Mindy Kaling, widely known from The Office, successfully debuted her own project last month on Fox. The Mindy Project follows Mindy Lahiri (Kaling) through her professional and personal life as an OB/GYN in pursuit of love. As a 31 year-old doctor, Mindy is eager to find a good man and is devoted to quoting cheesy lines from her favorite romantic comedies until she finds him. In addition to providing clever commentary about fiercely single women in the workforce, The Mindy Project wittingly explores modern racial stereotypes and prejudices.
The pilot episode established Mindy’s character as a quirky doctor who gets overly excited after meeting what seems to be any mildy attractive White man. In determining the main source of her failures, her bitterly divorced co-worker, Dr. Danny, with whom she is always butting heads, suggests that her oversized figure is to blame. For the first half of the episode, well-received jokes are tossed around, covering everything from body image, modern women, and dating woes.
Race remains untouched until well into the pilot episode. The main tension focused solely on Mindy’s career, her personal life, and the inevitable overlap. Her ethnicity does not serve as a story driver in the least. If anything, her obvious physical differences seem to play a supplemental role in her already hilarious character. The lighthearted cultural jokes featured in the first two episodes fulfill the show’s apparent goals of humor and education.
After an uninsured pregnant woman and her son, who also serves as her translator, is referred to Mindy for prenatal care, Mindy rushes to her co-workers to complain of the charity cases that always seem to come her way. In her defense, the receptionist admits that the woman’s hijab, a head covering traditionally worn by Muslim women, led her to believe that she was “oil rich,” thus prompting her to send the patient to Mindy. Not too long after this comment, another receptionist blatantly refers to Mindy as an immigrant, blatantly referencing her Indian heritage. Mindy calmly responds by assuring that she was “born in the U.S.” Lastly, when she is questioned on her ability to hire an additional nurse without supervision, Mindy scornfully confirms, “I just wanna hire some Al Queda terrorist to come and blow up the kitchen,” to which her co-worker replies, “I’m not saying you do it on purpose, but yes, that could easily happen.” Both the sharp dialog and reality-based nature of the above comments contribute to the humor of the not-so funny topics of ethnic stereotypes and immigration.
Such jokes successfully educate any ignorant viewers without overtly stressing the growing need for cultural awareness in America. This show provides viewers with both honest comedy and valuable learning experiences. Mindy Lahiri is not an Indian doctor who can’t find love. She is an accomplished OB/GYN struggling to balance work and romance, who happens to be of Indian descent. To be honest, any woman of color could act in Mindy Kaling’s place and the show would still work.
The Mindy Project, instead of using Mindy Kaling as diversity bait, allows her character, Mindy Lahiri, to comedically explore what it means to be a modern woman of color. Although Kaling is not the first Indian or South Asian woman to land a lead role on primetime television, her role is a huge step in the right direction.