Revisiting Mindy Kaling’s ‘Champions’

Have you seen Mindy Kaling’s nationwide open casting call for her Netflix show? Yes, the actress will be casting real people in her new coming-of-age comedy and we’re all excited about it! I’m not here to go over all that because while we wait for yet another show from Mindy, I want to talk about a sitcom she co-created last year called  ‘Champions,’ just right after the successful Mindy Project everybody gushed about.

Probably late to the party, Netflix only added Champions a couple of months ago. seeing a lot about the comedian’s success in the mainstream industry, I ended up binge-watching the show. I know, what a shame for only digging through Kaling’s work now but man, was this a good start. Since the whole rise of Asian-driven films and actors in Hollywood last year I can’t believe I’ve been missing out here. She’s incredible just like every headline I’ve seen say.

Champions follow the journey of non-committal bachelor Vince (Anders Holm) as he reconnects with his high school girlfriend Priya (Mindy Kaling) alongside the arrival of their fifteen-year-old son Michael (J.J. Totah) for the first time. The series primarily revolved around the father and son storyline but despite all the whiteness and masculinity in its main characters, Kaling, actress, and co-creator didn’t lose the representation needed for womxn, people of color and diversity in the plots with her popping appearances and the rest of its supporting actors.

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There are many things I liked about the show. To name one, well, their kid Michael (which J.J Totah honestly slayed!) is a theater geek pursuing performing arts school in New York and he’s gay AF! My spirit animal and everything I dreamed of being. The best part? Mindy acting as his South Asian mom fully supporting his endeavors and that in itself debunks your typical  Asian mother tropes being strict and forces their kids to stick in the STEM field. Not that it’s not great but you all get what I mean. We’re actually multitudes of things. Times are changing and it is very heartwarming and refreshing to see these roles and stories.

Although I didn’t come from a mixed race family, the cast remains relatable and their storylines mirror and bridges the gaps of experiences between Asian and Western family relationships, culture and dynamics. Perhaps that’s what stood out about it because while it’s full of gags and loudness, Champions right on point injected and discussed the necessary plots fronting racism, stereotyping, toxic masculinity, sexism, homophobia and more when surrounded by individuals of different roots and backgrounds. Pointing out and correcting its flaws.

Specifically for Vince, the most white dad, bachelor, gym rat we most likely see in every Western movie or TV. The negative aspects of his character isn’t a surprise to get criticized by the audience and quite frankly I wasn’t shocked they made him a wee bit problematic since it was relevant to portray what generally happens in real life and he serves as the lesson.

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Many parts were cringe-inducing and would make your eye roll, for example, its second episode “I Think I’m Gonna Tolerate it Here” where Vince hides his son from his employees, even made a deal with Britney, another WOC he’s dating to keep shut about the Michael situation. See if you’re a minority within a minority and that’s how a pre-dominant person treats you let alone family and your father, this gives a very unpleasant impression.

During “Vincemas” episode where Vince convinced his son to make friends at school but ends up with borderline racist comments when he figured Michael’s squad was a group of South Asian kids even saying, “You might need more diversity in your circle,” which he meant “You need to hang out with my people, white people,” as if his mixed son and background isn’t diverse enough. His purposely forcing Western traditions too rudely brings up cultural insensitivity. 

Of course, apart from these call outs, there’s also a ton of hilarious scenes, the classic Kaling vibes, and there are beautiful, heart-touching moments that showed genuine human emotion, connection and compassion. Like when Vince took Michael to his audition for his performing arts school, all the times Andy was a hands-on uncle prepping food, making everyone feel loved and comfortable, Priya sacrificing her wants and wholeheartedly backs up her son’s dreams all revealing raw family relationships, the vulnerability of each which provides another level of depth to the “white” father and uncle with the “brown” mother arc. That while the characters exude more of a masculine exterior, there lies the beauty and kindness of femininity within.

That time when they all went together as a family to Michael’s show and that night they arranged a dinner to meet their son’s crush, these moments run deeper. Scenes that births the wanting of being as just one. Its ordinary, mundane moments, are what makes Champions special. There was something special seeing an interracial ex-couple raise an Asian American kid. How different yet similar we all are in the grand scheme of things. 

I could go on with the show’s highs and lows but overall, the heart and learning were there. It’s an easy watch, light-hearted series and its flawed characters and plots feel real and important. Champions teach us to focus more on what brings us together rather what divides us. Gives patience, empathy, and understanding not only for our dysfunctional families but also for those outside our homes, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. There’s nothing very groundbreaking to it but they are of worth especially at this age for interracial couples, mixed kids, Asian Americans.

Without a doubt, women in film have had a rough journey getting into mainstream media so having Mindy Kaling to co-create, produce and act on her show remains a massive win. You can never go wrong with anything she works on. Go catch up on Champions at Netflix now!

Champions - Season Pilot
CHAMPIONS — Pilot — Pictured: (l-r) Andy Farreau as Matthew, J.J. Totah as Michael, Anders Holm as Vince — (Photo by: Jordin Althaus/NBC)

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