March marks a very busy month for Mindy Kaling.
Not only does she have a prominent role in Disney’s “A Wrinkle In Time,” but her latest sitcom “Champions” premieres on NBC, too.
“Champions” revolves around Vince (Anders Homs), a charismatic gym owner whose life as a bachelor is turned upside down when his high school fling Priya (Mindy Kaling) drops off their half Indian gay teenage son Michael (J.J. Totah) to live with him.
But while Kaling only has a supporting role in the show, she is still heavily involved as its co-creator and writer and her influence and comedic imprint is all over it.
I recently had the opportunity to speak to Kaling’s fellow co-creator Charlie Grandy, and he broke down exactly why it was the perfect time for “Champions” to air.
Talk about the origins of “Champions.”
I’ve been working with Mindy for a long time, on 5 projects, and she said to me, ‘I have this rough idea about a half Indian gay teenager moving from Cleveland to New York to pursue his Broadway dreams. Does that sound interesting to you?’ And immediately I said, ‘Yeah.’ I have to admit I would have said yes whatever, because it was Mindy. But that idea specifically felt very timely and interesting.
Was the timeliness of the character an attraction?
Mindy and I have been working now for a combined total of 40 years. So we were like, ‘Who is a fun character that we haven’t seen on TV?’ For comedy you really want someone with a strong point of view and a really hot take and someone who can tap into everything technologically, and someone who would always be on their phone. This felt like this was a young, fun energy to write for. And wouldn’t be cowed by all the forces in the world that he goes up against. We didn’t reverse engineer it. We didn’t ask, ‘What’s going to be zeitgeisty?’ It was about what’s going to be fun and interesting and compelling to us.
Did you feel a responsibility to explore certain topics?
Not really. When you get into the episodes and you start pitching you realize that there’s stuff in there about white male entitlement and not paying attention to older women, and the character of Michael is the perfect person to explore those topics with and he can help inform others about them. We didn’t set out to be that way, but we just moved into it. Your only responsibility as a comedy is to be funny. We don’t want to be preachy or lecture. But when you stumble across something that is interesting, juicy and topical you want to then represent both sides, both comedically and intelligently. You just want to handle these topics in the right way.
What does Anders Holm bring to the show?
Anders just sets the tone. He is a leader on set. He is always on, but not in an annoying way. He himself is an incredible writer, so her understands structure and jokes, and gets it from that point of view. When we first talked to Anders he was concerned about the details of the character. What he wanted. What was his deal. Rather than it being about how he was funny. Like Anders, I am just all about treating everyone on set well and with respect. This is hard work, and it is all about creating a confidence on set so that the writers and performers are at their best.
Why has the sitcom managed to survive the huge changes to the TV landscape over recent years?
I think it’s just that it is easy to digest. The storytelling in sitcoms has learned a lot from drama over the last 10 years. It’s not just funny, but it is compelling, too. We just want it to feel like a familiar, great place to hang out in. That’s the tone of a network sitcom. You never want television to feel like homework. Sometimes it does, though.
“Champions” premieres on Thursday March 8 at 930/830c on NBC