels like it’s still developing as the series finds its voice. But this is Kaling’s show all the way, and more importantly, her voice remains strong if not hilarious. In fact, it’s so strong and confident that if she were to ever enter the realm of the “manic pixie dream girl,” you feel like she’d be the first one to make fun of it. Then again, that complete lack of pretension (lurched somewhere between self-awareness and self-deprecation) is what makes her great to begin with. Adorkable, though? Less so, thankfully.