This family-inappropriate comedy inadvertently reveals Hollywood’s rampant hypocrisy.
“I cheat on my husband in my sleep. My kids are psychos, my husband can’t find anything, and I eat cold baby food for breakfast.” Thus opens I Feel Bad, a comedy revolving around working mom Emet, and her career and personal dissatisfaction with nearly everything in her life. She can’t manage her children, her husband David is a bumbling clod, she has a fractious relationship with her parents Sonny and Maya, and her children are unmanageable. Work is no better, where Emet is the sole woman employed at a video game design company, stuck on a team with sex-crazed and socially inept nerds Griff, Chewy, Norman, and Louie. Going forward, Emet will relate a different source of “feeling bad” each episode, with future stories featuring Emet “feeling bad” because “I’m becoming my mother,” “I have fantasies about other men,” “I like being a boss,” and “I hide from my kids.”
Based on the cartoon humor book I Feel Bad: All Day, Every Day, About Everything by Orli Auslander, as filtered through the sensibilities of executive producer Amy Poehler, I Feel Bad makes a habit of critiquing media behavior, while simultaneously indulging in and exploiting it. In her role as an artist with a video game company, Emet criticizes her male co-workers for designing female characters with “bowling ball boobs,” yet then deliberately invites them to sexually harass her by asking, “Be honest: am I still do-able?” In reply, the socially-inept losers awkwardly stammer about Emet’s “no longer fresh face,” with one offering up, “I guess cold, week-old pizza is better than no pizza at all.”
This may be a clue as to why sexual harassment is rampant in Hollywood; even as #metoo is correctly calling out sexualizing and harassing speech against women in the workplace, TV comedies – even those written and produced by women! – continue to portray such harassment as an unexceptional, and even humorous, everyday occurrence. How can anyone be shocked and dismayed at the revelations of sexually inappropriate behavior by Hollywood bosses, when Hollywood’s own products continue to tell viewers that such behavior is amusing and acceptable?
Another instance of such hypocrisy occurs when, wanting to be supportive, Emet allows her nine-year-old daughter to be in danceline. Emet is horrified when the cute little girl performs explicitly sexual moves, including “twerking,” rubbing against a boy’s midsection, and allowing the boy to lift her by her legs so that she straddles him, while he thrusts his crotch into her. Emet objects to this, but the episode shows it multiple times, with each instance more explicit than the last. (At a Paley Center panel, I Feel Bad’s producer acknowledged this, noting that “There is an issue of hyper-sexualization of girls, and we didn’t want to exploit that,” mentioning all the dance footage left on the cutting room floor…which leads one to wonder, “How graphic was the footage the makers of I Feel Bad did film, that they had to cut so much of it? And what about the pre-teen actress subjected to this behavior?”)
In addition, the first episode featured multiple uses of words like “ass,” and “goddamn,” discussions of “testicles” and “vagina,” more sexualized dialogue and actions (like a recurring gag in which Emet’s elderly father slaps her rear, thinking Emet is her own mother, and David slapping his mother-in-law’s rear). The show’s producer, Julie Ann Robinson, promised that such content would continue and even expand, and that future episodes would “explore issues never done on TV before.” If I Feel Bad fulfills its producer’s promise, it will definitely prove to be a series to be avoided, particularly by families with young children.
I Feel Bad will have a “sneak preview” Wednesday, September 19 at 10:00 p.m. ET, and premieres in its regular timeslot Thursday, October 4th, on NBC.