I’ll be honest. I didn’t actively seek out Mindy Kaling.
Hulu kept suggesting that I watch The Mindy Project after episodes of New Girl finished, so I finally agreed. I watched one, and then I decided to go back to the beginning because I’m OCD like that. I watched every single episode and never missed another one. I got Mindy’s book, and I officially became a Mindy fan.
I watch a lot of TV, but my affection and appreciation for Mindy transcends my feelings for Jess, Amanda, Annie, or even Olivia. I love those other shows, and I watch them religiously, but Mindy goes above and beyond them in a very particular way.
Mindy feels real.
There is an intimidating perfection to women on television. A flawlessness evident not only in their hair and makeup, but in their very personas. Even when Jess is “quirky,” it is a quirkiness that is meant to be adorable and endearing, and so it is a perfect quirkiness. A quirkiness with big blue eyes and impossibly shiny hair. A quirkiness that is Hollywood-worthy.
But Mindy feels real, even if she has a lot of money and her Instagram is full of her designer purchases. Her Instagram is also full of pictures of her working. All the time. She may be able to afford things I cannot, but she works for it. It’s not handed to her. She’s at work on a Sunday, just as I am working on a Sunday. She’s editing and directing and producing and writing and starring in her own show. I’m not sure if she ever sleeps.
During an interview on The Daily Show, she told Jon Stewart that she doesn’t want to sleep, because she doesn’t know how long this will all last. She realizes, as many of us may, how unusual it is for a chubby minority (her words) to be the star of a show on a major network. It’s almost as if she thinks people haven’t noticed, and once they do, she’ll be taken off the air, replaced with Jess, Amanda, Annie, or even Olivia.
Comedy may be more forgiving a genre than drama in terms of “quirkiness” and sex appeal, but every woman on Friends was probably a size two or size four. Other than Roseanne, I’m hard-pressed to think of other female comedians with their own major network television shows who couldn’t fit right in on the cover of Vogue.
And the thing is, of course, that Mindy is pretty. But that’s where it gets interesting. Because she’s all this AND pretty, too.
Normally, in comedy, you are either funny or you are sexy. And if you’re funny and sexy, you’re also a size two. And you’re definitely white.
Somehow, Mindy has slipped through the cracks. She is not a size two. She is not white. And she is also not afraid to draw attention to these things on her show, where episodes frequently revolve around her flaws, her weaknesses, her love of food, and her disdain for fitting in. Mindy makes mistakes, just like we all do, and they feel real, not just “adorkable.”
But, at the same time, the show does not dwell on her mistakes or force her to indulge in self-deprecation. The premise of the show is not that Mindy is a failure. Mindy knows she is awesome. She refers to herself as “young and hot.” She refers to herself as a “tiny, dainty bird.” She does not whine and mope. Unlike Liz Lemon, there is not a preoccupation with Mindy’s failures in life. Jokes are not made about her bad hygiene or poor fashion sense. Mindy does not need to apologize for being young, hot, and funny. She simply is. And that fact might be the most radical aspect of The Mindy Project.
Robert Lynch, a cultural anthropologist from Rutgers University, says: “women have to go overboard with the self-deprecation because comedy can be an alpha thing (the alpha being the class clown, the attention-grabber, the presence dominating the room). Women alphas in general tend to be disliked. They can sometimes be distrusted, I think. And they’re not sought after.”
But Mindy is alpha. And she’s funny. And she’s a minority. And she’s pretty. And she doesn’t seem to feel the need to tone any of this down.
I am grateful that Fox hasn’t figured this out yet–or if they have, I’m grateful that they seem to be just as fond of Mindy as I am.