But when I did think of the past year, I was struck by one bit of pop culture, which was perhaps more evident to me all of a sudden because I was thinking of it in the sense of a decade. In the year 2000 (do you know how impossible it is to type those words down without having Conan O'Brien images stuck in my brain?), there was quite literally no appreciable South Asian presence on television. Now, consider the past year, and let's just highlight the most notables:
- Mindy Kaling: Mindy Kaling has been around for a while, to be certain. To tell the truth, I don't really even watch The Office anymore. It has grown a bit tired, and the whole Jim-Pam behemoth has drowned out the more entertaining aspects of the show. However, Kaling continues to find ways to be hilarious, frequenting the late show circuit this past year, tweeting cleverly, and most notably, creating a series of webisodes that culminated in a music video entitled Subtle Sexuality. Watch it here and thank me later.
- Aziz Ansari: I have to admit something. Sometimes, I don't find Aziz Ansari all that funny. He was at his prime when he was making fun of Kanye West, but now he is buddies with him. I watched the first few episodes of Season 1 of Parks & Recreations last year, and didn't really get into it. I'm told the show and Ansari took it to another level in Season 2. Regardless, Ansari has been ubiquitous this past year- he played against desi stereotype, playing a slacka$$ med student on Scrubs, created an alternate obnoxious persona for a role in Funny People, and is often said to be the funniest thing in Parks & Recreation. The only comedian who had a bigger year than him was Zach Galifianakis (sigh). His twitter has moments of brilliance when he channels P. Diddy or Soulja Boy, or when he has imagined tweet-versations with the likes of Lauren Conrad.
- Danny Pudi: If I was really writing a proper list, I would have put Pudi before Kaling and Ansari. Community is, to me, the funniest show of 2009, and it became inspired when the show acknowledged that it was an ensemble and let Danny Pudi and Don Glover run wild. Pudi's character is socially awkward, quotes pop cultural institutions like The Breakfast Club and Over The Top, and does a nifty Batman impersonation.
- Naveen Andrews: yeah, yeah, so he plays an Iraqi (I'm never going to get over that one, show), and the show has been on for years now, but Andrews can count himself with Michael Emerson and Terry O'Quinn as the only actors on the show who have been consistently watchable on Lost from the moment that they hit the screen. I acknowledge that the show is a morass of confusing plot twists and unanswered questions, and all of that can be both frustrating and entertaining. But Andrews' bada$$, miserable Sayid is my favorite thing about the show, and when Abrams and company blow it and kill the character off, I'm going to have to stop watching.
- Rekha Sharma: only the nerds know about her, but for those of us who watched Battlestar Galactica, it is worth noting that one of the Final Five Cylons was a desi, dudes! Not just that, but her character, Tory, was a little troublemaker, duping the President, seducing Baltar, killing off Callie, eagerly abandoning the humans. She was a strong, complex character, and fans of the show anticipated her comeuppance, which wound up being a major plot point on the show.
What I like, in considering the above, is that I don't even watch Kaling and Ansari's shows. And that there are plenty of other desi actors I have not included here- Maulik Pancholy in 30 Rock (his Jonathan has had some truly inspired exchanges with boss Jack Donaghy, but he has been sorely absent from most episodes this season), Sendhil Ramamurthy in Heroes (sorry, but I refuse to watch that show), Kunal Nayyar in Big Bang Theory. The list undoubtedly goes on. It's pretty impressive, when you consider that in 2000 even ER had not managed to have one Indian doctor on the show, which, let me tell you, after having spent over two years in medical school, is absolutely ludicrous (if you can find me a hospital in Chicago, Seattle, or Princeton with no Indian residents or attendings, I will gladly supply you half of my tuition). So I guess it's been a good decade for the desi's, and when I think about it, this decade's treated me alright too.