The Girls Project: Mindy vs Lena

The Mindy Project on E4Last night, E4 debuted new comedy The Mindy Project. The show is already a hit Stateside and is the brainchild of acclaimed writer and producer Mindy Kaling. Her success comes at a time when comedies with female leads are well and truly en vogue. So let’s have a look at how Mindy stacks up next to the other female writer/producer currently enjoying success, Lena Dunham of Girls fame.

First come the obvious similarities. Both creators have cast themselves as leads in their respective comedies. In doing so, they are challenging the notion that lead women should look a certain way, i.e. slim, beautiful (not that Lena and Mindy aren’t…), MAINSTREAM…Lena has won the approval of her female peers by frequently getting her kit off and putting her chub on display. We’re yet to see if Mindy follows suit (!) but she certainly doesn’t subscribe to the skinny/white/blonde hair/blue-eyed stereotype. In fact, she is curvacious – and of Indian descent. Both girls are also acclaimed writers. Lena wrote and directed the award-winning indie flick Tiny Furniture, whilst Mindy was the only woman in a team of nine writers for The Office USA.

Their lead characters also share similarities. Hannah Horvath, arguably the lead character in Girls, is a very self-absorbed young woman who is trying to carve a career in writing and find luck in her love-life. The Mindy Project follows gynaecologist Kelly Kapoor who, although much older and sorted in her career, is equally self-absorbed and unlucky in love.

As much as the girls share common ground, their styles are strikingly different. Girls is by no means a mainstream comedy. The feel is very indie and every episode feels more like a short film. The Mindy Project is, by contrast, almost like New Girl in that it involves a quirky, clumsy female negotiating her way through self-doubt and a troubled love-life. It’s a tried and tested formula but still works. Girls was widely criticised for having an all-white cast in Series One – something Lena has now tried, at pains, to correct by pointedly writing in ethnic characters like the Indian doctor last episode and Hannah’s African-American fling at the beginning of the second series. Meanwhile, The Mindy Project smashes diversity in the face with an Indian actress in the lead role. This gives Mindy the luxury of being able to be more edgy with some of the comedy. The first episode, for example, included jokes about burkhas and immigrants!

Ultimately, both writers have created comedies that shatter stereotypes and take risks. These risks have paid off in ratings and, whether you are a fan of the shows or not, these successes are important for the portrayal of women in television in general.