Lena Dunham's Girls gets a lot of praise (in addition to a disproportionate amount of backlash). The HBO series is funny because it hits close to home for underemployed, underpaid, sexually frustrated millennials, and by the end of each season, many of its loyal viewers are hungry for more.
That's how I feel about Mindy Kaling's sitcom The Mindy Project, only unlike most programs on TV (and new ones at that, including Girls), The Mindy Project shot 24 episodes this season rather than the standard 12-14. This is just one example of The Mindy Project's quality, and the exceptionalism doesn't stop there.
The Mindy Project, which premiered in September, follows the life of gynecologist Mindy Lahiri as she navigates NYC as a high-achieving single woman. If Girls is meant to resonate with miserable millennials, The Mindy Project aims to show the same age group that things do get a little better once you're out of your early 20s and settled into a career. You live in a nicer apartment, have a little extra cash for going out, venture out to bars with friends but don't have to get hammered, and have furniture that isn't from IKEA. Not everything, of course, comes together after the brutal early 20s. Though a successful doctor, Mindy's love life is nothing short of underwhelming, and occasional jabs about her weight from her male co-workers, namely the cynical Danny Castellano, don't work wonders for her self-esteem. Like 20-somethings, she meets a lot of random guys at random places, and this goes to show these kind of chance encounters never go away. Good, right?
At the beginning of the season, The Mindy Project was criticized for taking too long to arrive at joke punchlines and perhaps even being too smart for its own good. After all, Kaling isn't new to the TV-writing business: She started writing for The Office at age 24. Nearly a decade later, her comedy writing skills and stamina come through onscreen, where she and other cast members engage in witty banter anyone with a dry sense of humor can appreciate.
Almost every one of the jokes is clever too, even though the show's constant need to circle back to rom-coms got old real fast. In an earlier episode, Mindy and her new boyfriend Josh throw a holiday party. Josh's secret girlfriend shows up to the gathering, attacks Mindy, and starts breaking things, hence "home wrecking" the home wrecker. A couple of episodes later, the same woman attacks Mindy with a cake, and while on the floor, Mindy licks the frosting off her own face. When all the doctors go out to the club, one tipsy employee checks her bank statements on her cell phone, making sure she can actually afford to binge on drinks before hitting up the bar again. Then there's the episode in which Mindy Kaling can't figure out whether she's on a date or just having fancy dinner with some guy. Or when Mindy and Danny go to Staten Island, where her new boyfriend, whose mom mistakes her for an African American, lives.
Another winning moment is when her childhood camp crush (portrayed by adorable Seth Rogen) comes to New York City and they meet up to talk about old times and get nostalgic. They laugh at old memories, and Rogen's character jokingly asks, "So what's been new all these years? Did you ever get your period?" It takes a certain sense of humor to appreciate the conversational oddities on The Mindy Project, and we really need more of this on TV.
Even though this is a program about well-off, comfortable physicians, there are more relatable moments on the show than I can count, and even with less-than-promising ratings, The Mindy Project returns every week with a well thought out, funny, charming installment. That's why it will can pick up again as it has at times this season. As frustrating as it is to see the sexual tension between Mindy and Danny brew every episode, we know it has to reach a tipping point, and Mindy the creator isn't going to drop this theme before giving us at least some answers, even if they're ones we don't like. Kaling has said before she thinks their attitudes on life are too different for them to ever get together, but she could be throwing us off, and opposites attract. The point is, even for a sitcom, The Mindy Project is unpredictable and keeps you coming back for more every Tuesday, wondering if maybe this time Mindy and Danny will see whether they're more than just colleagues, even for a fleeting moment.
I have faith that Kaling can take this brilliant new program to the next level during season two, but it's not too late to tune in for the current season. Catch up on all the season's episodes before next month's finale, and you'll be ready by the time Kaling comes around with more excellence this fall.