Fox Sneak Peek – The Mindy Project and Ben and Kate

In what has become a trend that I can wholeheartedly get behind, Fox has released pilots for two new comedies debuting this fall. I like the idea of being able to sample a show in the summer when there is less competition for my attention and I don’t have to make Sophie’s Choice-like decisions about what shows make it on to my Fall TV schedule. I can take a chance on a show that I might not normally have time to check out or that gets lost in the shuffle with the barrage of new programming come September. I’d love the networks to start doing this with some of the new dramas as well; hopefully there are plans to do that closer to premiere dates. But for now I’ll have to be satisfied with the comedies.

Both of these pilots – The Mindy Project and Ben and Kate – had some buzz associated with them coming out of the Television Critics Association summer press tour (no, I wasn’t there; somehow my invite got lost in the mail). I don’t currently watch much of anything on Fox other than their animated programming and sports, so I was curious if these sitcoms would appeal to me or not. After all, Fox was once home to Arrested Development and pretty much everyone in America knows how I feel about that show.

Of the two, I had the most hope for The Mindy Project. Mindy Kaling is probably best known to most people from her supporting role as Kelly Kapoor on The Office, but she is also a writer/producer on the show and has had various supporting roles in feature films. She is also an author (Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? – very cute) and fun tweeter. I have an enormous amount of goodwill toward her from all these projects, so I was definitely rooting for her when she received the opportunity to create and star in her own sitcom at Fox. So I was disappointed that I just didn’t connect with the pilot more.

In The Mindy Project, Kaling plays Mindy, a gynecologist that is trying to get her life together, get her practice off the ground and find love. She has recently been dumped by a live-in boyfriend and has sought solace in hooking up with a smarmy co-worker Jeremy (Ed Weeks) who isn’t boyfriend material (think Hugh Grant in Bridget Jones’ Diary). She has a combative relationship with another fellow doctor Danny (Chris Messina) and has two air-headed assistants.

The pilot had kind of a romantic comedy vibe, which is no surprise as Kaling is an admitted friend of the genre. Unfortunately for me, I am not. I generally avoid rom coms at all cost; they hold absolutely no appeal to me. I get that other people really like them, but I generally find them kind of insulting to women (and men to a lesser degree). It’s pretty obvious from the first few minutes of the pilot that Danny will be the potential love interest and much of the show will be waiting for that to play out. It’s just not my cup of tea. I enjoyed the first five minutes or so, but progressively lost interest.

That being said, I liked The Mindy Project more than I like most romantic comedies. Kaling has good comedic timing and the show clearly speaks with her voice. It’s also nice to see a show centered around a woman that is different than the usual standard on TV. Kaling is not “traditionally pretty” by Hollywood standards – which is ridiculous – and it is nice to see some diversity in a starring role. Messina and Weeks are also good, though I enjoyed Weeks’ performance more. Messina seemed to be trying a little too hard, but hopefully he will feel more comfortable as the show progresses. It wasn’t distracting, just a subtle difference. I wasn’t too impressed with the roles of Kaling’s assistants, but they also weren’t given much screen time. As presented in the pilot, they are a little like caricatures, but they may very well be flushed out more as the season continues. There are also some fun cameos scattered throughout the pilot; one of Kaling’s pals from The Office makes an appearance.

I wish Kaling much success with The Mindy Project, but it is unlikely that I will tune in again. The central premise just doesn’t speak to me. If you tend to be a fan of movies like Notting Hill and 27 Dresses or liked Sex and the City, you may enjoy this show more than I did. I don’t need to tune in once a week to see a professional woman trying to get her life together and find a boyfriend – I’m currently living it.

Ben and Kate focuses on the relationship between two siblings – Kate (Dakota Johnson) is a single mother who had to grow up too quickly when she became pregnant as a teenager and Ben (Nat Faxon) is her ne’er do well brother who has never grown up and probably can’t even spell responsibility. Each of them has a sidekick – Kate’s slutty pal BJ (Lucy Punch) and Ben’s BFF Tommy (Echo Kellum) who is in love with Kate. In the pilot, Ben has blown back into town to try and reconnect with an ex-girlfriend and Kate is considering getting serious with her current boyfriend. Things do not go smoothly for either sibling and Ben eventually decides to move in with Kate and help raise little Maddie (played by the adorable little girl from the Matt Damon movie We Bought a Zoo).

I didn’t especially connect with this pilot either; it’s harder for me to put my finger on exactly failed to appeal to me. There wasn’t anything inherently bad with the episode I saw, but I don’t feel like I was very interested in the characters and their journey going forward. I don’t know that the show has anything very original to say. I did enjoy Faxon’s performance as Ben, but I also feel like I’ve seen this character many times before. If used in the right amount, BJ could be a very funny supporting character; however, a little of her goes a long way. Kate is by definition more of the straight woman, but Johnson was given a few moments to be a little wacky as well. Maddie is very cute, but again, we’ve seen the precocious kid thing done ad nauseam. It all was fine, but not quite good enough to crack my already overcrowded schedule. I could see this show possibly turning into something that I might like, but there just wasn’t enough promise for me to fully commit.

If Ben and Kate and The Mindy Project are on brand for Fox, and I have no reason to suppose that they aren’t, then it is probably not a surprise that I don’t watch any of their other live action offerings. I don’t watch the majority of the CBS sitcoms because I think they are dreadful, but that’s not the case here. There is nothing inherently flawed about either of these shows. I’m just not the right audience for them and that’s absolutely fine. I’ll be interested to see how both of them wind up doing this season; I may check in on them to see how they have developed down the road. Perhaps they will evolve into something that is more up my alley, though for the sake of my time management I kind of hope that they don’t. I’ll be curious to see how they both do in their freshman season; if they can connect with the right people, I could see either one of these sticking around for a while.

Ben and Kate and The Mindy Project are both currently streaming on Hulu.com. Ben and Kate debuts on Tuesday September 25th at 8:30 pm (ET); The Mindy Project follows later that night at 9:30.

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