Sometimes it seems like moms are invincible. They find the thing we swear we lost forever ago. They can tell when we’re feeling down, and know exactly how to bring us back up. They predict when it’s going to be cold, even before the weather itself does, so that we always have a jacket when we need it. Moms can seem like superheroes: strong women that push through their days selflessly and efficiently. But as much as we all may say our moms are unstoppable, they are only human. And sometimes, they feel bad. NBC’s new family comedy, “I Feel Bad,” tells us why.
Sarayu Blue (“No Tomorrow”) plays Emet Kamala-Sweetzer, a mom that’s constantly concerned with the lives of her children but tries very hard not to show it. And in the first two episodes, she feels bad about something. In the premiere, she stresses over becoming her mother. Next, she feels guilty for taking just one self-care day from her stressful life. Emet takes viewers through each story in her voice-overs, taking an omniscient approach to the events unfolding. Her narration is endearing, though unnecessary at some points. It makes for an easy flow between scenes, but this is often broken by the inclusion of events Emet was not present at, thus making her voice useless.
Emet is a busy mom, and the people surrounding her aren’t exactly lightening the load. She is complemented by the quintessential goofy husband David (Paul Adelstein, “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce”) who seems to just be there for comedic relief, which isn’t to say he’s not good at providing it. Her overbearing parents, played by Madhur Jaffrey (“The Only Living Boy in New York”) and Brian George (“The Big Bang Theory”), are always around, and they never miss an opportunity to critique her parenting.
“I Feel Bad” has all of the components meant to make it a lovable and successful show — cute kids, a cohesive theme, witty humor — but before it gets there it needs some serious TLC. This is essentially NBC’s attempt to emulate ABC’s “black-ish,” just from a mother’s point of view. Both shows are narrated by an amusing and likable parent, and follow that parent through both their family and work life. In Emet’s case, that work life is being the only female artist for a video game developer who’s primarily interested in nerdy men drawing big boobs on bikini-clad heroines. It’s a smart choice by writers, and easy to laugh at, but the men that Emet works with are often shown in scenes that Emet wouldn’t know were happening, like when they gather at a bar in one scene to discuss Emet’s concern that she’s turning into her mother. There is no reason these men should be given their own scene, and Emet having no way of knowing this is happening messes with the linear narrative that carries the show. Much like how Dre Johnson’s coworkers in “black-ish” are nothing more than an allegory for institutionalized racism in the workplace, Emet’s vulgar coworkers would work best if they remained background characters, just a representation of the sexism woman face at work, especially in the field of video games.
With funny dialogue, clever storylines and a powerhouse producing lineup that includes Amy Poehler (“Broad City”), “I Feel Bad” is certainly not a lost cause. It’s genuinely a funny show, and the story has depth. Emet and her husband have a biracial family, and her Indian heritage is not a something that gets ignored. Representation is important, especially in a show that develops enjoyable themes that appeal to the masses, like not wanting your daughter to join a provocative dance club or desperately trying to find just 10 minutes for yourself. Every show has its kinks to work out in its first season, and “I Feel Bad” isn’t immune to that. But the prognosis is a good one, and soon enough the characters of “I Feel Bad” will be another charming TV family millions of everyday viewers and critics alike will tune in to see time and time again.