Review Mindy Kalings Champions Is Off to a Winning Start
Mindy Kaling's first TV show after 'The Mindy Project' is 'Champions,' a single-camera comedy she created with Charlie Grandy, a writer and producer for 'Mindy.' Beginning on Thursday on NBC, 'Champions' has the same constant ticker of references and perky zingers, as well as similar personnel: Anders Holm and Fortune Feimster are both playing versions of their 'Mindy' characters.
The main difference is that rather than centering on a pop-culture-obsessed, melodramatic 30-something doctor (Mindy), it's centered on a pop-culture-obsessed, melodramatic 15-year-old gay kid (Michael). And it works.
Ms. Kaling appears in the first two episodes of the show (three were made available to critics) as Priya, a single mom from Ohio. She has raised this theater-crazed teenager (J. J. Totah), who wants to go to a performing arts high school in New York. Luckily, that's where his father, Vince (Mr. Holm), lives and runs a Brooklyn gym. Unluckily, they've never met, nor does Michael know anything about his dad. This doesn't stop Priya from dropping off her son, though, and this being a sitcom, Vince and his roommate and brother, Matthew (Andy Favreau), turn out to be decent, mostly upstanding and generally O.K. with this arrangement.
As in many 'the day everything changed' comedies, the first episode of 'Champions' exhibits symptoms of pilot-itis: It's heavy on exposition and feels a bit forced, with a too-pat ending. But that's a treatable disease, and it clears up completely by Episode 2, when the supporting characters who work at the gym settle into natural rhythms, and the show establishes what level of corniness it's aiming for in the father-son plotlines. The answer is only the slightest bit, and in a sweet and compelling way.
That tiny sweet streak is essential. Vince has to be a loving dude because Michael is, as he would probably describe himself, quite 'extra.' When Vince balks at one aspect of Priya's parenting, Michael snaps: 'My mother is an angel! You robbed her of her youth and left her for dead, like Fantine in 'Les Miz,' so I had to be raised by the ghoul she had become!' In the second episode, Michael sizes up a basketball arcade game: 'What is that' It looks homophobic.' In the third, Dana (Ginger Gonzaga), one of the gym employees, insists that her romantic relationship is going fine. Michael scoffs: 'Are you a freshman at Berkeley' Because you protest too much.'....
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