I Feel Bad: Season 1/ Episode 1 “I Don’t Want to Turn into My Mother” [Series Premiere] – Recap/ Review (with Spoilers)

Title card for NBC's I Feel Bad.
30.26% (3)

I Feel Bad feels like a mashup between a South Asian family comedy, that isn’t too culturally specific, and a rejected comedy about video game nerds.


Network
NBC
Creator Aseem Batra
Director(s) Julie Anne Robinson
Writer(s) Aseem Batra
Air Date 9/19/2018
Genre(s) Comedy
The Hook A Show Featuring a South Asian Lead.
Noted Actors
Emet Sarayu Blue
Maya Madhur Jaffrey
Lily Lily Rose Silver
Norman Zach Cherry
Hux Christopher Avila
Chewey James Buckley
Griff Johnny Pemberton

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The Introduction

Emet is a married mother of three who simply wants to be better a mother than her own, Maya, was to her. This includes supporting her daughter Lily and not feeling guilty about being a working mom. For though her job is filled with a lot of 20 something men who lack proper social etiquette, they’re cool. The way it seems, they are like a bunch of annoying, but sometimes sweet, little brothers.

There is Norman who is a big guy, but he is sweet – when the other guys don’t exert their influence on him. Hux is this sort of stoner type, yet has not mentioned smoking weed. Following him is Chewey who is kind of a hipster and then Griff. The best way to describe Griff is the kid who seems like he blames the world for why he can’t get a date when it is really because he is off-putting and his attitude.

Oh, and Emet’s job? She is a head artist at a video game company. As for her husband David? Well, we don’t learn anything about David in the pilot. Outside of him being a better partner and father than most dads in comedies. As for Maya and her husband? Maya just seems old school, as you expect her to be, and her husband the type who has no desire to fight with her because he’d likely lose.

Highlights

Emet is Likable

Emet smiling
Sarayu Blue as Emet.

Blue is one of those actors who you’ve known you’ve seen before. For me, it is going back to 2009 in Jada Pinkett-Smith’s Hawthorne to this year’s Blockers. And while she hasn’t necessarily been that co-star or supporting actor who shined to the point of wanting to follow her career or coming off like a standout, she was always a welcome appearance. Now, as a lead, again, a welcome appearance but not necessarily like something you feel is a long time coming.

Yet, that is kind of why Emet is likable. This show doesn’t present this as some long overdue role, despite there being little to no South Asian leads, especially in terms of women in family comedies. And with that, there isn’t the same hype for Blue to face and it gives you a comedy which allows her to seem normal and human. Rather than someone who tweaking off caffeine and losing their mind seemingly because their brain is overdosing on sugar.

Take how Emet handles dealing with being similar to her mom and her daughter Lily being part of a provocative dance team. While there is comedy in both situations, it is only taken to that level a few times where you’re like – this moment clearly is written for comedic purposes. Be it her showing the kids how they dance or when her shoe flies and she hits that kid in the stomach.

Otherwise, there seems to be more of a pursuit to be relatable than funny which you have to enjoy.

On The Fence

It Doesn’t Really Take Advantage of the One Thing Which Makes It Unique

One of the unfortunate balancing acts shows featuring people of color have to do is tap into a non-white American culture yet present how much that culture is universal. So as much as you can see Maya’s ways could be seen as that of a traditional South Asian woman, it also represents women from a time who didn’t necessarily feel trapped being stay at home mothers. And in balancing Maya, Emet, and even Emet’s dad, you come to this weird point.

On one hand, there is the need to recognize not all South Asian people are the same. Also, we don’t know how many generations Emet’s family have been in America and if the members we see aren’t fully Americanized. Alongside that thought, there is the need to question, when it comes to a show presenting a culture, what exactly are people like me expecting? Something overtly, in your face?

Emet dealing with a comment from a member of her team.
Emet: Uh…

Leading to the other side of things, with this show being so middle of the road, not trying to stir the pot that much, it feels like it needs to “other” itself, for a lack of a better term, more. For seeming like a show written for white people but starring those with brown faces, with a few cultural nods, doesn’t do much for this program.

Surrounding Emet Are So Many Generic Characters

Especially when you take note of the characters Emet shares the screen with. Take Emet’s co-workers. It would be one thing if these guys were funny or maybe used their knowledge and love of games to compare what Emet is going through with some JRPG or whatever. However, they aren’t made into some kind of specialized nerds. They are just generic nerd archetypes. Like the rejected personalities came up with when Big Bang Theory was being developed.

I’d even say Emet’s husband kind of falls into that as well, being generic that is. While he may not be some dumb guy, who seems purely to exist for comical reasons, he doesn’t come off interesting either. Heck, Emet’s dad who, again, does have that old-school vibe like Maya, and surely fits a lot of people’s papa, doesn’t have any kind of noteworthy oomph. Making it where the show largely feels like its entire cast lacks the type of personalities and charisma to give people something to talk about besides more leading South Asian characters than many might be used to.

First Impression: Mixed (Stick Around)

Emet's reaction to her daughter's dancing.

One of the things you have to give NBC as a network is they like thinking out of the box. While other networks take maybe one or two risks a season, then largely make what seemingly will be guaranteed hits, NBC is a bit more of a risk taker – in my mind. The problem with I Feel Bad though is you don’t see much of a risk here. It feels very safe, no matter what angle you look at it from. Emet is a middle of the road character who doesn’t inspire hate, nor doesn’t make Blue appear like she finally got her big break. More so, the vibe is we’re already a few episodes, if not a season, in and whatever audience this show is gonna get, it already has.

Which is what drives the mixed label for it feels like the show just assumes familiarity will inspire loyalty. You’ve met the sassy old-school mom, a dad who has one or two lines but usually stays out of the way, and have grown used to diversity being in faces and subtle cultural references but nothing too “other.” But perhaps the worse thing about this show is as much as Emet’s workplace is supposed to be a commentary on the tech industry, video games, in particular, it also gives off the vibe another show NBC was into, but didn’t test as well, was mashed up with this one. Giving us some lukewarm nerd comedy mixed with a family show. One I can’t strongly imagine lasting more than one, maybe two, seasons.

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About Amari Sali 3353 Articles
New Jersey native Amari Sali takes the approach of more so being a media advisor than a critic to sort of fill in the gap left between casual fans of media and those who review productions for a living. Thus being open about bias while still giving enough insight, often with spoilers, to present whether something is worth seeing, buying, renting, streaming, or checking out at all.

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