About ten minutes into Mindy Kaling’s “hilarious” comedy Late Night, after about the twelfth pudding-soft joke, I began to have flashbacks. Ah, I thought, so this is why I stopped watching network sitcoms. Cute contrivances, gags beaten to death, weak one-liners, thin characters. I laugh more in any five minutes of Catastrophe or Veep than I did in this entire movie.
Kaling spent several years making one of those network sitcoms I’m not sure anybody watched, The Mindy Project, and has brought that housebroken, room-temperature, network-TV spirit to her script for Late Night. Am I meant to grade this movie on a curve because it’s made by women of color (the director is Nisha Ganatra) and it contains lots of you-go-girl moments? I decline to do so. I don’t think being a woman of color constitutes such a handicap that we should cheer anyone so hobbled who manages to crawl across the finish line. Hollywood, it’s your job to wow us, not our job as viewers to “be supportive.” We’re your customers not your parents.
I like Kaling, though. She exudes sweetness. She seems really nice. It’s easy to root for her on the screen. She plays a ludicrously unqualified woman of color working in a chemical plant who breaks into comedy writing as the diversity hire on a talk show hosted by a British shrew (Emma Thompson). This isn’t a particularly grabby premise.