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Pilot Review: I FEEL BAD

By on September 19, 2018

I FEEL BAD — Pictured: “I Feel Bad” Key Art — (Photo by: NBCUniversal)

I feel bad for saying this, but having watched three episodes in advance of its Sept. 19 preview, I’m just not feeling the love for NBC’s new comedy series I Feel Bad.

Despite having Amy Poehler’s name attached as an executive producer, the show, about a working mom who struggles with pretty much the same issues as most women in her situation — kids, career, husband, keeping the house together, putting healthy food on the table — seems to have been put together by aliens with only a passing knowledge of how they imagine working women with families think and behave. 

Emet (Sarayu Blue), we are told, is the perfect mom, boss, wife and friend. Secretly though, she feels she is not as perfect as she should be, and the hook for each episode involves Emet feeling bad about an area of her life where she feels she is failing, only to later realize she probably is, but that’s ok. Because, as the show patronizes us, nobody can have it all and still do it perfectly.

Tell us something we don’t know, show.

One large issue with “I Feel Bad” concerns how nothing about Emet’s life feels very relatable to the very audience it’s presumably aimed at. From her ‘geeky’ work friends at the improbable games development studio where she spends her time obsessing over her life, to the list of things she feels bad about (Am I doable? Really? In 2018?), Emet’s obsessions seem disconnected from reality at best, and unpleasantly narcissistic at their worst.  

For example, when Emet lies to her study-challenged son by convincing him he earned a spot on the honor roll, she only worries about getting caught because it will mean she’ll lose access to the fast-track car lane at the school. When she feels overwhelmed by her parents during a week long stay and slips away nightly to spend time in her neighbor’s empty house, eating their food, wearing their clothes and bathing in their bath, she is only contrite when found out by her husband, and then only because she realizes the discovery will put an end to her secret evening sojourns.

Ditto Emet’s work colleagues who are presented as a likeable collection of nerdy geek stereotypes, but who are at times discordantly misogynistic and Gamer-gatey. (Is this deliberate? But we’re supposed to actually like these lovable nerds, right?) At one point in the pilot episode the guys tell Emet the character she’s sketched for an upcoming games project is “unbangable” only later to cheerfully reassure her the character will “be really hot when she gets older.” 

Despite the comedic aspect of I feel Bad (I get it! It’s a half hour comedy. We’re not supposed to take it all that seriously!), there is an expectation for all the moms out there to chuckle wryly and feel a sense of kinship towards a character who isn’t afraid to admit what we’re all secretly thinking. It also wants us to give ourselves a great big pat on the back when it reaffirms the notion that it’s ok not to be perfect. The problem here is the show doesn’t actually understand what working moms are thinking, focused so determinedly as it is in presenting a character who thinks only of herself. 

Opening credits which feature a swirling list of things Emet feels bad about “I cannot stop laughing at other people. I hate other people’s children, I like vodka, I’m way too competitive” seem mean, and only add to the sense of distance that’s already there.

Real women “juggling it all” aren’t aspiring to be perfect. More often than not they’re soldiers in trenches, heads down, trying not to catch a bullet, while attempting to keep everyone together and whole. They just want their families to be ok. In I Feel Bad Emet just wants Emet to be ok. And for the world to see she’s ok. Everything else is gravy. A shame, because there is the germ of what could be a great show here, coupled with some wonderful comedic moments from Brian George as Sonny, and Madhur Jaffrey as Maya, Emet’s parents who are at hand to lift the show into genuinely funny territory whenever they are on screen together. However Emet is simply too narcissistic to love, and the show is too out of step with reality to truly resonate with real working moms.

I Feel Bad opens with a special preview on Wednesday, Sept. 19 (10-10:30 p.m. ET), followed by an official premiere on Thursday, Oct. 4 (9:30 p.m. E.T.) on NBC.

Cast: Sarayu Blue, Paul Adelstein, Madhur Jaffrey, Brian George, James Buckley, Johnny Pemberton, Zach Cherry, Lily Rose Silver, Rahm Braslaw.

Executive Producers: Aseem Batra. Julie Anne Robinson, Amy Poehler, Dave Becky, Josh Maurer.

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