There are a lot of reasons I want so desperately to love HBO’s “Girls.” I still believe the first season was brilliant and I think the second season had flashes of brilliance. Dunham’s bleak “comedy” conveys real, brittle truths about female friendships, life failures, depression and anxiety. Of course, I love the idea of a story that’s largely about women being told by a woman. And whatever issues you have with Lena Dunham (and I know you have many), you can’t deny she’s smart. And that’s always something I want to support. But during its second, scattered season, it was a little harder to staunchly defend Dunham’s show against the disproportionate vitriol. Mostly I found (and still find) myself loudly singing the praises of Adam Driver or Alex Karpovsky. But those are the Boys and I signed up for Dunham’s show with the hope that I would end up loving the Girls. These anti-Carrie/Samantha/Mirandas.
And, truth be told, I don’t. I feel sympathy (and sometimes a frustrated pity) for Dunham’s Hannah. During the depths of Season 2 I even experienced some momentary flashes of uncomfortable self-recognition. But I don’t love any of them. Not Hannah, not Jessa, not Shoshanna and especially not Marnie. (Okay sometimes Shoshanna.) I’m not saying I’m done with the show. I like it and think it’s culturally interesting enough to keep me on the line and, as I mentioned, Driver and Karpovsky are fantastic. But it’s not the greatness I wanted it to be. And why did I want it to be great? I wanted it to be great because I wanted Dunham to be the next Tina Fey. Only, you know, representin’ a different body type. One that’s not often seen on television as anything other than a punchline. (*cough*”Mike And Molly”*cough*) And sure it’s nice to see a bit of cellulite on-screen because, you know what, cellulite f*cking happens. But I don’t blame anyone for their uncomfortable reaction to the Season 2 episode “One Man’s Trash.” From my perspective, it would have been just as awkward if Sarah Jessica Parker in all her Pilates toned fitness had played several rounds of topless ping pong with Patrick Wilson. I don’t ascribe to any of the fat-shaming. Not even a little. But I’m not afraid to say some of the nudity on “Girls” is gratuitous. However, Dustin was wrong when he claimed that Season Two Of “Girls” Sold Out To “The Mindy Project”. Because you know what? Mindy Kaling is better than Lena Dunham. Her show is better is than Lena Dunham’s and to use “The Mindy Project” as a pejorative is to make a big mistake. Huge.
If you gave “The Mindy Project” a shot at the start of its run and were put off by its scattered, sprawling structure and mildly abrasive lead character, I have good news for you, it got better. Some of the extra characters have been jettisoned including, unfortunately, the lovely Anna Camp.
And some of Dr. Mindy Lahiri’s harsher edges have been rounded off. She’s still a sass mouth, but her moments of self-absorption and frivolity are both more self-aware and tempered by the loving work family dynamic the show has built. Honestly you won’t find a sweeter ensemble outside of “Parks and Recreation.” And like the good folks of Pawnee, Dr. Lahiri and friends have found an excellent antagonist in the Deslaurier midwives played by Mark and Jay Duplass.
And, as is often the case with network sitcoms in this post Ross and Rachel world, the heart of the show is pumped along by a splendid case of will they/won’t they between Mindy Kaling and Chris Messina. The dynamic they’ve established between these two is suitably, antagonistically loving and unlike “New Girl“‘s Jess and Nick, I think they’re in for a long, slow burn.
In the meantime, Kaling has given us a beautifully flawed character. A woman whose frailties are not un-Liz Lemon-like and who, like Lemon, has an admirable professional career. There’s a subtle undercurrent of female actualization and empowerment and it’s nice to see that coming from a woman who also cares deeply about shoes and the Kardashians. It’s not an either/or dynamic. Lahiri (and Kaling) can be all those things.
And, listen, I don’t mean to tear down one woman (Dunham) in order to build up another. Dunham’s show is obviously meant to be something very different from a candy floss network sitcom. And Dunham by no means has to explain her art to you, Warren. But I’ll say this much, even Louis CK manages to mix genuinely enjoyable moments in with the self-deprecation and ennui. And if I’m going to root for a smart, capable woman who looks a little more like me and a little less like Whitney Cummings, I’m going to pick Kaling every time. And not just because she has the best taste in leading men.
Here are a few other reasons you should give “The Mindy Project” your love.
Women Of Color: One of the biggest complaints lodged against “Girls” is the lack of color in the cast. For obvious reasons, this isn’t a problem here.
Movie References: Kaling herself is obviously a huge pop-culture nerd and while the movie mixed in a lot of rom-com references from the start, they’ve been broadening the field of late and it’s been glorious.
TV References: Uh, ditto. But with beards this time.
Fashion Sense: Unlike some romper wearing individuals, Kaling dresses her body beautifully. Mostly.
Social Commentary: Of the most profound kind.
Guest Stars: Kaling has cashed in favors from her comedian friends and we’re all benefitting. In addition to the amazing Duplass brothers we’ve seen Seth Rogen, Bill Hader, the Meyers brothers, BJ Novak, Ellie Kemper, Chloe Sevigny, etc. etc. All amazing.
Did I Mention Messina?
Bottom line it doesn’t matter if you love or hate “Girls,” I think you’ll love “The Mindy Project.” It’s a really great show.