Mindy Kaling starred on The Office as Kelly and also wrote for the show. Obviously, The Office has been one of the few consistent successes for NBC over the past decade and Kaling deserves credit for contributing to that. She also published a book called Is Everyone Hanging Out without Me? (My wife loved it.) By all accounts, she is a witty, intelligent, and talented writer. So it comes as no surprise that she was offered her own show on Fox this past year. Thus, The Mindy Project was born.
To be honest, I was dragged kicking and screaming into watching the show. My wife loves TV: good TV, bad TV, it doesn’t much matter. I’ve sadly seen things on my DVR that bring me shame: The Bachelor, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Happy Endings all come to mind. I still shudder at the names. She is legitimately sad when shows are cancelled (even when she knows they are terrible). I think she feels pity for the actors. Regardless, I had serious reservations about Kaling’s new project; the name alone seemed banal.
But the first season turned out to be generally entertaining and a nice, modern ensemble comedy. It came replete with a will-they/won’t they romance, commentary on the modern workplace, and New York City as a backdrop. It was by far not the most sexually suggestive or offensive comedy on Fox or any other channel. Indeed, Kaling’s character ultimately desires marriage and a relatively traditional life. There was, however, one storyline that struck me as odd. Kaling’s character dates a Lutheran minister for the latter half of the season. The relationship is interracial and interfaith. But all of that was handled well. In fact, one of the most poignant moments of the first season was Mindy looking in the mirror and realizing that her faith was part of her identity and she couldn’t change it for another person. It was not some necklace that she could put on and take off.
What was surprising is that the minister and Mindy had sex before marriage as if it was not a big deal. Now, I know our popular culture certainly doesn’t object to sex in non-marital relationships. But I was surprised that I wasn’t more shocked. Ostensibly, sex with a Christian pastor outside of marriage is a big deal. The show treated it as any other relationship, but I have to imagine that even 10 years ago a pastor having sex after a few weeks of dating would be shocking. It almost felt like a soap opera narrative, but it was handled so glibly that it barely registers with the audience. Just another example of the moral goalposts being shifted I suppose.
All in all, The Mindy Project represents one of the better efforts at new comedic programming this season. It found comedy in honesty without being “gritty” or over the top. The show does reflect our current popular culture’s view on sex, but aside from the previous example, does so without being crass. Kaling’s wit is worth the price of admission alone.