Thursday, September 27, 2012

THE MINDY PROJECT -- review

I like Mindy Kaling. I’m a big fan of her writing. She wrote some terrific OFFICE episodes, her pieces in the New Yorker are funny, and I even enjoyed the play she wrote about Matt Damon & Ben Affleck. As an actress, she got her laughs as a supporting character on THE OFFICE.

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).

So all the comic weight is on the star. It’s not like a workplace comedy where an ensemble of funny people can take the pressure off. Tina Fey, who’s very funny in her own right, wisely did that with 30 ROCK.

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.

Obviously, that wasn’t the scenario here. Mindy Kaling was the big attraction to Fox. Just look at the title. And I’m sure they thought they could catch lightening in a bottle again as they did last year with Zooey Dechanel and NEW GIRL. But Zooey had that adorkable shit going for her and whatever star quality she lacked was masked by the emergence of Max Greenfield and the rest of the cast.

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. 

43 comments:

BWithers said...

Exactly right, Ken. Some critics have been dancing around the fact that Kaling is severely miscast, but you stated it with tact.

Ganapathy said...

This show might have worked better with Noureen DeWulf in the lead.

(And no: I'm not her, her agent, or her mother.)

Steve T. said...

The silver lining in this is that NBC actually made a good programming decision.

Tom Quigley said...

Ted Danson certainly proved he could carry a show on BECKER, but I think the great thing about CHEERS was that the entire cast, while maybe recognizable in the early 80's when the show started, had no "stars", and all had equal billing. It was a group of heretofore supporting actors whose chemistry was exactly right, and which contributed to the making of an extraordinary show.

In contrast, with the cast of FRASIER, you did have an established actor whom many people expected would have to carry the show. However, my feeling is Kelsey Grammer knew early on (perhaps based on his years on CHEERS) that while there was always the possibility that the show might fail because of him, it definitely wasn't going to succeed on his work alone, and the rest of the cast certainly got their share of stories, laughs, and ultimately stardom as a result.

willieb said...

"Dork & Mindy." Now THERE'S a show I would watch!

Michael said...

Perhaps we need a reminder of the story of how a certain show became The Dick Van Dyke Show. Carl Reiner played the role in the pilot, which obviously was based on his life. When Sheldon Leonard saw the pilot, he told Reiner that he was all wrong at playing himself. They looked at some people and it apparently came down to two choices: Van Dyke and some guy named Johnny Carson. The points are, first, Reiner and company were smart enough to know that he couldn't play the role himself, and, second, Carson might have been brilliant, but think of how different structurally the show would have had to have been.

Michael Fox said...

"Adorkable" Perfect description of her!

Terrence Moss said...

She works for me. I'd love for Chris Messina to emerge as this year's Max Greenfield.

Jill Pinnella Corso said...

I hope you're wrong. I like the show and admire her writing. Maybe they could center it more around the hospital and strengthen the other characters.

The Milner Coupe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Milner Coupe said...

Terrific topic and you nailed it on the head. There are countless examples of failed shows in the past that ignored the same problem. Some people are fantastic in supporting roles. To the point that maybe they are a reason a particular show succeeds. But that 'it' factor is an elusive quality that very few have and why they call the people that do 'stars'.

And nothing against this girl. Some people grow into it. I don't think Ted Danson could have carried Cheers or anything else when Cheers started. Aloha.

Scott said...

Hi Ken,

Are you going to be reviewing others of the new crop of shows as well? Is there going to be a pool to see how long certain shows will last (The Neighbors, Go On, The New Normal, Partners, etc.)?

Scott

Bradley said...

It made my day that you mentioned Reba McEntire in your list of actors who can carry a show. I thought her last sitcom was highly underrated and I hope her new show manages to showcase her many talents.

Erika said...

I agree with most of your reviews, but I can't agree with this one. I thought the episode was hilarious, and Mindy was great. It worked for me. It seems like the main difference between her and some of those other actors you mentioned is that her comedy isn't as broad. I don't think that's a bad thing though. She kind of reminds me of Lena Dunham in "Girls" except funny. I thought the supporting cast was good too. I really liked Chris Messina's character.

Mike said...

Last night, an up & coming comedian took their first faltering steps into America's television heartland.
Yes, ladies & gentlemen, I refer, of course, to the British Prime Minister on The Lettermen Show.

Even after extensive rehearsals for the book-plug (I kid you not), I'm not convinced that Our Leader has the comedy chops to follow Tony Blair onto The Simpsons. He may fare better as the Sock-It-To-Me Guy on The Romney & Ryan Laugh-In.

Anonymous said...

You've gotta give your opinion of "Go On." To me, it seems like the best of times (Perry's performance) and the worst of times (most of the rest of the cast).
The choppy writing can be fixed, but the casting--that stink ain't gonna go away.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Tom Quigley: I also was thinking that all the stars Ken listed are people who smartly surrounded themselves (or were surrounded) by excellent casts. Charlie Sheen had Jon Cryer (who went on to carry the show himself for two years), Holland Taylor and Conchata Ferrell; Frasier had David Hyde Pierce, not to mention John Mahoney, Jane Leeves, and Peri Gilpin; and so on. CHEERS was an ensemble. BIG BANG THEORY has a *great* ensemble cast.

Smart stars surround themselves with very strong supporting actors. It makes them look even better than they are.

wg

Emily said...

Ken, Networks are missing out by not making you their Chief Programming Executive. You really have a feel for it.

Update your resume and send it out.

Steve Murray said...

Friday Question: when in a writing partnership, how did you deal with telling your partner that his idea was the worst thing you'd heard? I'm dealing with this now!

Anonymous said...

Well the elephant in the room here is racism...mainly critics fears of appearing racist by calling out Mindy as being miscast. And she's fat too, so you have the double whammy of being called racist and fatist for not liking her. But some people got it and others don't, and she don't got it, and it has nothing to do with being brown, or fat, or not faceable. I recall Nell Carter had her own sitcom for many years a long time back and nobody accused her of not being able to carry a show, and she was browner and fatter than Mindy,

ANdy said...

I finally got around to watching the premiere this morning over breakfast, and I rather enjoyed it! I’m sure it helped that I was able to Auto Hop the commercials, and watch the episode in half the time, but I almost shot milk and Cheerios out my nose because I was laughing the whole time. Is it possible that it’s too early to tell whether Mindy has the “sparkle” required to carry the show herself? I usually give a show three episodes before I decide that I hate/love it, and The Mindy Project is no different. Even a few of my co-workers at DISH thought it was hilarious, and they’re not fans of The Office. I’d say that for fresh eyes to look at her in this lead role, and think that she’s funny is a good indication that this series may actually end up being watch worthy.

MontyB said...

It's possible that following New Girl will keep this show on the air, but it won't be from its own merits. Let's face it, any show that starts out with a diatribe about the main character growing up loving romantic comedies is alienating 50% of its potential audience (myself included). Add to that the lack of real humor (there were very few jokes; it's the sitcom equivalent of the observational standup) and you have a recipe for failure.

Again, the women who've made New Girl a hit might not change the channel on this one, but that's going to be as good as it gets.

For the record, I am a fan of Mindy Kaling, but this ain't it.

Katherine OBrien said...

For your Friday Questions....How do feel about integrating a disease into a storyline?

For example when Anthony Edwards' character on ER had a brain tumor, I can't say I found it compelling. (I don't know much about brain tumors, however).

I thought the Klinger malaria drug adverse reaction was interesting (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primaquine ).

I'm also not sure how I feel about the line between "entertaining" and "teaching".

I don't think those "Very Special" episodes work on either level...and I don't really like those "The More You Know" type messages sometimes tacked on after a "Special Episode."

I have metastatic breast cancer (Stage IV) and some of my online friends have wondered if "Parenthood" will feature someone with early stage breast cancer or someone like us MBC'ers who will never finish treatment (but does not is not necessarily bald due to chemo, etc).

Most shows tend to focus on people who "beat" cancer vs. those who will always have it.

No one dies from early stage breast cancer. A lump in a person’s breast won’t kill him or her. When cancer spreads beyond the breast—that metastases is what does kill people.

I recall there was a recent show that featured a woman with Stage IV melanoma. But I can't recall a person with metastatic breast cancer. I'm pretty sure Elizabeth Edwards and producer Laura Ziskin were the only person on TV--real or fictional--in recent memory who had Stage IV breast cancer.

KOB said...

Remember that Carl Reiner was originally cast as Rob Petrie.....

cshel said...

I like her, and I liked the show okay, so far. I will keep watching, hoping it gets somewhat stronger. She may need a little time to hit her stride, and beef-up her supporting cast. And I agree that following New Girl may help keep it going. I wish her luck.

CameronB said...

Ken, it's sad to me that of all the stars you picked, all of them were white. Is that an inherent part of "star quality" for you? I think Mindy Kaling is hilarious. She radiates warmth in a way that Tina Fey and Zooey Deschanel do not. I'm a white male and I love Mindy. Bret Butler and Reba McIntyre are bigger stars than Mindy Kaling? I beg to differ and I think a lot of people would agree.

It's been very interesting how critics and others have gone out of their way to criticize this pilot. There are scores of barely watchable, terrible ones, but they seem to get a free pass from criticism, while Mindy, having written and starring in one of the only truly original ones (and funny, and watchable) is trashed. I wonder why that is?

CameronB said...

Also, isn't it a little too early to see if Mindy is able to "hold an audience"? It's been one episode.

Ken Levine said...

This has nothing to do with race. So let me add Sherman Hemsley, Martin Lawrence, Bill Cosby, Nell Carter, Gary Coleman, George Lopez, Dayan Waymans, and Queen Latifa to the list of actors who can carry television shows.

People are so quick to make everything a race issue. If Mindy Kaling were a white Baptist I'd write the same article.

So again, let me be perfectly clear -- this is a charisma issue, not a race issue.

Anonymous said...

Cameron:

"There are scores of barely watchable, terrible ones, but they seem to get a free pass from criticism, while Mindy, having written and starring in one of the only truly original ones (and funny, and watchable) is trashed. I wonder why that is?"

There's a forced kind of political correctness inherent in this show that I don't like. I don't want to see a fat chick in a short skirt and armless sleeves. And Mindy kept fucking doing it!!

I'm in my own home, and I don't care that it's "wrong" for me to be repulsed by short fat legs, and arms with flesh that flairs out from the shoulder!! It's not funny! It's sad! It's like watching a leper pop his boils! Even if they could frame it in a way that might be funny, I don't want to SEE it! It bums me out!

And finally... a doctor? A big fat doctor, Mindy?

Really?

You put in 18 hour days at a hospital and still manage to be fat, instead of just saying, "yeh, I know I'm fat," try sharing repetitive scenes of you sitting alone in front of the TV at 3 in the morning finishing off your third pint of haggen daz. Set the empty carton down next to a half-empty bottle of amphetamines. At least that would be honest, and more related to reality..

kent said...

Your take makes me think of when the network told Carl Reiner that he wasn't right as himself, which led to him recasting the role with Dick Van Dyke. Just as well, Reiner made a wonderful Alan Brady.

Todd Ayres said...

I would posit that this is a voice that you're just not prone to liking as much. I find her refreshing and completely charismatic. If this is the WORST pilot out there, then I must be very confused. I saw some trash so far this season, and this show started off with a bang compared to most of them.

Agree to disagree.

Dave said...

I'd love to get a more specific articulation about what Mindy lacks for that star charisma. I'm not saying you're wrong, but your criticism is frustratingly vague. I did wonder if she's just a little too unattractive -- but not so unattractive as to make it comical -- and that's behind the idea, but I'd hope not. Her comic timing seems OK, she seems to play more than one emotion (e.g., vulnerable, pissed off, horny) reasonably well. I don't get how George Lopez has some star quality than Mindy lacks.

Again, I'm not convinced you're wrong, but I'd love you to use your writer skills to spell this out more specifically.

A_Homer said...

Nicely put, and great to see how many times the Dick van Dyke origins are mentioned in the comments, as Carl Reiner is a great example of this issue. He was a writer/star already on tv. But not getting the lead gave him the chance instead to be recast in the extra fantastic position of Alan Brady, such a great character and suddenly he was doubly funny! And in the end, he options Robs life story..So go figure, casting...

I think what Tina Fey does regarding how much screen time she gives herself in the ensemble, is also making sure she doesn't overdo her presence, so it's always great to see her even if it's just a little within other's related stories. She is a great comedic part of the whole, but she's also a navigator, she has to appear at the right points, and keeps the tone and storylines fixed to her book.

Finally, I have to add, I'm really not interested in tv doctors, another category please.

cadavra said...

" So let me add Sherman Hemsley, Martin Lawrence, Bill Cosby, Nell Carter, Gary Coleman, George Lopez, Dayan Wayans, and Queen Latifah to the list of actors who can carry television shows."

Not in any year that begins with a 2.

HourOfLead said...

This is a silly subject, but I still feel compelled to wade into dangerous race-baiting waters:
Dennis Haysbert, Chris Rock, Jamie Foxx, Don Cheadle (House of Lies is fantastic) and Idris Elba all are great recent black actors who demonstrate they can lead a show.

However, I'm severely disappointed in Hollywood's lack of gay, Native Alaskan Inuit lead actors. Talk about being marginalized!

Robert Pierce said...

Dork and Mindy... Change nanu nanu to Man-oooo, Man-oooo and you might just have a catch phrase you can work with.

Sebastian Peitsch said...

The second episode was much much better. Give it a try. They really re-focused after the pilot.

Even though I still don't get why Mindy is portrayed as a woman who's lusted after by men. I kept feeling the need to ask Seth Meyers "WHY HER?! FIFTY BUCKS?" but they made good on that by having her promise to pick up the dinner check.

I guess I have to check back with "The new normal" now because I thought the pilot was atrocious. Maybe it got better as well.

Oh and other tips: the second season of Jane Espenson's "Husbands" is airing on the web (12 to 15) minute episodes now compared to the 2 minute ones from seaon one)

http://husbandstheseries.com/

I also really like "Ben & Kate". That show is funny. I think I like "Mindy" and "Ben & Kate" because they feel like British sitcoms. Is "Ben & Kate" a remake? I guess I will check on that now :-)

Jill Pinnella Corso said...

@Sebastian - I am really surprised because I loved the pilot and really did not like the second episode.

I guess they sort of took Ken's words to heart and tried to make it more of a workplace comedy but I don't know why they had to bring in such an overexposed character actor as the boss. (Yes, I could look up his name but I don't feel like it). It makes it feel dated and sitcomy in a bad way.

Anonymous said...

You put in 18 hour days at a hospital and still manage to be fat, instead of just saying, "yeh, I know I'm fat," try sharing repetitive scenes of you sitting alone in front of the TV at 3 in the morning finishing off your third pint of haggen daz. Set the empty carton down next to a half-empty bottle of amphetamines. At least that would be honest, and more related to reality..

It's almost impossible to convey how offensive this comment was on so many levels.

maculae said...

Would you have thought Tony Shalhoub could have carried any show from watching (or in your case more than just watching) Wings?

Anonymous said...

Mindy is irritating and intensly annoying. She has the voice of a smurf or chipmunk I have to turn the channel when she comes on

Anonymous said...

I've watched every episode of TMP and found that my favorite character by far is Morgan and her friend in the wheelchair. However, Mindy is just too much. Even as a single woman I get irritated with the single woman premise - reason why I selectively watch New Girl and I've only watched 2-3 shows so far. Mindy is racist against everyone except for white people, which is irritating in itself, and has so many issues (for no good reason) that I'm like, blah. I think the rest of the cast are good and decent choices and they need to broaden their screen time and lessen hers. I wish she could take a note from Tina Fey who shared her screen time with as many equally, dysfunctional characters or Julia Dreyfus who was so dysfunctional you absolutely loved watching her. She just needs to come off the racist bit she's been doing and lessen her screen time, giving the other cast more oppurtunity to shine.

Anonymous said...

I actually hated the pilot but I decided to give it a shot and kept watching. Now I'm hooked and its the only show I look forward to seeing every week.
The characters do in fact have chemistry, but not the type you see on tv shows, the real life one(: