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On the surface, Fox boasts a strong Tuesday night lineup of female-driven comedy, with New Girl and The Mindy Project airing consecutively.
With New Girl in its fourth season and Mindy its third, the shows have established themselves critically and commercially. After what some would call lackluster stretches, both shows have reasserted their staying power this year with compelling storylines and fantastic writing. But are these shows taking full advantage of their talented leading ladies?
For New Girl, Zooey Deschanel’s Jess has always been outnumbered, fighting for her voice to be heard within the male-dominated household. In the show’s early stages, much attention was paid to Jess’ “adorkability,” her whimsical jaunts through the chaos and conflicts of adult urban life. Traces of this feature still pop up week in and week out, but now that the girl is not so new, the show has turned to other tropes.
Perhaps Jess and Deschanel (like the show itself, in my opinion) are still suffering the effects of an uneven third season and the doomed storyline of Nick and Jess. Some shows thrive on the craziness brought about by pairing off the main characters. For New Girl, though, ending the Nick-Jess “Will they? Won’t they?” mystery soon led only to limited, repetitive weekly entries. Credit is due to the show’s writers for bouncing back after ending their relationship. They have recaptured the energetic conversational style that made the show stand out in its early days. To do so, however, they have turned more and more to the shenanigans of the men of the apartment.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, as Nick, Schmidt, Winston, and Coach provide endless opportunities for comedic interaction. Nevertheless, each episode makes me wonder what exactly Jess’ role is at this point. Even in this week’s episode, Jess makes an entrance to start the show, only to have her arrival serve as a spark for the strange verbal wanderings of the boys. Again, this has worked for the show for the most part. Schmidt especially continues to thrive — recalling a wild night with Cece: “We did all the things R. Kelly raps about.”
New Girl is in a better place artistically than perhaps ever before. But Jess often feels like a side story; even her relationship with Ryan seems uncared for and supplementary. Zooey Deschanel may still be the leading name, but once the cameras roll, she takes a backseat.
The Mindy Project shares some similarities with its Tuesday neighbor, but Mindy Kaling still leaves her mark. Even if a given episode doesn’t fully utilize Kaling’s versatile comedic abilities, chances are she’s had a hand in other characters’ standout moments.
That being said, there are times when the male supporting players take center stage. Chris Messina’s Danny of course tends to share the screen with Mindy, but Ike Barinholtz and Adam Pally have seen their roles — as Morgan and Peter, respectively — increase at times. Like with Jess’ gang, the comedy does not suffer when the boys take the lead. Peter has developed into a lovable character, and Morgan’s oddity has always been one of the show’s best features. Much of the humor with Danny’s character comes from his fragile masculinity. At times, Mindy steps in with a memorable line or two before fading for sizable portions of episodes. Kaling, one imagines, wants to utilize every character’s potential, and one cannot really object to her shying away from making the show all about her onscreen self.
Looking forward, Mindy seems to be in better shape than New Girl in terms of maintaining its status as a notable female-driven comedy. With Peter off to Texas and Mindy expecting, coming episodes promise hilarity surrounding the woman who will probably be the sassiest pregnant person of all time.
Kaling, perhaps unsurprisingly, manages to keep her alter ego relevant even in the moments when the guys take over. Unlike Jess, who often feels forgotten when the male roommates get up to no good, Mindy tends to be right there — trading weirdness with Morgan or spilling out neuroses as she and Danny navigate living with and loving one another.
So what now?
Well, I suppose this does not signal a time of crisis for the network or these shows. Both have turned in consistently entertaining seasons up to this point. New Girl, however, seems to be flirting with becoming a show of the boys for the boys, leaving its versatile, lovable dork-lady in the dust. Maybe Zooey needs to learn from Kaling and pick up the pen herself. Regardless, it is abundantly clear that Fox has two strong and hilarious actresses leading its Tuesday nights, and it’s not like the shows are making the male characters out to be anything close to angels. But let the leading ladies have their fun. They’ve been the reason for their shows’ success, so it’s important for them to maintain a strong presence in their shows’ future.