Thursday, September 27, 2012
So I was very curious to see her pilot, THE MINDY PROJECT. The reviews seem polarized. Critics either like her and praised it or hate her and panned it.
I like her but was lukewarm. Here’s why – and I don’t come at this as a critic, I come at it as a television writer/producer. As someone who has created and run shows, I know this one truth to be carved in stone: casting is the most important decision you will ever make. Everything else can be fixed. The tone, direction, jokes, stories – all can be altered. But if you don’t have the right actors you’re dead.
And my problem with THE MINDY PROJECT is quite simply that Mindy Kaling can’t carry a show. She just doesn’t have the presence, the sparkle, whatever that star quality is to carry a network comedy. Not that she doesn’t sell jokes or isn’t likeable enough on screen, but that’s not enough. Especially in this case because there’s nothing else going on in the series. It’s all about her with a concept that’s we’ve now seen a gazillion times – single girl in her 30’s looking for romance and trying to maintain a professional career. Hey, I did that series almost twenty years ago (ALMOST PERFECT).
Look, the truth is very few can carry a whole show. I sure couldn’t (despite my high hilarity book trailer). But Candice Bergen could. And Julia Louis-Dreyfus could. And Jim Parsons, Roseanne, Reba McEntire, Kelsey Grammer, Mary Tyler Moore, Ted Danson, Kat Dennings, Louis C.K., Charlie Sheen, Tim Allen, David Caruso, Bret Butler, and… you get the idea. Like ‘em or hate ‘em personally, you gotta admit they can hold an audience.
You might say, “Well, it’s not really fair to compare Mindy Kaling with Candace Bergen or Mary Tyler Moore” and I’d say, “Yes, it is! She’s starring in a network sitcom. This isn’t off Broadway. This isn’t YouTube. This is the big time (at least for the foreseeable future).
Trust me, it’s a lesson that I learned the hard way. Alan Alda can carry a show. Jamie Farr can not.
I wish it weren’t so with Mindy because I truly am a fan. And there were a number of funny moments in her pilot. Seriously, I'm not trying to be mean. But if this was just a script and I was the producer casting the show, I’d say Mindy would make a great supporting character, but she just doesn’t pop as a lead. Agents and managers would scream at me of course, but again – casting my star is the single most crucial decision I will have to make. And yes, it’s subjective (which makes the casting process even more harrowing), but going with my gut and years of experience and past mistakes I would say we haven’t found our star yet.
Could the same hold true for Mindy? Maybe. I hope. I'm rooting for it. I sure like Chris Messina. I loved Anna Camp on THE GOOD WIFE. I don’t know how funny she is but am willing to see. I just wish there were an Alec Baldwin in there somewhere.
And maybe they could change the title. Since it's paired with THE NEW GIRL, how about just combining the two shows and calling it DORK & MINDY? I think it would have a real shot.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM