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'I Feel Bad' review: Promise of this diverse sitcom is unfulfilled

Sarayu Blue and Paul Adelstein star in NBC's

Sarayu Blue and Paul Adelstein star in NBC's "I Feel Bad." Credit: NBC/Evans Vestal Ward


WHEN | WHERE Premieres Thursday at  9:30 p.m. on NBC/4

WHAT IT'S ABOUT By day, Emet (Sarayu Blue) is boss of a bunch of millennial dudes — like Chewey (James Buckley), Norman (Zach Cherry) and Griff (Johnny Pemberton) — who create online games. By night, she's mom to three kids (one an infant) and wife to public relations exec David (Paul Adelstein). Meanwhile, her parents, Maya (Madhur Jaffrey) and Sonny (Brian George), hang around the house offering their own old-school parenting advice. Result: Emet feels bad, about lying to her kids, or her husband, or her parents, simply as a condition of getting through every day, or finding a few precious minutes to herself.  Amy Poehler created this series, based on Orli Auslander's 2017 (humor) book, "I Feel Bad: All Day. Every Day. About Everything."

MY SAY In theory, and increasingly in practice, too, this New TV Era is all about diversity. It's about bringing more voices into the mix, especially into the writers' room, and expanding the diversity of casts. In theory, it's about more women in the creative process and decision-making process. In theory, it's about razing all the bad habits of Old TV, to allow more voices, more gender equality, more perspectives.

In theory, "I Feel Bad" is the perfect New TV Era show. This one has made all the right moves, in front of and behind the camera. Besides Poehler, the showrunner is Aseem Batra, an Indian-American producer and veteran of series like "Scrubs." The director on the pilot was Julie Anne Robinson, a top comedy director. The cast, meanwhile, is gold-plated: Jaffrey is a legendary Indian-born actress, and now, at 85, possibly the English-speaking world's best-known writer on Indian cuisine. George is a legend in his own right: You know him best as either "Seinfeld's" Babu Bhatt or Raj's father on "The Big Bang Theory."

Then there's Blue, whose comedic appeal is considerable with a screen presence to match. She also happens to now be one of the rarest of the rare, an Indian-American female lead on a prime-time sitcom.

But here's the problem with Old TV. It still lurks out there, like a Planet X, always exerting its gravitational pull in an attempt to thwart noble intentions or, occasionally, in a concerted effort to crush them.  

Old TV has done a real number on "I Feel Bad."

The pilot rushes along without stopping once to consider whether anything is actually funny. Not much is. An Old TV habit — leering double-entendre sex jokes — proliferate, too, including one about house decks. Another running gag has Emet wondering if, at her age, she's still "doable." (Yup, Amy Schumer has already done a similar riff with a different word.) It's as cringeworthy as it sounds, worse given the #MeToo revolution. 

And over the first three episodes, "I Feel Bad" has largely erased that which (theoretically) made it stand out the most among fall newcomers — a comedy about culture as much as one about motherhood. The result is homogeneous and bland.

Score one for Old TV.

BOTTOM LINE I feel bad about "I Feel Bad" because there's so much promise on-screen and off, mostly unfulfilled.    

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