Wednesday, September 26, 2018

TV: It feels not funny which is worse than bad

The first three episodes of I FEEL BAD go a long, long way towards explaining why TV is frequently so bad, so awful.


The NBC sitcom is supposed to be funny.  It's not but it's worse than that.  Yes, there is worse than not funny.

Sarayu Rao is 43-years-old.  Few people get to star in their first sitcom at that age -- especially not a woman.  So you'd think she'd run with it.  And maybe she would if she weren't so loaded down with dialogue.

Did we say dialogue?

We meant monologue.

She doesn't speak, she riffs.  And she's just oh-so-so smart and isn't she impressive with every one of her cultural references?  Don't we feel like we're watching Patty and Lauren of SQUARE PEGS come to life -- or at least rebooted?


Monologues are best left in acting classes.  And that's what I FEEL BAD feels most like, a scene prepared for an acting class.  The point's never to be funny.  And you keep waiting for Sarayu to take a seat on the edge of the stage and explain, "What I was going for . . ."

She has to have been going for something because funny wasn't it and building a character wasn't it.  She's about as effective as Candice Bergen was on the CBS FALL PREVIEW.  "They say in comedy, timing is everything," a lifeless Candice read from the cue card while decked out in Captain Kangaroo's old costume.  And that was before we saw something really frightening -- Candice and 'youngsters' like Tyne Daily preparing for a table read when all the clips were from episodes that were over 20 years old.  Why is Tyne in the cast, by the way?  Ask Diane English and Candice about how they whored to Leslie Moonves to get this show back on the air.  Better yet, ask why network people who've seen THE NEIGHBORHOOD think it's going to be huge and network people who have seen MURHPY BROWN are shaking their heads and saying, "Well it was just a thirteen episode gamble."

It'll be cute to see how certain writers try to spin 'feminist' Diane and Candice -- who kept supporting Leslie until CBS fired him.  Maybe it will remind people of 'feminist' Diane who felt her leads didn't have chemistry so she fired the woman (Susan Dey) and not the man.  She fired the TV star, the three time Emmy nominee, the six time Golden Globe Award nominee (and one time winner).  Susan Dey was fired, not Jay Thomas.  Now Jay did win two Emmys -- for guest appearances.  Not for being a regular character and certainly not for being a lead.  At the time, he and Susan Dey starred in LOVE AND WAR -- on CBS.  And one got fired.  The woman.  Not the man, who'd never carried a show.  But the woman who'd starred in THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY and L.A. LAW.  Way to support women, Diane English.

But that's CBS (and that's how Diane English got ahead there).  Despite this and so many other faults, CBS appears to do comedy better than anyone these days -- thanks in part to the temporary president of ABC Channing Dungey.  "Temporary"?  That's what everyone's calling her behind her back.  There was a glimmer of hope back in mid-June that she'd be able to stay president despite axing ABC's biggest hit (the ROSEANNE reboot).  But then the scripts were filmed and she doesn't have a hit on her hands -- nothing on the schedule appears breakout ready.  Little appears even worth watching.  That alone would mean you'd be shown the door.  But when you've got nothing to offer and you also just killed the only hit show you had?   Dungey's rages are understandable when you factor all that in.  She's throwing things at walls and screaming at subordinates.  It's not a happy time at ABC.

However, if they'd film all that, it would certainly be more watchable than what they're planning to air.  And it would be more watchable than I FEEL BAD.

The show, in the first episode, does sexual harassment as 'normal.'  Sarayu Rao's character, the boss, asks her underlings -- four men -- if she's still "doable."

Possibly the only thing worse than that scene was the interview that writer Aseem Batra gave to REFINERY29 attempting to justify it and REFINERY29 having Aseem's back -- but not the backs of women who actually have to endure moments like that in real life:

Batra stresses that the scene is “a comedy beat,” she knows not everyone will enjoy it. “I know there will be backlash, but it made me laugh out loud,” the writer admits. “In a way you to kind of have to have been in an all-male environment to get it a little. If you’ve ever been, you do get it. That stuff happens.”

Oh, it made her laugh out loud?  And "she knows not everyone will enjoy it"?  How nice of her to use NBC money to make herself laugh and to not care whether or not others would enjoy it.

No, Aseem Batra, there's no getting it.  You're just a whore.

There's no need for niceness, niceness doesn't work.  Let's call it like it is, she's a whore.

She's had this little vengeance fantasy since 2005 and, thirteen years later, she puts it in play.

It's the most a limited mind like she could think of.

Which is why, in 2018, this scene plays with the female boss asking her 4 male employees if she's 'doable.'

Her four male employees.

Her.  Four.  Male.  Employees.

A woman can't design a video game?  Games are all men?  We kind of thought that backward thinking died via Gamergate.  But here's Aseem Batra making it the norm all over again.

We call her "whore" for a reason, do you get it now?

It's not just that bad "doable" it's the fact that she's placed the main character in an all male environment as though this is the norm.

Nothing on NBC's hideous show is the norm.

If the boss is offended that the four employees (three in later episodes) keep designing women with big breasts for the game, why doesn't she just tell them to stop?  It's really not that hard.  And it's really not that hard for her to have hired a woman or two to work for her.

It's just hard for Aseem Batra to grasp that the world has changed and we don't need her talky -- and not funny -- sitcom in 2018.  Yes, Aseem, the world passed you by.  If you're honest, Aseem, you'll admit that you allowed it to pass you by.

Does anything about the show work?

The Water Cooler Set has taken to using terms like "schlubby" to describe Paul Adelstein who plays the husband.  Schlubby?  Schlubby doesn't land Abby which, for the record, he did as Leo on SCANDAL.  More to the point, 49-year-old Adelstein has a solid body.  It's not flabby.  He's also gotten eye brow shaping for this role and some sort of blow out for the hair.  We're not making fun of him, we're noting that he's good looking and, yes, hot.  He's not given much to do -- we see him through his wife's eyes -- but he does hold your interest.  As Emet's parents, Madhur Jaffrey's Maya and Brian George's Sonny deliver many laughs -- especially when you grasp how little they do each episode.

But that's really about it.

It's a shame that Amy Poehler produced this series.  While PARKS AND RECREATION was a single camera show, she spent just as much time on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE working before an audience.  (She spent more time on SNL if you count in all of her returns after leaving.)  A live audience might have saved I FEEL BAD.  It certainly would have made clear that the monotone monologues were a failure.

And she clearly needs the help.  As a producer, she's able to place pilots, she's just not able to develop shows that people really want to watch.  Her kill list thus far includes THE MIGHTY B!, WELCOME TO SWEDEN,  DIFFICULT PEOPLE (a real producer might have been able to talk HULU into a fourth season -- this was a show worth watching), and BROAD CITY which airs its last season early next year.  That last show started off with close to a million viewers an episode but two years later, around the time Hillary Clinton starts showing up as a guest star, they're lucky to cross half-a-million viewers an episode.

Her sometime partner and co-host Tina Fey hasn't done any better.  THE UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT wraps up its fourth -- and final -- season early next year,  GREAT NEWS lasted only two seasons, and THE KICKER never even got its pilot aired.

In a climate like this, you'd hope and pray that Aseem Batra would bring her A-game.  Instead, she uses the pilot to amuse herself.  She's got nothing wonderful to her credits.  She's worked on garbage like ANIMAL PRACTICE, THE CLEVELAND SHOW and BAD JUDGE.  Apparently, she's impressed herself with those credits and doesn't feel the need to turn out anything better.  That's a sure sign that she shouldn't have been hired for I FEEL BAD and she certainly shouldn't have been trusted with writing the pilot.

She's captured . . . something.  Maybe the world two decades ago?  It's not a world of today, it's not even a recognizable world.  It's also not funny, as we noted at the top.  All of this helps to explain how two episodes aired last week, one after the other and how, by the time the second episode aired, nearly two million viewers had bailed.

Sound familiar?  Bailing viewers was the story last season for GREAT NEWS and CHAMPIONS -- two shows that ended up cancelled, two shows NBC elected to waste the WILL & GRACE audience on.

SUPERSTORE hobbled to the end of last season with 2.97 million viewers tuning in for the season finale.  THE GOOD PLACE limped to the end with 3.19 million viewers tuning in.  Don't get us started on GREAT NEWS and CHAMPIONS or A.P. BIO.  The point is NBC had WILL & GRACE for a new season and that first episode delivered 10.19 million viewers.  But NBC had nothing to surround it with.  You don't build MUST SEE TV around one program.  Even at its most under achieving, NBC depended upon three strong programs for Thursday nights (FRIENDS, SEINFELD, ER or, later, FRIENDS, WILL & GRACE, ER).  These days, they depend solely on one program -- WILL & GRACE.  And they aren't even smart enough to pair it with another multi-cam sitcom -- despite the many ideas WILL & GRACE creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan have pitched for other sitcoms.  That also goes a long way towards explaining how TV can be so awful.

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