Arts

Mindy Kaling’s 'Champions' has strong leads, weak surrounding elements

CHAMPIONS -- Pilot -- Pictured: J.J. Totah as Michael -- (Photo by: Jordin Althaus/NBC) Image By: NBC and NBC

If there’s one celebrity who I could become best friends with, it would be Mindy Kaling. “The Mindy Project” was one of my favorite rom-coms, and when it ended, I was horrified I would no longer have a weekly hangout with Mindy — so I mostly just stalked her Instagram. Luckily, she wasn’t gone for too long, as she premiered her new show “Champions” earlier this month on NBC. Though it’s not the greatest, any Mindy is better than no Mindy.

The show follows Vince (Anders Holm), your typical non-committal bachelor who’s ready to up and sell his family’s gym and move away when his high school sweetheart Priya (Kaling) shows up with their son, Michael (J.J. Totah). Michael needs a place to stay in New York for his audition at a performing arts academy. In an interesting twist of a trope, Vince knew about his son but stayed out of his life because both he and Priya knew he’d be a terrible dad.

The show really had a lot of potential to be great. Anders Holm (a UW-Madison alum who returned to campus this month) has been beyond funny in both “Workaholics” and “The Mindy Project,” so I went into it with pretty high expectations. He and Mindy are both great here — as I assumed they’d be, since their chemistry on “The Mindy Project” was some of the best — but all the pieces surrounding those two seem to fall flat.

The writing, timing and editing is objectively pretty bad, though I do tend to cut shows some slack for their pilot. If you look back at your favorite series, oftentimes their pilots are actually pretty rough, as it’s hard to nail the tone and characters right off the bat. I think this show struggles really hard to differentiate itself from “The Mindy Project” since it has a lot of overlap — such as Mindy Kaling’s very distinct humor and tone.

One thing that has potential to be the show’s guiding light is J.J. Totah as Michael. I first saw Totah in one of my favorite films, “Other People,” where he made my entire stomach hurt from laughing so hard.

His character on “Champions” is very similar: He’s basically a stereotypical representation of a young and effeminate gay boy, which I could write an entire paper on to unpack but will leave that for another time. Harmful stereotypes aside, he’s a really charming actor, a talented singer and the one thing that could save the show.

I’m still on the fence of whether or not that’s a good thing.

I went into the “Champions” pilot with pretty high expectations due to my love for “The Mindy Project,” so I know I was only setting myself up for disappointment. I have a love-hate relationship with NBC comedies, so I should have pumped the brakes after seeing the network picked up the show.

I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised like I was with “The Good Place” earlier this year, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. I’ll give the show another chance, but it looks like I might have to return to Instagram for my weekly Mindy Kaling fix.


You can watch new episodes of "Champions" every Thursday at 8:30 p.m. on NBC.

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