Mindy Kaling closed the door on The Mindy Project last year, but she is not taking a break from TV. Her new show Champions premieres on March 8. While she's co-creator and showrunner, the show will feature Kaling as a guest star rather than the lead, as it follows her character's 15-year-old son Michael (J.J. Totah) when he goes to live with his dad Vince (Anders Holm) in Brooklyn in order to attend a performing arts school. The catch is that he's never met his dad prior to this big move, and they aren't exactly on the same wavelength. Vince is trying to manage the gym that provides the series with its name in addition to raising Michael. So, is Champions a real gym?
While there is no doubt an endless stream of gyms across the country with the word "champion" somehow integrated into their names, it seems like this is a fictional setting cooked up just for the show. Co-creator Charlie Grandy told TVInsider.com that the decision to have Vince manage a gym rather than some other business or store was a conscious one that works into the story. The gym represents a sense of progress and positive change, he told the outlet. “A gym is where people of all walks go to improve themselves,” Grandy said.
And positive change is exactly what a show like Champions wants to, well, champion. Vince seems to be your typical thirtysomething schlub who doesn't have a lot in his life aside from his friends and this gym, and definitely doesn't have any idea how to raise a 15-year-old who he's never met before, let alone one who's obsessed with theater and doesn't appear at first glance to have much in common with him.
Grandy, who also collaborated with Kaling on The Office and The Mindy Project, said that the plan was always to have the show focus on a gay, theater-loving teenager, with Vince's macho character acting as his foil, but it was important that Michael never became a cliche — they wanted him to be his own fully formed character, not just someone to serve as a catalyst for Vince's personal development. "You have gay writers on staff, and you have to take their lead," Grandy told Playbill. "You look to them for pitches and make sure it's not just a stereotype. You're making him a person with strong emotional storylines, and they're never there to be the butt of the joke or just to pepper jokes in. I feel we've done a good job of giving him really strong wants, both professionally and emotionally, over the course of the season."
The pair are going to have to learn a lot from each other over the course of this first batch of episodes, and who Michael is as a person is going to play into that dynamic. "We have episodes that deal with [Michael's] identity as a gay, half-Indian teenager] specifically and less specifically," he said. "We didn't want it to be a show where every single episode deals with an issue, but we wanted to be open to organically discuss issues."
Grandy said in the same Playbill article that though Champions wants to properly address the relevant issues related to sexuality and race, the show was always, at its core, meant to be about a budding family. "[Kaling] just had this rough outline of an athlete fallen from grace who reconnects with this character, Michael," he said. "From the outset, she had him as this gay half-Indian — loves Broadway, is moving to New York from the Midwest without a lot of money. It was that thing of me wanting to have a family feel to it, because that's my life."
The bond between family both chosen and found is something we can all relate to, even if we're not a gym buff or a theater nerd like the show's protagonists, suggesting that when Champions debuts, it will mean a little something different to everyone.