Mindy Kaling's new NBC comedy Champions has been praised for its inclusiveness, being that it's centered on a half-Indian gay teenager—a character that you don't see all too often on television—but what makes the show truly groundbreaking doesn't just stop there.
E! News sat down with Kaling and her young leading man, J.J. Totah, for a chat about the sitcom, and she admitted she believes it's the way in which the show doesn't make lead character Michael's sexuality the crux of his narrative that makes the show stand out.
"It's also nice because this is a young gay man who the show is not about his struggles with being gay," she said. "It's something that is a foregone conclusion. We're sick of necessarily watching the brutalization, and those stories needed to be told, but it's like we're kind of past it or we'd like to just see that it's part of his personality, but he has a whole other set of issues that are entertaining and great."
Totah, a relative newcomer, agreed with his boss and co-star. (Kaling guest stars throughout season one as Michael's single mom, Priya.) "Which is what makes it even more groundbreaking because the shows we have seen with gay characters in it, it was about them being gay or it was about them having to deal with it, and we deal with Michael being gay in 45 seconds of the pilot," he added. "And then we have a show to do."
The series, which tells the story of Michael moving in with his father Vince (Anders Holm), a washed-up high school athlete who now runs his family gym, and uncle Matthew (Andy Favreau), only moments after meeting them, in order to follow his dreams and attend a prestigious performing arts school in the Big Apple, leaving his mom behind in Cleveland. And among a cast of comedy all-stars that also includes Fortune Feimster and Yassir Lester, Totah more than holds his own with a self-assuredness that belies his young age.
"I think we discovered that in working with him, but we cast him because he was so funny," Kaling gushed. "And he has timing that was like just incredibly crisp, sophisticated timing for such a young person. It's really hard to find."
"I appreciate that," Totah replied. "Also, it also goes to say, the writing is incredible. You and [co-creator] Charlie [Gandy] and your staff wrote so well. There's so many funny lines and all the characters are so dynamic. I'm so happy that I get to play one that is and has so many dimensions. It's super fun."
For more from the duo, including Kaling's thoughts on how running a first-year show compares to her new role as mother, as well as a hilarious first look at tonight's new episode, be sure to check out the videos above!
Champions airs Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. on NBC.
(E! and NBC are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)