What makes the American version of The Office work (when it does work) is a myriad of comic tones working in intricate unison. It’s a tired comparison, but there’s a near-orchestral way in which each cast member brings their own personality to the series. On a good day, supporting players Leslie David Baker, Creed Bratton, Craig Robinson, and Mindy Kaling are just as important to an episode’s success as the show’s unofficial leads.
The absence of the full and varied sense of community this style affords is part of what makes The Mindy Project almost entirely forgettable. Focused on the day-to-day routines of a single Ob/Gyn in her early 30s (Kaling), the series provides little more than a showcase for the titular actor-writer’s buoyant comedic talents. Even when she goes on a blind date with an eligible suitor (Office co-star Ed Helms), the build-up to which is the pilot’s only real plot point, her character overwhelms the scene and Helms is left playing straight man with a negligible lack of comedic conflict.
No other personality in the series, including Chris Messina as Mindy’s cocky co-worker, Anna Camp as her married bestie, and Ed Weeks as her regular hook-up, feels pronounced enough to make any of the conflicts memorable, and this is largely the fault of the show’s writing. The pilot opens with a pre-credits wash of flashbacks, detailing Mindy’s love of romantic comedies, including When Harry Met Sally… and Notting Hill, but if Kaling’s ultimate goal is to pay homage to the genre or invoke similar exchanges as these films, her dialogue noticeably lacks the comedic and dramatic friction that made Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan’s repartee so engaging.
So, the laughs aren’t plentiful, but The Mindy Project, like its lead, does have a certain scrappy charm to it, which allows for the possibility that, like The Office and Parks & Recreation in their respective first seasons, the show has yet to find its footing. In terms of pacing, Kaling, who wrote the pilot, and director Charles McDougall (a vet of both aforementioned NBC shows) keep things leisurely, allowing Kaling’s rambling dialogue to take center stage. Indeed, the series doesn’t seem very interested in plotting, putting more emphasis on the characters. This choice, however, depends on a strong writer’s voice to make the dialogue more clearly defined and particular comic affinities to be built through the various performances, neither of which is on hand here. The Mindy Project is far more interested in the worn-out comic agenda of a smart, independent woman hamstrung by her obsession with finding commitment with a man than it is in self-excoriation or the unique proclivities of a chosen community. It’s upfront about this flimsy vanity, but that doesn’t make it any better.