Aug 282012

On Tuesday, August 27 Fox made two pilot episodes from their fall comedy lineup available to wider audience via online services, like Hulu. While this new trend of testing the market before broadcast is getting ever more popular among major networks, FOX pulled new record by jumping almost entire month ahead, as both shows were scheduled to première on September 25.

"The Mindy Project" Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling as Dr. Mindy Lahir in “The Mindy Project”

First of the two was “The Mindy Project”. As the working title turned final cut suggests, the focus of the show is one Mindy (Lahiri), played by Mindy (Kaling – from “The Office”), thus joining short list of comedy shows this year where main character is named after portraying actor (e.g. Charlie as Charlie in “Anger Management”) as if to avoid confusing the leading actor too much with being “in character”. Mindy, (the fictional one, of “The Mindy Project”) is a twenty something, freshly made M.D. of obstetrics and gynaecology  stomping through life in Bridget’s (Jones, of the “Bridget Jones Diary”) shoes of an aspirated, driven, self sufficient single lady but with the finesse and dating habits of Carrie (Bradshaw, of the “Sex and The City” fame) and fierce bravery of Ally (McBeal, from “Ally” the show, naturally). The premise is uncomplicated, the cast is studded with doctors resembling male models and the supporting cast is full of equally pretty faces. They even dragged in Mindy’s colleague from “The Office” for a guest appearance. What could possibly fail? Well… how about the lead for starters…

Mindy (Kaling) created “The Mindy Project” with herself in mind. She is, in just about every sense of the word, the show. She is the title, the producer, the star and what is most important – the writer. And as the writer, Mindy is actually not bad at all. There are moments in the show, lost somewhere in between staged drunken xenophobic rants against Serbian citizens, constant wardrobe malfunctions, uncomfortable burka jokes and offbeat references to Michael Fassbender’s manhood where I could not help but think that if the script was propped by a lead with genuine heroine stance and properly timed straight face comedic delivery, this show might actually be genuinely funny. In a smart way. But Mindy (the actress) projecting Mindy (the character) turns out to be the weakest link of the show, wrecking hard work of Mindy (the script writer). It is just a wrong fit. At times it almost feels as if the script was written for someone like Reshma Shetty or Hannah Simone. The obvious issues, such as continuous self flattery, blatant attempts to punch far above her weight in terms of on screen romantic involvements or about a decade discrepancy in casting age target, would all be easy to overlook in a witty romantic comedy. But Mindy is anything but witty, romantic or comedic in this pilot. Unlike Bridget, Carrie or Ally, her character comes across as shrewish and unlikable and no amount of calling herself “hot woman” or self proclaimed comparisons to Sandra Bullock can make it believable or funny. It comes out bad. Th flat, dry and surprisingly often – rushed and sloppy – delivery by the leading actress is rescued on scene to scene basis by the supporting cast portraying two main stereotypes – either angel female friend or completely selfish and egocentric male work colleague. And every single one of them is absolutely perfect as angel friend or a douche doctor. But that is not enough to keep the show afloat. Unless Mindy Kaling pulls her best performance out of “The Office” magic box in the episodes to come, my bet is this show will not survive autumn. Sad, but true. Note: On March 4, 2013 network renewed “The Mindy Project” for second season. The show did not improve even one iota in my opinion though.

The cast of "Ben And Kate"

The importance of high five

The second premiere of the evening belongs to “Ben & Kate”. And this one is a little weird for several reasons. First, we have the plot. “Residential” comedy. Older brother, younger sister. She grew up faster, he never grew up. He moves in together with her and her little daughter, for reasons a little too vague to even remember after watching the pilot. How far could the writers take this plot vehicle? Six episodes, tops? Nevermind. The pilot follows shallow situational construct revolving mainly around two titular characters, one kid (oddly enough, the kid is actually not the annoying part) and two sidekicks.

In the shortest possible plot summary of the 25 minute pilot Kate (Dakota Johnson – daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson) is trying to get laid. Ben (Nat Faxon – the script writer of “The Descendants”) is doing stupid things and “high fives” various characters. The kid (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) plays the wise grown up,  while the sidekicks fulfill stereotypical token character quota of quirky English lady with outlandish sense of reality (Lucy Punch) and over the top black friend with “issues” (Echo Kellum).

My first impression was that the creators were trying to slot into a niche comedy sector, the area where the show is carried entirely by odd characters interacting together with relatively very little “action” or “plot” to execute on per episode basis. “Happy Endings” or “Modern Family” is a perfect example of just such a show where the story or plot of most episodes would take less than half a page to summarize, but the episodes are filled by characters working their quirks out around story line rather than moving plot forward from scene to scene. But about 10 minutes into “Ben & Kate” pilot things become a little strange. What the viewer witness at this point in pilot can only be described as actors mimicking other actors. As if we were watching table reading of the script with sit in performers making impressions of the primary cast members. Nat Fixon as Ben, appears to be doing character impression of actor Ed Helms, replaying tone for tone and with detailed upper lip miming any of the panic attacks/rages out of “Hangover”. Echo Kellum as Tommy is permanently channeling Richard Ayoade in “I.T. Crowd”, complete with glasses, “fro” and bewildered face expressions, but minus British accent. And finally Lucy Punch as BJ setting her privately educated Hammersmith accent to eleven and heading straight for John Oliver’s job at “The Daily Show”.

“Ben and Kate”, similar to “The Mindy Project” does not rely on can laughter added to the soundtrack, which only leaves those awkward, over the top moments hanging that much longer in the uncomfortable, complete silence before the heavy handed jokes hit the floor. With no plot to speak of and no chemistry between both leads, this show appears to be completely unsustainable. I can’t imagine it working for more than three or four episodes. But then again, given the time slot (set against “Heart of Dixie” and “NCIS”), it is entirely possible that it will sleepwalk through half a season before someone higher up the network exec chain notice it there and pulls the plug. Stranger things happened on US television. Note: On January 24, 2013 FOX pulled “Ben And Kate” from the air with undisclosed number of episodes halted in production. 

“The Mindy Projects” and “Ben & Kate” available on Hulu now, on your screens from September 25, 2012

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