Move over, Kelly Kapoor: Dr. Mindy Lahiri's in town
More new premieres this week! Gotta love the fall, y'all. First off is the show that I personally have been looking the most forward to, The Mindy Project starring Mindy Kaling as Mindy Lahiri (have I typed "Mindy" enough yet?), an OB/GYN who has a thing for romantic comedies. The pilot packs a whole lot of plot, characters, and personality development into half an hour, so it's a bit of a whirlwind between her romance with a dentist, her drunken speech at the wedding of said dentist to someone else, treating a non-English speaking patient with no insurance, going on a date, trading insults with a cute fellow doctor, and then resisting giving in to make-out sessions with another cute fellow doctor. There are lots of laughs, particularly if you enjoyed Mindy's comedy on the Office and in her book, but real comedy and connection between the audience and the main character take a bit of a backseat to scene setting -- pretty much the norm for a TV pilot. I'm excited to see more! How about you guys?
It's too cute to be real, but it feels so real
Also premiering this week was a very different show, Elementary starring Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson. Perhaps in order to avoid the inevitable comparisons with the British Sherlock, which takes place in modern day England, Elementary is set in modern day New York City and feels very much like other CBS procedurals: a crime takes place, Sherlock (and, eventually, Watson) piece together what happened, the case is solved in time for a clean slate next week. There is a slight twist to both the CBS formula and the Sherlock-Watson relationship in that Sherlock has just left rehab, and Watson is the companion his father hired to keep him clean. Over the course of the pilot, Sherlock deduces that Watson was a surgeon fighting demons -- demons that came after she lost a patient and her license. Much has been said about the various incarnations of the Sherlock and Watson relationship, but I'll just add that I'm looking forward to seeing how the male-female and white British-Chinese American dynamics play out. I do like the way each character's backstory is unfolding in a way that shows the audience just how this version of the old partnership is distinct from the rest, and Liu has a subtle way of expressing Watson's pain that, for me, raises the show above your CSIs and your Criminal Minds. Another promising pilot!
"No, I will not play this for you, Sherlock."
How could I have forgotten to mention last week that Parks and Recreation premiered with our favorite employee who dreams big and always keeps his skin moisturized, Tom Haverford (played by comedian Aziz Ansari)? In the season's second episode, Tom helped Chris train Andy, taking off in his own direction when he tricked out his golf cart. Of course he did. Love that guy.
Just standing next to his totally normal golf cart
Quick note about this week's The New Normal, which I'm enjoying despite it hitting you over the head with its various messages in the standard Ryan Murphy style. Couple David and Bryan were trying to convince their surrogate's grandmother (I know, it's a weird show premise), Jane, that they don't plan to vote for Obama just because he's black. The "we have black friends" insistence escalates until they find themselves inviting Jane to their party where she will meet all their black friends. Of course it turns out they have none, and in desperation they run through everyone they know. David dismissed his fellow doctor friend Amir because he's "barely ethnic...he's not even dark enough to count." Bryan half-facetiously offered to "tie a tablecloth around his head" in an effort to make Amir seem more ethnic. This is obviously overly simplistic and a fairly offensive, reductive way to speak about a friend, but something does ring true about the way that real diversity -- even just among one's friends -- can be difficult to reach without tokenism and ranking of one's "realness."
This is underscored later when surrogate Goldie takes the first step in introducing herself to a multiracial family at her daughter's school (Shania's classmate's father is black, and his mother is of Asian descent). The five adults chat amicably about being parents, then as the unnamed couple walks away, the father whispers to his wife, "You were just saying we need some gay friends!" I'll be the first to admit that I've had thoughts about what kinds of people I "need" in my social group, as if there's some ideal checklist that everyone should strive to find. It's a great thing to put yourself in situations where you meet a wide variety of people, but it's also easy to get sucked into that feeling of "need" or "should." I really liked the way that the show handled that odd feeling without getting too heavy about it, and I hope to see more subtle discussion like that in addition to the show's more overt messages about equality and acceptance.
Oh, but don't worry, I haven't forgotten our singing shows. On The Voice we met VJ Rosales, who is 25 and from Bellflower, California. He has a degree in choral vocal music and jazz performance, and teaches music at a conservatory (cue clip of VJ with cute kids). He wants to make the move from teacher to performer by performing CeeLo's "Forget You" on the Voice stage. Is it just me or does it seem to pretty consistently be a bad idea to perform the judges' own songs to them? VJ had a jazzy take on the song with lots of runs and even a point where he literally got down on his knees, but no chairs turned around for him. Blake said, "I can't think of an odder song for your voice," and Christina added that he had trouble filling CeeLo's shoes and was "missing the spank" of the performance. Adam explained her statement further when he said, "It didn't sound like you were saying 'forget you,' it sounded like you were saying 'I'm sorry.'" CeeLo got up on stage to show VJ how it's done, and they had a nice duet where VJ was clearly star struck. "I just sang with CeeLo Green!" he exclaimed afterward before joining his sweetly supportive family backstage. Aww, good attitude, VJ.
VJ is not good at hiding his shock and excitement
At the X Factor auditions in Providence, we met Changyi Li, an unemployed 52-year-old from Baltimore County who was born in China and has been in the States for 12 years. She wore a sailor suit-type outfit for her audition and described how she wants to be a superstar like Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Lady Gaga, and several other musicians she rattled off. She is unmarried, and when Simon asked why she replied "I'm picky," getting a laugh from the judges. Their smiles quickly went away when she began singing "My Heart Will Go On" in an odd, very slow baby voice. She continued singing after Simon stopped the music, and he told her, "The good news is if they ever remake the film, you could replace the iceberg. Just sing and down it goes." Britney told Changyi, "I just don't think singing is for you," and the judges all said no to her moving on. "Everything sometimes gets a 'fail,' it's normal," Changyi said backstage. I guess it's heartening that so many people have positive attitudes in the face of failure!
As Tim Gunn would say, that's a whole lotta look
It always seems like guaranteed disappointment to expect that anyone could represent all of his/her particular group (just look at the criticism of Lena Dunham's representation of 20-somethings, New York City, and women in general -- and of course there's no such feedback for Matthew Perry's version of widowed white dudes or the depiction of submarine crews on Last Resort), and the interviews I read and heard with Kaling seemed to show her reluctance to do so. All I'm looking for in a sitcom, personally, is laughs, and I'm feeling hopeful that we'll get just that in The Mindy Project. Glad you'll be watching along with me!