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'The Mindy Project' review: Looking for love

Mindy Kaling, right, a skilled OB/GYN meets her

Mindy Kaling, right, a skilled OB/GYN meets her boyfriend Bill Hader in the new comedy "The Mindy Project" premiering Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012 on FOX. Credit: FOX

THE SHOW "The Mindy Project"

WHEN|WHERE Tonight at 9:30 on Fox/5

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The "project" of the title refers to the life project of one Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling), an OB/GYN who has a busy professional life but a lousy personal one. She's (very) unlucky in love, and she wants to change that, but there's groundwork to do first.

A romantic at heart, she can recite dialogue from most Nora Ephron movies but has to get over the notion that life's a movie with a happy ending. She gets harsh reality checks at work from Danny Castellano (East Northport's Chris Messina), who teases her like a big brother, and gets passes from "bad boy" Jeremy Reed (Ed Weeks), who makes passes at every woman, so those are hardly special.

Does true love exist? She goes on a blind date (with Ed Helms, Kaling's former castmate from "The Office" who's guesting tonight) to find out, but work intrudes once again. Sigh.

MY SAY When Harry met Sally way back in 1989 (in the movie of the same name), the question (and plot) was whether they could "just stay friends" or fall in love. And of course everyone knows how the movie turns out: They get married, fade to credits. But life's not a movie, and love's complicated. That's the gray area "The Mindy Project" wants to explore, and by the way an area that's been picked over about 2.3 million times before on TV and the big screen. What's different here is Kaling, a talent who can act and can write a certain type of comic dialogue that's knowing, witty, sharp, funny and biting. She's basically an Emmy waiting to happen (she's been nominated for six but has yet to win an individual award).

But "The Mindy Project" is the lesser sum of all those parts, or at least the pilot is. Urgently -- or too obviously -- channeling Meg Ryan, Mindy Lahiri (and Mindy Kaling) tries too hard to be cute, good-hearted, sarcastic and put-upon. It's often more clever than actually funny.

BOTTOM LINE Kaling's good (and always is), but the pilot is just not all that funny. Of the two Fox newcomers tonight, "Ben and Kate" makes the better first impression.


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