The Mindy Project: Basically Cinderella (But Not Really)

the mindy project sceneIn a scene from The Mindy Project, Jeremy (Ed Weeks, center) and Danny (Chris Messina) help Mindy (Mindy Kaling), an OB/GYN, figure out her personal and professional life. (Photo courtesy of Fox)

Today is the first day in years that Cambridge native Mindy Kaling—actress, comedian, writer, producer, director, and, of course, avid Tweeter—will no longer be known as Kelly Kapoor, the good-hearted but dense girly-girl from The Office. And that’s thanks to her newest creation: The Mindy Project, which debuted on Fox last night.

Kaling stars as Dr. Mindy Lahiri, an OB/GYN who struggles to balance her demanding work life with her lackluster love life. She’s accompanied by a handful of costars including Chris Messina (Six Feet Under) and Anna Camp (True Blood). The pilot begins with Mindy narrating to the audience a window into her past—years of yearning for love, living vicariously through actresses in romantic comedies (yes, When Harry Met Sally is included), then details of her sudden heartbreak. She recalls meeting an oral surgeon (Bill Hader) in an elevator—Mindy’s hair came undone when the two simultaneously reached down to pick up dropped papers—and claimed she was “basically Cinderella.” But not exactly. She gets dumped for being “too old,” among a slew of other reasons, so she finds herself desperately back in search of love.

Mindy is odd yet brilliant, and she knowingly surpasses her fellow doctors in witty, back-and-forth workplace banter. Though there are some characters we’ve surely seen before (i.e. the taunting coworker who is secretly attracted to Mindy), the pilot reflects a sense of originality and potential. The episode moves quickly (as it should in 30 minutes), giving us a sense of who Mindy is without overwhelming. A not-so-sober Mindy bikes into a pool after her ex’s wedding and has an imaginary conversation with a Barbie doll, who brags, “At least I have a boyfriend”—it’s a painfully awkward yet familiar moment for those of us who single, even if we do or don’t talk to Barbie.

I wasn’t left keeling over in laughter, but Mindy Lahiri’s quirky persona and clever one-liners will have me back on the sofa at 9:30 p.m. on the dot next Tuesday. As for what lies ahead: Though Kaling could certainly craft another hit show, it’s far too soon to tell. For now, we’ll watch as The Mindy Project unfolds.