New series I Feel Bad finds comedy in mixed marriage and child-rearing

New television comedy I Feel Bad, which stars Sarayu Blue and Paul Adelstein, takes a very human and real look at parenting.
New television comedy I Feel Bad, which stars Sarayu Blue and Paul Adelstein, takes a very human and real look at parenting.PHOTO: NBCUNIVERSAL

LOS ANGELES - American comedy has witnessed quite a few South Asian success stories in recent years, from series such as Mindy Kaling's The Mindy Project (2012 to 2017) and Aziz Ansari's Master Of None (2015 to now) to Hasan Minhaj's stand-up special Homecoming King (2017).

Now there is a new television comedy, I Feel Bad, where both the lead actress, Sarayu Blue, and creator, Aseem Batra, are Indian American. It airs on Mondays at 9.30pm on Fox Life (Singtel TV Channel 301, StarHub TV Channel 501) and streams on Fox+.

But like The Mindy Project, the show focuses less on the ethnicity of its protagonist, Emet (Blue), and more on universal experiences - in this case, the perfectionism that makes her constantly feel bad for not being a better wife, mother, daughter and career woman.

The series is executive produced by comedienne Amy Poehler who, along with Batra and the cast, spoke to The Straits Times and other media at a Los Angeles press event last year (2018).

Batra, 43, explains that the name of the show is tongue in cheek, so Emet will not feel bad about everything.

"It's complicated - sometimes she feels bad and sometimes she doesn't feel bad. And I think that's part of being an empowered woman. It's, like, 'I guess I don't feel bad that, right now, I want to take care of myself before my kids.'"

"We are trying to empower her by letting her feel things that, on a lot of TV shows, women don't get to," says Batra, who was a producer on the medical comedy Scrubs from 2006 to 2009.

Poehler, whose production company is behind the series, says this will get at a truth about when women try to "have it all".

"This is a lens with which to tell a working woman's story that I haven't quite seen before, which is this idea that whenever we're 'doing it all', there's about two or three things on that list that we feel like we're giving 10 per cent to," says the 47-year-old Parks and Recreation (2009 to 2015) star.

It is also a show about the trials and errors of parenting, adds Poehler, who has two sons, aged 10 and eight, with ex-husband and actor Will Arnett, 48.

"It takes a very human and real look at parenting. The characters played by Sarayu and Paul (Adelstein, who plays Emet's husband) are a real team, and what they share is the knowledge that they know very little - that they're in over their heads a lot of the time.

"I love watching that messiness, because I think too often the women in television are supposed to have all the answers, but they never get to 'show their work'. So there's a lot of big mistakes and big swings."

Feeling bad is not unique to women, of course - and the writers discovered this when they tapped their own lives, and those of the cast, for story ideas.

"It's such a rich thing and it's not just women - guys have it, like, 'I don't work out enough' or 'I don't make enough money," says Batra, who also drew from the humour book the show is based on, I Feel Bad: All Day. Every Day. About Everything, by Orli Auslander.

For Emet, adding to the pressures of life are the expectations of her Indian parents and it is here the show gets more culturally specific.

Both Batra and Blue, 43, identified with this as the children of Indian immigrants themselves, something they bonded over.

Batra says: "We have a shorthand because we understand where our parents were coming from as immigrants.

"So when we do a scene where there's pressure on (Emet from her parents), she understands it - that our parents came here hoping we'd have an easier life in some ways, and more opportunities."

But Batra's goal was to simply portray a family rather than specifically a mixed-heritage one (Emet's husband is white).

"What I'm excited about is the normalisation of a family that looks like this. If we make room for all kinds of colour on TV, then people can tell stories in different ways," she says.

I Feel Bad airs on Mondays at 9.30pm on Fox Life (Singtel TV Channel 301, StarHub TV Channel 501) and streams on Fox+.