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Mindy Kaling’s New Comedy Looks Adorable, and Is Rife With Musical Theater

image: NBC J.J. Totah and Mindy Kaling in a scene from "Champions"

While we’re excited to see her in the upcoming Disney blockbuster, A Wrinkle in Time, we’ve been just as excited to see when and how Mindy Kaling would be coming back to television comedy now that The Mindy Project is no más. We don’t have to wait too much longer. Her latest show arrives this spring!

It’s a new NBC comedy called Champions, and it was created by Kaling and Charlie Grandy, with whom she’s worked before on The Mindy Project, as well as The Office and Saturday Night Live, both also for NBC. So, the pedigree is promising, but what about the show itself? Kaling premiered the show’s first trailer via her Instagram:

In it, we get to know Vince (Anders Holm), the owner of a gym called Brooklyn Champions who seems to live a life of jockishness and sleeping around with women, and … not much else. He lives with his brother, Matthew (Andy Favreau), and seems perfectly content to have zero other ambitions. That is, until he gets a blast from his past. A former high school fling Priya (Kaling) arrives with her teenage son Michael (J.J. Totah). Spoiler alert: he’s Vince’s kid.

He’s also gay, and a huge musical theater nerd.

My initial response to the trailer was Awww, this looks cute! And yay for musical theater references! 

But because my job has made it nearly impossible for me to watch anything without a critical lens, here are my more nuanced thoughts about this show:

Pros: 

  • Kaling showrunning and starring in a show again. Always a plus
  • LGBTQIA teen of color. Again, plus. (PS – according to his IMDb page, Totah’s dad is Palestinian, and his mom is half Lebanese and half Irish/Italian)
  • the show treats a mother-son relationship as important and special, which is surprisingly rare. Usually, the parent-child relationships that are “important” on TV are either same-gender (fathers and sons, mothers and daughters), or we explore daughters’ relationships with their dads. Male characters are either constantly annoyed by their “overbearing” moms, or their strong relationships with their mothers are played for laughs. Because what could a mother possibly have to offer her son that’s of any value, amirite?

Cons: 

  • It’s slightly disappointing that the show seems to focus more on Vince and his response to Priya and Michael rather than being about Priya and Michael. Then again, that could just be the way this trailer is framed.
  • I’m concerned that the comedy will be too reliant on dated stereotypes about gays and theater. Like, those are funny sometimes, if done with love and from a place of understanding and care, but if Michael just ends up being a walking stereotype, I just don’t know.
  • The very premise of the showwomanizer learns he has a son by a woman from his pastlimits the possibilities for female participation. Already, he has a brother who helps him lean into his jock-ness (not a sister to contrast/compare with). Then again, of the 15 roles and actors listed on IMDb for the show, 10 are women. Here’s hoping they’re used well.

As I think about my first conthat the show focuses on a male protagonistI feel the need to check myself a bit. Part of gender parity in the television industry is that women shouldn’t have to just write the “woman parts” or the “women’s shows.” Women should be able to write about people of any gender the way men always seem to get to do.

I’ve also learned to have faith in Kaling when she tells a story. After all, when I first started watching The Mindy Project, Mindy Lahiri annoyed the fuck out of me, and I was so angry at Kaling for giving us this shallow, ditzy woman who was “supposed” to be a doctor … until I realized that I was basically “Elle Woods-ing” her. I was falling into the trap that says that in order for women to be competent, they can’t prioritize “frivolous” things, or be overly “girly” or have glaring weaknesses in other areas.

The Mindy Project worked so well, because its female protagonist was constantly under examination, flaws and all, to say larger things about femininity and sexism. My hope is that Champions will do the same.

My other hope? That Champions will hire female writers other than Kaling.

What do you think of this trailer? Will you be watching Champions when it debuts on NBC on March 8th? 

(via Hello Giggles, image: NBC)

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