I Feel Bad‘s pilot episode “Pilot” feels real good. The freshman show’s second episode, “I Get Sick of Being Needed” gets better.
I Feel Bad‘s protagonist Emet, played sleekly and energetically by Sarayu Blue, is a South Asian video game creator and mom-of-three. So right out the gate, I Feel Bad is toppling stereotypes.
Our first glimpse of Emet’s work life is when she, leading an otherwise all-male team, explicitly attempts to create a main character who is a woman, but not objectified.
She dares to draw a woman who doesn’t have bowling ball-sized boobs. By the episode’s end, the nerd bros come to see more of her perspective, to design and craft a cool-looking character.
What sets this show apart from others, and sadly will probably put its neck on the chopping block, is that it uses that “tie-up-the-bow” moment at the end of the episode to take another jab at the patriarchy.
Emet wonders aloud why the nerd bros are acting like her idea was theirs.
The last word on I Feel Bad, in voiceover form, always comes from a woman and her perspective. That makes the difference for I Feel Bad and makes the show not just watchable, but a MUST watch.
I Can Relate
This brings me to the best and worst thing about the show: I relate to it.
Sometimes I relate to it so hard that I have to take a break because I’m just shouting, “Yes! Exactly! Honey, COME WATCH THIS!”
The reason why this also is the worst thing about the show: When a series is so accurate and speaks to you so clearly, it is much easier to notice what doesn’t work.
A few of the jokes are just a pinch too icky. Like when Emet points out that her daughter’s dance costume is the type of attire that fails to evoke the sympathy of juries. It’s not a rape joke; or if it is, it’s the only kind that is acceptable where the punch lands on the criminal justice system’s failures. But, still.
The show hasn’t earned the ability to make jokes like that quite yet, so it is more cringe-worthy than giggle-inducing.
The nerd bros also need some work. Of the three — or is it four? It’s hard to tell as well blur into one nerd bro mass– Norman, played by Zach Cherry, is the only one that stands out.
But, the thing that is making him stand out is his characterization as particularly pathetic.
I mean, it’s not terrible, but it’s also not adding as much to the show as other characters like the kids and the grandparents, could.
That said, I love Norman’s self-proclaimed inclusion into “climber culture” after his wall climbing accident. There is something that bit touches on that strikes so true it becomes a slow release kind of joke. The chuckles come in waves long after the scene closes.
One more thought about relating to something so hard: it can hurt to be seen. When you get a taste of what your life is like portrayed on screen, and for so long it’s been some other person’s perspective, some other life, it can make you even thirstier.
That’s how I feel about I Feel Bad. Especially when Emet talks about wanting a piece of time and space just for herself and feeling guilty about that, I get thirsty.
Thankfully, there is more I Feel Bad coming my way to quench that thirst.
A Titular Success
The title I Feel Bad itself is feminist AF. It is the main schtick of the series, that every day Emet feels bad for something.
As long as the show continues and deepens its uprooting of patriarchal structures in family and work life, the “I feel bad for…” construct will continue to excel.
It’s actually quite brilliant. Women are made to feel bad for everything. When offering an idea at work or school, women often start with the word “sorry.”
In some ways, it is a good time to be a woman because of gains in access and opportunity.
But, because of those very things, it is also a time where judgment, expectations, and threats on women are all consuming.
Emet is a mother, wife, boss, daughter, artist, and friend. She is under pressure to be all things to all people. The men in her life are under no such obligation.
The title I Feel Bad is scratching away at that injustice. Women are made to feel bad for simply existing. The very act of existing and having control over our bodies is something we women are made to apologize for.
I am excited to see more from I Feel Bad on the guilt complex we have forced on women, in a funny, sleek, and endearing package.
My Favorite Things
Blue’s performance as Emet is excellent and will only grow more natural and nuanced as the show continues.
Much like blackish, the show it seems that I Feel Bad has copied in structure and approach, my favorite part is the characters who get less screen time.
Emet’s daughter Lily, played by Lily Rose Silver, shines on “Pilot.” Her face is always “on,” and expressing something appropriate for the scene.
She manages to strike a balance between being a bored, screen-obsessed preteen and an individual with quirks and personality. Silver gives Lily a maturity and humor that is often lacking in kid characters.
As you can tell by my decision to title this review with it, Lily’s honest complaint she expresses to her mom, “I held in my farts for nothing!” really hits home.
It cracks me up AND is a reminder of how early we start demanding girls sacrifice the comforts of their body and life to make boys comfortable.
The I Feel Bad team would be wise to give her ample development and attention. It would also be wise to limit the attention and development of the quirky friends surrounding the family.
They are interesting but I could see them taking over. It would be simply wonderful if I Feel Bad is a place where women and girls remain at the center and resist the male-centeredness that so many shows feature.
Emet’s mom and dad, Maya, and Sonny, played delightfully by Madhur Jaffrey (Timeless’s Sakina Jaffrey’s mother! Talents runs in the family!) and Brian George, add fun and plot opportunities to I Feel Bad.
I love that we get grandparents who are happily married on I Feel Bad. We see them flirt with each other, dance disco with each other and be a team.
We don’t see them bicker or avoid each other.
I love it.
I am also particularly impacted by Sonny’s overt attempt to assure police officers that he loves the U.S. It’s a short and quick couple lines delivered in a more silly than fearful manner. It works.
The ways that being a South Asian person living in the United States impact a community are not always going to be shouted and tearful, even when they are disturbing. I really like that we are given these kinds of thought-provoking and realistic bits of dialogue, but they are not overwrought.
I Feel Bad has many excellent traits and it could develop into a needed voice, much like One Day At A Time.
Stand Out One-Liners:
“Am I going to get chicken boobs?” – David
“Are you just shouting Clue weapons?” – David, to Emet (she was)
“I just flung my shoe at a child. I am my mother.” – Emet
“I held in my farts for nothing.” – Lily
“Taking what I need has made me a better woman, cuz I’m a man.” – Emet
What do you think of I Feel Bad 1×01 “Pilot” and I Feel Bad 1×02 “I Get Sick of Being Needed?” Let us know in the comments below!
I Feel Bad will move to its regular Thursday 9:30 p.m. slot on Thursday, October 4 on NBC.