Hyphen magazine - Asian American arts, culture, and politics


Dr. Mindy Lahiri: A TV Role Model for the Rest of Us

Image courtesy of Fox.

Because I have two kids (one under a year old) and a full-time job, I know I'm probably supposed to tell you that I have no time or energy for TV anymore. I was going to lead off with lying to you guys about how my husband and I only have a handful of TV shows we're able to stay current on, but the truth is, we manage to watch a lot of stuff on Hulu -- in part because we'll occasionally let our five-year-old sneak in a clean-ish show with us before bedtime. I'm actually able to keep up with a lot more TV now than when we had cable. And one of my favorite new shows this year, which Dianne has been covering in her weekly round-ups, is The Mindy Project.

There are shows we never watch in front of our kids, like The Walking Dead or Family Guy, and I'm sure there are people out there who would probably feel it's inappropriate even to let my five-year-old watch The Mindy Project, but allow me to make a bold statement here. The existence of The Mindy Project is important, and almost entirely makes up for the dearth of memorable, strong Asian American women on television since Margaret Cho's All American Girl.

Yes, sometimes some of the jokes need to be explained, and sometimes I opt not to let the kiddo sit in on an episode (like the more recent high-schoolers-having-sex one). To be honest, she usually gets bored within five minutes of me trying to explain the show and will almost always walk off and find a book to read or toys to play with anyway, but I mostly consider The Mindy Project a safe show, if only because it isn't terribly violent, and it's one of the still shockingly few examples of strong Asian American women that my kid will see on TV today.

Let me start from the pilot. Yes, it's full of scene setting and exposition of the life of Mindy Lahiri (the show's main character) -- how she grew up a nerd obsessed with romcoms, became a doctor, and met the love of her life only to be dumped and then invited to his wedding shortly thereafter. But she also leads off with the potentially the touchiest, most frightening issues to Middle Americans today: a pregnant woman in hijab (!!) shows up in her office with her young son, acting as her interpeter (!!!). Mindy explains she can't take her on as a patient because she's nine months pregnant and uninsured (!!!!). After some mild back-and-forth, Mindy agrees to take on this patient on the condition that the son tells her out loud they will have insurance by the time she delivers. Mindy then tells the receptionists she can't take any more uninsured patients, and innocent and naive Betsy notes that she wants more white patients, to which Mindy answers, "Well, don't write that... but yes."

Mindy, you had me at hello.

So she's not white. She's also a normal body type -- she's pretty, but she's what people actually look like in real life, as are many of Mindy's love interests on the show. Lest we forget we're in TV Land where all ladies are a size 0, the expectation is addressed in the first episode where Dr. Castellano tells her that in order to look hot for an upcoming date, she should lose 15 pounds. But she has only carried herself with confidence throughout the show so far, which has been a breath of fresh air.

Kaling's Dr. Lahiri is also terribly self-aware, if not a little off the mark. Remember when Sex And The City was the thing, and every girl called herself "the Carrie" of the group, but was completely wrong because no type of Carrie Bradshaw can exist in real life (thank goodness)? Mindy Lahiri is that girl. She fancies herself a fun and adorably clueless Meg Ryan-type, but instead she grew up an intelligent and outspoken woman who clearly has a low tolerance for bullshit (thank goodness). At times, she's even crude and kind of an asshole. In last week's episode, she did what two male doctors in her practice were too afraid to do and confronted the midwives of the birthing center that was stealing her patients. And we loved her all the more for it.

Mindy Lahiri is smart, independent, and opinionated, but she's also honest about her desire to be in a relationship in a way that isn't annoying or unrealistic. She's not looking for a Prince Charming to sweep her off her feet -- she seems to be looking for a good time with someone who treats her as an equal. I wholeheartedly believe that Kaling, who writes and executive produces the show, created The Mindy Project just for women like me -- and our daughters. We've needed a character like her for a long time.

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LTE wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

Mindy K

"So she's not white. She's also a normal body type"
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She's Caucasian and she's chunky.
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"most frightening issues to Middle Americans today"
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This is code for?
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"She's not looking for a Prince Charming to sweep her off her feet"
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Yes she is! She is being coy about it. I am betting at some point she'll be an item with Castellano as the mutual annoyance they share many times leads to great romance, I am wondering how long she drags it out before if happens. That sports lawyer fellow isn't the one for her by a mile.
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"The Mindy Project just for women like me"
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I dunno, in a way yes and in a way no. I think she is clearly tackling race issues in an interesting way by attacking the racism of her "own".
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Watching her I see an updated and bit more sophisticated version of the Lucille Ball Show.
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I'm pretty bored of tv sitcoms, Mindy is the only non news tv show I watch.
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I was curious as to how she was doing in the ratings and was sad to learn her viewership is dropping rapidly. She is now 20% below where Outsourced was when NBC axed it, so the life of the show will now depend on what low rating levels the executives at Fox will tolerate and for how long.

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About The Author

Theresa Celebran Jones

Theresa Celebran Jones was born and raised in Connecticut and has moved cross-country four times. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two young daughters. She works full-time as a technical writer and is an MFA dropout. Her only other hobbies are reading, taking pictures, scrapbooking, and listening to hip hop. Clearly she has no social life.

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