Mindy Kaling is a wonderful, intelligent, hilarious gift to the world of sitcoms. She wrote some of the best episodes of The Office and she’s continued the onslaught of funny with her own series The Mindy Project. Her Fox sitcom quickly earned my DVR season pass thanks to her relatability, but in between giggles there’s just one thing that’s a constant downer.
The titular “project” is a very single, very rom-com-addled Mindy, a New Yorker who’s trying to navigate life as a perpetually single adult and wishing she could just have her Sandy Bullock ending already. It makes complete sense that other single, grown women like myself flock to this series, where the promise of identifying with another singleton and her ever-present troubles is waiting with open arms and plenty of GIF-able life advice. Yet somehow, repeated viewing has produced one unlikely side effect in this perpetual single New Yorker: a ton of self doubt.
Now, I know we’re not supposed to base our decisions and self-worth on movies and television, but thanks to the likes of Liz Lemon, the idea that a television character could reflect your life in borderline uncomfortable ways is commonplace. And just as Ms. Lemon left us, Kaling’s Dr. Mindy Lahiri waltzed right in to fill the void, but where Liz frequently had long spurts of time where her greatest suitors were night cheese and Dennis Duffy, the best beeper salesman in Manhattan after 1995, Mindy has a new love interest practically every week. What’s more, is that while her suitors rarely work out, they’re always some form of a seemingly fantastic catch. At the very least, they’re really, really attractive (hello, hippie skateboarder played by Timothy Olyphant). Her men look nothing like the strange men I meet day in and day out who’d stand no chance of becoming part of a story I’d tell my friends, let alone an audience of millions of television viewers.
From the sports agent who picks Mindy up at a club full of NBA players, to the architect who asks her out at Barnes and Noble (Seth Meyers), to the first kiss from summer camp who may just be the love of her life (Seth Rogen), and Casey the Pastor (Anders Holm) who proposes marriage after just three months of dating, Mindy “Super Single” Lahiri is drowning in dudes. And that’s before we even mention B.J. Novak, Ed Helms, and Mark Duplass, who all play roles in Mindy’s wildly active dating life.
She’s unlucky in love – Novak’s character did realize he was in love with someone else on Valentine’s Day – but she gets more shots at it and more meet-cutes than any normal woman has any right to dream of. Practically every time she meets a man, it’s in a way that we’re told is an impossible fantasy we should stop hoping for: bumping into each other at a crowded bookstore with remarkable lighting (Meyers), getting knocked over in the street by someone handsome (Olyphant), getting the head culture writer at a big time paper to pay attention to someone who worships the Kardashians and Suri Cruise (Mad Men’s Ben Feldman). Then there’s the part where her impossibly dreamy coworker Danny (Chris Messina) is definitely secretly in love with her on top of all that.
Hell, the show’s only enjoyed one season and a handful of new episodes and already Mindy the Singleton is a contemporary Carrie Bradshaw. If you recall, most of Ms. Bradshaw’s phone book-sized catalog of suitors didn’t work out either. Whereas Kaling’s appeal as a writer and comedian is her ability to get on our level, the circumstances of her series always seems to be in direct opposition to that level. Sure, we go on terrible dates and learn lessons about attraction, men, and dating along the way like she does, but it’s not as if we can’t go down the street without bumping into a handsome, eligible bachelor who wants nothing more than to buy us dinner. There’s an ebb and flow to most of our dating cycles that The Mindy Project throws to the wind.
Of course, The Mindy Project is a sitcom about dating, so it makes sense that Mindy needs to actually date people throughout the series, but at this point, the woman is never alone. The premise we bought into was that of a woman who recognized just how difficult it is to meet a guy worth dating – in fact, her speech to a patient who calls during a date with Helms’ character puts this trying problem into terrifyingly emphatic speech. Some of us joined the ride because we feel that difficulty too, but when it comes down to it, Mindy’s circumstances are no different from any other sitcom heroine from the past 20 years. She’s constantly in demand, though she acts as if getting any man to look her way is tougher than pulling off a cape as a coat.
We’re still here because Kaling’s own brand of humor and dialog are irresistible and the fact that her character’s circumstances are just as unrealistic as every other single girl on television isn’t enough to keep us away. While her constant pickups occasionally help highlight dry spells in our own lives (and makes us feel a little mopey as a result), it’s just another sitcom we’ve added to our lineup of weekly distractions. It’s important to remember her dating record is not real, though it would just help if we didn’t so heavily identify with Kaling’s brand of celebratory self-depreciation. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go talk to some pistachio gelato and DVR-ed Real Housewives episodes about all this.
Kelsea Stahler is a blogger and journalist living, writing, and dating in Brooklyn. Find her on Twitter @KelseaStahler.
Images via Fox