If the network television industry brimmed with confidence these days — if it were firing on all cylinders and not chronically worried about its weakening business model — I suspect we would have a lot more shows like Mindy Kaling’s larky and easygoing new Tuesday night comedy for Fox, “The Mindy Project." As it is, the show feels like one of those rare but commercially outre treasures that surface online and are discovered by a relative few viewers.
Created, co-written by and starring the 33-year-old Kaling, the show is all the things we claim to desire in 21st-century, post-post-Norman Lear sitcoms: snarky but sweet, clean but just a little dirty, quick without being rushed, meta without being niche, and centered on someone who seems familiar and yet comes across as a fresh find.
“The Mindy Project" (premiering Sept. 25) feels like now, if “now" is shaped by the three or four decades of the meaningless popular culture and meaningful social integration that preceded it. Kaling’s solo effort is knowing and wry without resorting to the annoying adorkability of her peer Zooey Deschanel’s “New Girl." (The network has predictably teamed “The Mindy Project" with “New Girl" in hopes of securing a Tuesday comedy juggernaut, as if birds of a feather must always flock together. Mindy is a much smarter bird.)
More than that, “The Mindy Project" stars a strong minority female in a story that only she can tell. Drawing its inspiration from Kaling’s confessional and silly memoir, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)," the show is about a thoroughly American girl born to high-achieving Indian parents. This fictional Mindy Lahiri fulfilled the duties of the bright second-generation child and became a doctor — an OB/GYN, the same speciality practiced by Kaling’s real-life mother.
Like Kaling herself, “The Mindy Project’s" Mindy character fell hard in childhood for romantic comedies of the 1990s, including those made by the late writer/director Nora Ephron, who is not mentioned in the show but whose presence and sensibility are faintly detectable, just as they are in Lena Dunham’s HBO series, “Girls." Oblivious to the utter whiteness (and blondness) of such fare, childhood Mindy, in Coke-bottle glasses and diligently doing her homework on the couch, chirps out “I’ll have what she’s having!" along with her umpteenth viewing of the fake-orgasm scene from “When Harry Met Sally" on cable.
“The Mindy Project’s" knight in shining armor is well-disguised, in the form of another doctor, Danny Castellano (Chris Messina, who excels at playing jerks). “You know what would really look great?" Danny tells Mindy as she polls her co-workers on whether her outfit is appropriate for a blind date. “If you lost 15 pounds."
Whether or not she gets her fairy-tale ending, Mindy is someone you’ll fall for.