Sunday, November 30, 2014

New Girl and The Mindy Project: FOX's Tuesday Night of Quirky

In the past few years the FOX network has devoted Tuesday nights’ 8pm slots to back-to-back romantic-comedy programs. New Girl and The Mindy Project, premiering in 2011 and 2012 respectively, are both single-camera productions that revolve around a quirky, female lead trying to navigate life during their early thirties with the help of their often meddling but sincere friends.
New Girl and The Mindy Project are strikingly similar but also very different programs focused on successful thirty-something women surrounded by a support network of men. New Girl, starring Zooey Deschanel, is about eccentric, offbeat Jessica Day who after discovering her boyfriend in cheating on her moves into a loft with three bachelors, who only allowed her to live with them because they assumed her model best friend would come over and bring more models. The Mindy Project, created by and starring Mindy Khaling, revolves around Mindy Lahiri and the male dominated OB/GYN office where she works, Schulman and Associates, and where all of her issues are on display and mostly broadcasted by Mindy herself.

The similarities of these two shows are typical of rom-coms, including the characters and the plot lines. Both shows feature womanizing bachelors—Schmidt in New Girl, while in The Mindy Project both Dr. Peter Prentice and Dr. Jeremy Reed contend for that position. Both shows also feature a female best friend that keeps these two “adorkable” characters grounded, offering advice when needed but also engaging in shenanigans when the situation calls for it. Ironically, Jess in New Girl is portrayed as a white women with an Indian best friend, Cece; while Mindy in The Mindy Project is played by an Indian woman with a white best friend, Gwen.

Additionally, these shows are also similar and follow rom-com trope of the lead female falling in love with her best guy friend. Although, to be fair these relationships are different in each show. Jess is slow to anger and reluctantly has disagreements with Nick but during their skirmishes they are both still supportive of each other and resolve their issues quickly. Mindy and Danny fight—A LOT. Mindy and Danny are constantly in one argument or another and they are not shy about sharing their true feelings or yelling. They can be mean and hateful to each other but they make up. In some ways their attitudes and disagreements, make their relationship seems more real and genuine than Jess and 

Alternative Family
 According to Newcomb, “any group that is united by ties of love, of warmth, and of mutual concern can be termed as a family. (Newcomb 51)” The idea of the alternative family, especially in sitcoms, is discussed in Jillian Sandell’s essay “I’ll be There for You,” a close examination of the most well-known alternative family show, Friends. The model of the alternative family is a common theme in which the characters are not a biological family but rather create their own atmosphere of a family unit through the joint resolution of conflict and the support of one another. This reflects the idea that “the ‘families we choose’ can substitute for badly paid jobs and dysfunctional relationship….you can put up with anything, so long as you have your roommates or neighbors to come back to at the end of the day. (Sandell 148)”

 Under these terms New Girl and The Mindy Project both qualify as alternative families, however, the establishment of each family was formed at different paces. In the pilot episode of New Girl, it became clear that Jess and the guys were going to bond, become good friends, and deeply care for one another. This can be seen in the roommate’s reactions to Jess being mistreated. Knowing Jess had gone through a difficult breakup, the guys encouraged her to go on a date to find a rebound man. When Nick, Schmidt, and Coach realize she had been stood up they all abandon a party literally run to her aid, dressed as cowboys and Indians, and upon seeing her alone and crying they all start to sing a song from her favorite movie to cheer up before being kicked out of the restaurant. Although, Jess had only just moved in and met her roommates it was apparent with the first episode how the show would progress and prove “that in the face of heterosexual failure and familial dysfunction, all you need is good friends” (Sandell 142).

In the case of The Mindy Project the creation of an alternative family took longer to form. In the beginning episodes of The Mindy Project, Mindy felt threatened and the need to establish herself as a strong female amidst the other successful male doctors. Much of the first season revolves around the conflicts and arguments that arise between Mindy and Danny but is in episode three of season one that the audience truly begins to see the alternative family that is Schulman and Associates. The whole office goes to a club and Mindy initially avoids hanging out with the group. While Shawna is trying to discuss her feelings for Dr. Danny, Mindy is invited to the VIP section and she abandons Shawna in favor of the VIP. The young, rich sport agent she meets invites to an after party but as she leaves she notices her co-workers struggling to take care of a drunk Beth and she abandons plans to attend the party and decides to help her friends instead.

Work Place Comedy
The Mindy Project has the unique ability to function as both an alternative family comedy as well as a workplace comedy. Although very little actually work is seen within The Mindy Project, the show is centered not only around Mindy and her personal but also her work and colleagues’ lives because the two are so intertwined. Indeed, her work is very much a part of her life. Mindy’s former fling is colleague, Jeremy, her current love is fellow doctor, Danny, her friends and brother-like co-workers are Morgan and Peter, and the office’s arch enemies are the Deslaurier brothers in the floor above them. Mindy and her co-workers are a family, they have conflict, sort through it together, and resolve it. This type of alternative/workplace family allows for a broader spectrum of comedic situations by utilizing the drama often found in the workplace. This kind of alternative work family is also able to appeal to a wider audience because viewers can relate to the bonds form at work and the struggles that co-workers endure together. As stated by Michelle Hilmes, “The work family is a solution to the problems of the nuclear family, integrating work and love within a framework freely chosen and open to all…a utopian variation on the nuclear family more palatable to a new generation and to the quality audience” (Hilmes 217 ). 

Jess v. Mindy
While New Girl and The Mindy Project follow the rom-com trope and the model of the alternative family there are several differences between the two, mainly the central female characters. Jess is a beautiful, teacher who can be a little strange and bust into dance and song at any given moment—by herself or for the entertainment of others. Mindy is a devoted gynecologist and hopeless romantic who is constantly looking for love and going through Hell and heartbreak to find it, she’s also loud, inappropriate, and isn’t afraid to tell you what she thinks.

Jess is undoubtedly beautiful, she is slim and her prettiness is never called into question; the humor surrounded her is more concerned with her bizarre antics rather than her physical appearance. Mindy on the other hand is chubby; she’s very curvy and has a much darker skin tone than Jess. Physically, Jess and Mindy are complete opposites and these differences provide another kind of comedy for The Mindy Project.  A lot of the humor surrounding Mindy concerns her body, her own body image, and her undying love of food. Mindy is simultaneously relatable and inspirational to the female demographic. She shares the same physical traits as the majority of female viewers and also possesses personality characteristics that many aspire to have themselves. As Reddy stated, “the strongest forms of audience identification stem from characters, or relationship, that both represent aspects of our own lives and aspects of our lives we want to have (Reddy 7). Mindy is not shy about the imperfections of her body, she is extremely vocal and very confident about her body. Mindy is constantly telling everyone how hot she is and making remarks like “I don’t weight anything. I’m like a cloud.” Mindy is confident and at least presents herself as confident to others even when she may be a little unsure of herself, a trait many people, men and women, would like to possess.

New Girl and The Mindy Project are both single-camera productions, meaning that instead of the traditional “three-headed monster” style, a single-camera with cinematic shots and angles are used to film the series. The single-camera mode has become much more common the last decade or so and allows for some creative uses during this style pf production. One way that The Mindy Project uses this style is through the narration by Mindy in the beginning of episodes. The opening scene may show the outside of a building, perhaps Mindy’s apartment or the OB/GYN office with an overlaying narration provided by Mindy, however, as the scene transitions the audience realizes that Mindy speaking is not a narration but rather her speaking in conversation. This clever way of narration/preparation of the moment is used frequently and has even featured narration provided by Danny.

The Mindy Project has a found a way to display the conversations and interactions of characters without them being in the same room. When two or more characters are engaged in a texting conversation small boxes displaying both the present and non-present character’s messages will appear on the screen so that the audience can simultaneously see the present character’s reaction and understand the context of it. An example of this can be seen in the episode “You Got Sext” from season 2. Nurse Morgan and Dr. Peter Prentice have found Mindy’s phone and taken it upon themselves to reply to Cliff’s message, knowing that Mindy has a crush on him. Hilarity ensues as the conversation between Cliff and Morgan and Peter becomes more sexual and all the while the text boxes appear to inform the audience of what is being said and the reactions of the characters, furthering the humor of the situation.

New Girl and The Mindy Project are very similar romantic-comedy series. Both are shot in the same style of production and seemingly follow the same plot line but FOX placed these two shows together, back-to-back for a reason, and it was a wise choice. Jess and Mindy are just similar enough to make their shows comparable and yet maintain just enough differences to make them unique. While New Girl and The Mindy Project appear to revolve around the main female characters, both navigating their way through single life in their thirties, the real story of both series is the support that Jess and Mindy receive from their alternative families, and the support they provide in return.

Hilmes, Michelle. “Where Everybody Knows Your Name: Cheers and the Meditation of Cultures,”              Wide Angle 12.2 (April 1990): 217.
Newcomb, Horace. "TV: The Most Popular Art." New York: Anchor Press (1974): 51-52.
Reddy, Maya S., "The Rainbow Effect: Exploring the Implications of Queer Representation in Film             and Television on Social Change" (2014). CMC Senior Theses. Paper 953.

Sandall, Jillian. "I'll Be There For You: Friends and the Fantasy of the Alternative Family.": 142-                 148. 

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