I really wanted to like “I Feel Bad.” I really did. NBC’s latest sitcom boasts Amy Poehler as a producer. Lead star Sarayu Blue has consistently stolen scenes in TV shows and in film. The concept borrows the playbook of “Bad Moms,” asking why Moms feel bad even as they do their best. Why did it all fall apart? In short, “I Feel Bad” plays it too safe.
Emet (Sarayu Blue) feels bad all the time. She feels bad about working and not giving her kids and family all that they need. Her guilt seeps into her marriage, as she feels bad about having fantasies. Her overbearing parents Maya (Madhur Jaffrey) and Sonny (Brian George) heap even more stress on her as they critique her parenting. Emet knows she can’t have it all. She just wants to feel that she has some of it all under control.
Sarayu Blue makes for a good enough protagonist on paper as Emet. One relates well to the guilt she feels as a working mother. It’s not enough that she cooks, cleans and takes care of the house, all with a full-time job. She also finds herself saddled with the fear of not being enough. It’s this lack of thanks and gratitude that fuels her character. However, there’s almost nothing else that defines her. The second episode finds Emet enjoying the peace and quiet of her neighbor’s empty home. However, we get very little, even here, of knowing what Emet really wants. She constantly feels bad, but loves her family. What does Emet want? So far, it only seems like a place to scream into the void.
Frankly, it’s easy to see why she wants to scream into the void. Every other member of the ensemble ranges from forgettable to horrible. The family members overplay their hands, but are fine for the most part. Paul Adelstein plays nice as Emet’s occasionally frazzled husband, David. However, there’s little for him to do. Madhur Jaffrey and Brian George offer greater sources of conflict as Maya and Sonny, Emet’s parents. The show seems to frame them as a Frank and Marie Barone from “Everybody Loves Raymond” type. However, the writing these talented performers are given is far below that quality.
Things only get worse when we take a look at Emet’s work life. Emet works as a video game designer. She’s surrounded by man-children that all offer their own takes on feminism that range from dumb to offensive. There’s something to be said about a woman heading up an all male team in the male-dominated video game industry. That would actually be an interesting show. However, “I Feel Bad” wants to create cuddly, smarmy versions of nerds that are even less funny than “The Big Bang Theory” cast. The B plots involving work never take off and always seem to end with Emet learning some sort of lesson from these man-children that berate her and draw boobs all day.
The family feels completely paint-by-numbers. In the first episode, Emet worries about turning into her mother and doesn’t want her daughter to dance suggestively. Next, Emet just wants more than 20 minutes of peace. We’ve seen these storylines on almost every other family comedy. Is it that NBC wants to be beholden to the stalest of TV tropes to launch their new comedy? Or maybe creator Aseem Batra does not have much new to say? One hopes the show can differentiate itself as its first season continues. However, it feels bad watching the same familiar plots and cliches recycled with no new perspective.