The Mindy Project: a progressive depiction of females on TV

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Kristina Wyman's picture
Bethany Sampson

As the end of the year winds down and the workloads increase, most people take to the library and delve into studying. I, however, have a different tradition I like to uphold: every semester, approximately three to four weeks before finals, I pick up a new TV show. I suppose my body’s natural response to stress is to find every possible means to avoid the stressful trigger (i.e. homework/studying).

This TV viewing pattern is what brought The Greats into my life. Friday Night Lights, Parenthood and Make It or Break It (okay, that one’s not so great) are all results of my pre-finals TV binge fests. This year, I took a different approach, and instead decided to pick up a comedy. With 20-minute episodes, I actually thought I was investing less time to a TV show this year. That proved false, as I quickly became so addicted to The Mindy Project that as soon as I was caught up, I subsequently bought Mindy Kaling’s (the writer, producer, creator and star of The Mindy Project) book Everyone’s Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns).

Kaling’s show is one of those shows where while watching, I catch myself thinking, Everyone needs to watch this show, because the world will suddenly know peace as we all laugh in unison at the witty one-liners. Does it have a chance at being my dad’s (or basically any guy’s) favorite show? Probably not. But it’s hilarious all the same.

We all know I’m not the harshest critique of TV shows and movies (Yes, I love Hallmark movies and yes, I watched 90210 until the very end), but when it comes to comedy, I actually have standards. As much as I love to text LOL, rarely am I actually LOLing. Typically, when I’m watching “comedies,” I actually find myself rolling my eyes instead. Only a few greats have managed to make me laugh out loud. How I Met Your Mother (I’m behind on this season, and am avoiding the Internet for of spoilers) and Modern Family have succeeded in the LOL category. The Mindy Project has as well.

Not only do I catch myself laughing out loud, but consistently I am plagued with writer envy. With every laugh, I think to myself, “Why didn’t I write that line?” And as a wannabe-writer, line-envy is the greatest compliment I can give to anyone. If you have the ability to not only make me laugh, but also make me want to tweet, blog and journal about your script then, in my eyes, you have succeeded.

The Mindy Project, you have succeeded.

Mindy is a dramatic character (hence why I connect with her so much), but she’s more than just another “new adult” trying to find her place in New York City. She’s not as perfect as Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie in Sex in the City. She’s also not as outwardly flawed as Lena Dunham’s Hannah on Girls. Kaling is aware of her flaws, but rather than letting them weigh her down, she embraces them. She acknowledges how unique her ‘Curvy Indian Girl’ status is, and then she does her best to embrace it.

While embracing her flaws, the serious and dramatic side of the show emerges. However, the show manages to use comedy to draw attention to just how ridiculous society’s standards that create this ‘I am so filled with flaws’ thinking is. For example, in one episode, Mindy is feeling down about her weight. When her office assistant offers her a coffee cake, Mindy responds with, “I’m still full from that chia seed I had last night.” I laughed out loud. And then I also though to myself, Wow how dumb that this world tells us chia seeds are a better dinner than coffee cake.

The show is filled with moments like this. Moments where you relate to the awkwardness of Mindy. And moments where you cheer her on as you acknowledge just how successful she is in life. It’s so easy (and so common) to create a hopeless romantic lead character who is also spacey, unsuccessful in her career and more into her shoe collection than her friends. Mindy breaks down these barriers. Is she a hopeless romantic? 100 percent yes. But she’s also a doctor with a pretty awesome NYC loft. She has friends who care about her and who she cares about back. She has a goddaughter. She has a little brother who she tries to mentor. Is she looking for love? Yes. But her quest for love has not managed to overwhelm her quest for an otherwise happy and fulfilled life. Mindy has managed to redefine the typical female character. And this makes me happy.

I’m guilty of watching movies like Twilight with sappy, clumsy and ‘I don’t need to go to college, I have you, Edward’ lead females. And I’m guilty of enjoying them. And then I also read (thank you Thought Catalog) inspiring pro-feminist pieces that are like, “I don’t need a man to complete me! I am independent. I am strong! I am funny! I am successful!”

And this seesaw leaves me going back and forth, feeling like it’s always either or. The Mindy Project has provided me with a balance. It’s okay to pursue a career. To pursue happiness. It’s okay to be dramatic and funny, because that doesn’t lessen your intelligence. It’s okay to want love, because that doesn’t lessen who you are as an independent woman either.

Maybe I’m giving a half-hour comedy more credit than some would argue it deserves, but I don’t care. I look forward to Tuesday nights where I can watch The Mindy Project. In a world of The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Every Show Must Include Vampires, I like to look forward to a show. And I like a show that makes me laugh—at its witty one-liners, at how ridiculous society can be and just at life itself.

Because amidst the seriousness of life and finals and graduation, laughing is pretty important.

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