TV Review: ‘Champions,’ From Mindy Kaling

Variety | 3/8/2018 | Sonia Saraiya
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“Champions” is almost great. The sitcom has a remarkably self-assured voice, embodied mostly by 15-year-old lead Michael Patel (J.J. Totah), a gay theater kid already polishing his collection of scathing, obscure bon mots on his immediate family. Totah isn’t really related to “Champions” co-creator Mindy Kaling — in the show, Kaling plays his mom, Priya — but his indignant, comedic cadence so resembles hers that it feels as if a tiny, male Kelly Kapoor is on your screen. (“How dare you?!” he squawks, in the pilot, in a familiar refrain. In “Champions,” after being raised solo by Priya in Cleveland, Michael moves in with his dad Vince (Anders Holm) so he can go to performing arts high school in New York City. But Vince barely knew about his son and had never met him before, so shifting from layabout overgrown manchild to responsible father isn’t the smoothest transition.

Totah steals every scene he’s in, with a facility that nearly makes everything around him work by osmosis. He’s joined, in scene-stealing charm, by his “new” uncle Matthew (Andy Favreau), a well-meaning but entirely clueless gym rat. Michael, who is by Priya’s admission quite spoiled, lords over his newfound father and uncle as a diminutive tyrant; that he is a different sexuality and racial background than both is just fuel for his verbal barbs. When that doesn’t work, Michael isn’t above guilting Vince for letting Priya raise his son without any help for 15 years. Totah’s commitment to his zingers is a fully physical one; he snaps to attention, makes sarcastic eye contact, or spins out of frame with precise, balletic grace.

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Where the show starts to feel underdeveloped is the territory farthest from impetuous young Michael. Vince and Matt run the gym their father left them, and are pretty bad at...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Variety
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