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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2012-2013 season, now in its seventh year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
THE MINDY PROJECT (FOX)
(written by Mindy Kaling; directed by Charles McDougall; TRT: 23:17)
The network's description: "THE MINDY PROJECT is a new single-camera comedy from Emmy Award-nominated writer/producer and New York Times best-selling author Mindy Kaling ("The Office") that follows a woman who, despite having a successful career, desperately needs to break bad habits in her personal life. After all, how many doctors make inappropriate toasts at their ex-boyfriend's wedding, nearly drown at the bottom of a stranger's pool and get arrested for disorderly conduct just moments before having to deliver a baby? Funny, impatient and politically incorrect, MINDY LAHIRI (Kaling) can quote every romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan that exists. She loves the good ones and the bad ones, because the girl always gets the guy. Mindy is determined to be more punctual, spend less money, lose weight and read more books - all in pursuit of becoming a well-rounded perfect woman...who can meet and date the perfect guy.
Mindy is a skilled OB/GYN and shares a practice with a few other doctors, none of whom make life any easier for her. JEREMY REED (British writer/comedian Ed Weeks) is the walking definition of total bad news. He not only shares a practice with Mindy, but sometimes her bed as well - despite her best efforts to resist. He is funny, self-absorbed and super sexy. In contrast, DANNY CASTELLANO (Chris Messina, "Damages") is a hothead and guys' guy who has a habit of stealing Mindy's patients. Danny criticizes her for everything, including her struggling love life and her lack of professionalism - even though it's obvious to everyone except Mindy that he secretly admires her work. His blue-collar childhood gives him a big chip on his shoulder, but he is a dedicated physician, which Mindy can't stand to admit because he's always getting on her case.
Rounding out the office staff are the receptionists - BETSY PUTCH (Zoe Jarman, "Huge"), young, earnest and easily excitable, who thinks the world of Mindy and is always trying to impress her; and SHAUNA DICANIO (newcomer Dana DeLorenzo), a self-assured Jersey Girl who is indifferent to Mindy, always knows where the cool party is and carries a poorly concealed torch for Danny. Mindy is in constant communication with her beloved best friend from college, GWEN GRANDY (Anna Camp, "The Good Wife"), who also happens to be the governor's daughter. Gwen is a hilarious, sometimes too-blunt friend, and secretly a former carefree party girl (which only Mindy seems to remember). Although Gwen is now happily married to a financial analyst, with a six-year-old daughter, this lawyer-turned-Pilates mom remains squarely in Mindy's corner. As Mindy attempts to get her career off the ground and meet a guy who passes her red flag test (no drug habits, no skinny jeans and no secret families, among others), only time will tell if she gets her romantic comedy ending."
What did they leave out? Steven Tobolowsky, Amanda Setton and Ike Barinholtz have all been added to the cast going forward.
The plot in a nutshell: Romantic comedies have always been the guideposts of OB/GYN Mindy Lahiri's (Mindy Kaling) life. And with the arrival of oral surgeon Tom (Bill Hader), she thought she was Sandra Bullock, finally finding her knight in shining armor... that was until he married someone else. A drunken breakdown at said event later - followed by a nose dive into a pool and getting arrested - and Mindy is back to square one. "Right now [your life] seems like a sad documentary about a criminally insane spinster," her best friend/supermom Gwen (Anna Camp) quips. And with that Mindy begins a mission to change her life. After all, she notes, "I went to a good college, I am a doctor... my body mass index is not great, but I'm not like Precious or anything."
First up: resisting the charms of her frequent hook up, Dr. Jeremy Reed (Ed Weeks), whose British allure allows him to get away with saying things like, "I love sex. I do it a lot. I do it well. But I'm not addicted to it, I'm addicted to attention." Then there's work, where she feebly tries to turn away the latest charity chase (Mindy: "I need patients that are more like these guys." Betsy, a receptionist, played by Zoe Jarman: "More white patients, done." Mindy: "Well don't write that... [whispers] but yeah, yeah."). And last, of course, get her love life together by not screwing up her blind date with Dennis (Ed Helms), an honest-to-goodness perfect guy. All of said pursuits not surprisingly go off the rails, but she at least finds solace in the fact there's always more opportunities tomorrow.
What works: "The Mindy Project" is one of those shows where I appreciate its author but her on-screen effort turns out not to be that compelling. Kaling's deconstruction of romantic comedies in "Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)" is all sorts of wonderful, so...
What doesn't: ...it's deflating to see Mindy Lahiri's sycophancy for them used as the show's central touchstone. And by tabling her pointed observations about them, it becomes exactly what I'd assume it doesn't want to be: the latest in long line of middling shows about "girls who just can't quite get it together for one reason or another" (TM pending). Sure it deserves credit for having a lead be someone who isn't white and uncomfortably thin, but that doesn't make it any funnier.
Here we get the same warmed over romantic prospects - Jeremy the dreamy option who's not about to define things ("I can't recall a wedding where I didn't end up in the arms of some woman I met that night and not because she was vulnerable, because I was."); Danny (Chris Messina), who pulls at her figurative pigtails, pretending he doesn't care (Chris: "You know what would really look great?" Mindy: "Yeah, do it, tell me." Chris: "If you lost 15 pounds."); and the idealized Dennis, who's practically a unicorn amongst men ("Dear Lord, please let this date be good," Mindy notes to herself before their date. "May he have the wealth of Mayor Bloomberg, the personality of Jon Stewart, the face of Michael Fassbender... the penis of Michael Fassbender.") - all of which orbit Mindy's rom-com whims.
As always none of the above would be as glaring if it was sharp, fresh or funny as instead we get clunky bits involving Springsteen versus Mellencamp or a vague sense of competition between Jeremy, Danny and Mindy to be the best doctor. I guess my overall point is I was hoping to see the wit and charm of Mindy Kaling...
The bottom line: ...not the run-of-the-mill adventures of Mindy Lahiri.