The young working woman archetype has a long and respected history on American Television. Mary Tyler Moore in the The Mary Tyler Moore Show was one of the first single working ladies on TV, Thirtysomething showed women trying to negotiate their private and professional lives in a post-third-wave-feminism world, Sex and the City was terrible and stupid, but it did show single women with law degrees and writing careers navigating their lives. (It is indeed a terrible and stupid show, especially when viewed after the recession). Writer, actress and producer Mindy Kaling continues this fine tradition with her character, Mindy Lahiri in The Mindy Project. (Fun drinking game: every time the name “Mindy’ appears in this article, take a shot).
Mindy Lahiri is an obstetrician/gynecologist in New York City, the capital of the young working woman archetype. Like many a young working woman (Y.W.W.?), she’s quirky, clumsy, and goes on bad dates. She has a string of boyfriends who are either weird or unwilling to deal with a girlfriend who has to leave at the drop of a hat because a patient’s water just broke. (Following sitcom standard working procedure, The Mindy Project’s main character racks up an almost endless number of semi-serious romantic partners and then quickly disregards them. See: Seinfeld). There is, of course, sharp banter and unspoken tension between Mindy and Dr. Danny Castellano, another OB/GYN in the office. The pilot revealed Mindy, like many young working women and most humans in general, has a broken heart that hadn’t healed by the time she attended her heartbreaker’s wedding reception, got drunk and rode her bike into a swimming pool. Still, and here’s what separates The Mindy Project from, say, Ally McBeal, Mindy Lahiri is a good doctor who loves her job. She might be ditzy, but she’s not a Manic Pixie Dream Girl who plays strange instruments and giggles every 45 seconds at nothing in particular, either.
Various publications have been making a lot of noise about Mindy Kaling’s body being different from, say, Calista Flockhart’s, and with good reason. It’s encouraging to see a network show star a not-thin woman playing a competent doctor, as opposed to, say, an anorexic woman playing a terrible lawyer. Mindy Lahiri doesn’t do any grandstanding for women’s rights, nor does she have women’s magazines around to point out the body image issues contained inside. Instead, Kaling knows show-not-tell is the best strategy to establish a female protagonist who won’t make a 12-year-old feel bad about herself.