With this year’s network television upfronts in the books, plenty of new shows have been introduced, old ones renewed and some canceled (at least they saved “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” right?). Yet with all the upheaval in network scheduling, there are always a few productions that slip through the cracks, and viewers won’t find out whether they’re renewed until later in the year.
One of these shows is Mindy Kaling’s follow-up to “The Mindy Project“: NBC’s “Champions,” starring J.J. Totah and Anders Holm as son Michael and dad Vince, who suddenly meet years after estrangement when Michael’s mom, Priya, asks Vince to take their son in so that he can attend a prestigious school in New York.
Although the pilot feels a little too unbelievable for its handling of the premise, with Priya introducing her son to his estranged father and arranging their co-dependence in fewer than 20 minutes, the show obviously needs to gain its footing on the foundation quickly so that it can excel in later episodes. And excel it does.
Here are five reasons why “Champions” deserves a renewal.
1. Mindy Kaling created it and has a recurring role.
As the creator of the show, Mindy Kaling’s voice is entrenched in every word of the script. “Champions” is witty and topical, led by an eclectic cast of characters and filled with a lot of heart. Anyone who is familiar with Kaling’s work on “The Office” and “The Mindy Project” knows that she is an essential figure in the American TV landscape.
Kaling’s work is a consistent celebration (and occasional critique) of the absurdity of American culture, though she never veers too far away from themes of love and friendship, which gives her work a comforting touch.
Plus, a bonus: Kaling has a recurring role on “Champions” as Michael’s mother, Priya, and for those who miss seeing her on the small screen as she signs onto bigger vehicles like “A Wrinkle in Time” or “Ocean’s 8,” this makes for the perfect antidote.
2. J.J. Totah is an exciting lead.
Even as the youngest actor on the show, J.J. Totah is outstanding and a comedic gem who never misses a beat. Mindy Lahiri was such a wildly fun character, but with “Champions,” Kaling steps back and hands Totah the torch. He sprints away with it, bringing a frenetic energy to Michael that’s so refreshing to see again in Mindy Lahiri’s absence.
The singularity of a character like Michael can’t be ignored. How often do we see a young gay kid as the lead on a network TV show, where their sexuality isn’t up for debate or objected in any way by their loved ones?
Michael’s sexual orientation is an aside — a mere part of him — and it doesn’t drive conflict in any way. One of the paradoxes of varied LGBTQ+ representation in media is that the characters are frequently made to suffer in one form or another. Michael’s existence is completely detached from this line of thinking, and Totah goes the extra mile to portray him as such.
3. It’s similar to “The Mindy Project.”
For fans of Kaling’s “The Mindy Project,” “Champions” will feel similar in tone and cadence, each line expertly crafted for a balance of quality and quantity that doesn’t skimp on either end. Like many other of the fast-paced sitcoms on network television, it’s a show so jam-packed with jokes that you could probably count five punchlines in the span of a minute.
As the show is largely set in the gym, Champions, that Vince and his brother Matthew own, there is a workplace dynamic to the comedy that feels right in line with Dr. Lahiri’s medical practice or the cubicles of Dunder Mifflin.
With the addition of the familial storyline, the office-feel makes for a unique comedy that meditates on what it takes to achieve a work-life balance. Kaling flips the switch by asking this same question of her male protagonists, who suddenly have to care for a young teenager and maintain their local business.
In other news, Mindy Kaling's Champions is absolutely amazing and everyone should watch it. And I need more episodes + more people in my life to discuss it with.
— Marzia Riaz (@MarziaRiaz) June 20, 2018
4. It’s topical without getting too heavy.
The fast pace joke-style that Mindy Kaling is associated with has another feature that makes “Champions” so important and timely: She addresses cultural tension succinctly and with punch, enough for each crack to resonate for the remainder of the episode.
These brief quips about the state of American racism and misogyny are an antidote to everyday microaggressions themselves, like a tiny needle pricking your finger but leaving a scar.
What’s more is that each joke highlights the privilege and ignorance of certain subgroups, such as when one character remarks that the Champions gym is “like a congressional panel for women’s health”; that is to say, all-male.
Kaling and her writers have mastered a writing style that counterbalances the heavy stuff with cheeky references to pop culture, without making either feel forced or inappropriate. It’s the perfect combination for a sitcom set in the present.
5. It has an amazing supporting cast.
Kaling has a knack for creating characters who are wild, fun and out-of-the-box, while still leaving room for a lot of heart and growth. “Champions” is certainly no exception; each character is endearingly mismatched, though depending on the pairing, this could mean complete compatibility or total friction.
The fun lies in each character being so different from the next, like Matthew as the airhead jock who immediately becomes Michael’s biggest cheerleader: “I had a nephew with an Indian woman,” he tells his coworkers excitedly.
“The Mindy Project” fans will be delighted to see familiar faces like Anders Holm and Fortune Feimster, and with new players such as Andy Favreau, Mouzam Makkar and Yassir Lester, every character is in good hands.
— Smelsea (@ShellSea_Lynn) June 22, 2018
“Champions” brings the charm and snarky humor that is Mindy Kaling’s signature touch. The show’s first season is now available on Netflix for quick viewing, so even if it doesn’t make it past its freshman year, you can still watch its excellent first season on there.