I’m loving Mindy Kaling’s new show, The Mindy Project. Prior to the show, I knew of Mindy more by name as I was never a loyal viewer of The Office, but the little I had seen of her, I liked. Her show is seriously funny (it’s like a serial rom-com), and it’s witty and spot-on. I’m hoping that the show progresses in such a way that it will earn my commitment and devotion (and that of many other loyal viewers), because there’s a large part of me that hopes that Mindy Kaling becomes a huge name a la Tina Fey and experiences great success.
I have to admit that I like The Mindy Project for slightly selfish reasons. The show resonates with me because it’s like watching a more interesting version of my life, or that of my friends. The show depicts the experiences, or facsimiles of the experiences, of the lives of women in their late twenties to early thirties, mind you with better hair and wardrobe, and lighting. (Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that sitcom perma-glow skin and hair could be reproduced in real life).
In the last few years, as I’ve started my career and a full-fledged life as an adult, I’ve come to appreciate even more those shows that feel clearly directed to me and others who are somewhere between Generation X and the Millennials. Within the first few episodes she has successfully created a world that portrays the fears and hopes and mistakes of so many women in this age bracket – trying to balance relationships with career aspirations; having the bodies and smarts of adults, but still boasting attributes that are immediately post-adolescent, etc. Who couldn’t identify with a character who is equally likable but flawed in such an endearing way?
But aside from being funny and sarcastic and cute – how could she not be cute with that sweet, vaguely Valley girl meets Minnie Mouse voice – she’s also…wait for it…brown. Okay, this is stating the obvious, but her ‘brownness’, in addition to her ‘funniness’ and ‘smartness’, is key to her charming package in my view.
I love that the pretty brown girl is the star – and that she’s an ‘accentless’ brown girl. No, I’m not against accents in shows, it’s just that the accented oddball immigrant is the safe and comfortable choice. TV executives seem more at ease with this, rather than the experience of the second generation that is firmly planted in the country (Harold and Kumar notwithstanding). It’s as though they’re not quite sure what to do with the person who doesn’t look American (i.e. white, or, if one is more liberal in their definition of citizenship, African American), but who is, for all intents and purposes, American inside.
Mindy’s character clearly grew up in America and is fully immersed if not assimilated in the culture. But more than that, she’s front and centre, not just behind the scenes so that the producers of the show can tick the ‘diversity’ box, and she’s not just there to add ‘flavour’ to the mix. We see the fun and action through her (brown) eyes. And it’s a refreshing perspective from a heroine that’s not of the typical Hollywood mould. Even if you don’t look like Mindy, you can identify with her. The brown girl is like all of us – she can be as equally smart and quirky and not put together as any one of us.
It’s appropriate that Mindy’s show – she both writes and executive produces – is called The Mindy Project, a project being an individual or collaborative enterprise planned and designed to achieve an aim. I don’t know that Ms. Kaling’s ultimate aim or objective goes beyond making us laugh, but perhaps there’s some subversion underneath the cute exterior. Maybe she’s teaching us that, no matter our backgrounds, we’re more alike than we are different. Maybe she’s proof that people are ready for the brown girl star. Here’s hoping that she’s paving the way for more Mindys to come.