Almost a year after Harvey Weinstein was outed as a sexual predator — and #MeToo went national — it’s difficult to imagine a show opening with a conversation in which a boss asks her four young underlings if she's still “doable.” Especially when that very sexual harassment-flavored scene arrives less than five minutes into the series’ premiere.
But, that’s exactly what happens in the pilot of NBC’s I Feel Bad, which the network previewed on Wednesday night, two weeks before the Amy Poehler-produced sitcom’s official October 4 debut. While the “tricky moment,” as creator Aseem Batra called the exchange during a conversation with Refinery29, is sure to be polarizing, or downright offensive to some, it also has a shockingly thoughtful backstory.
In the second scene of Feel Bad’s premiere, “I Don’t Want To Turn Into My Mother,” heroine Emet (Sarayu Blue), a lead artist at a trendy video game company, is managing a meeting with her four quirky male employees. (By the second episode, one of them has totally disappeared. Such changes are the norm between the pilot stage and series production.) Minutes earlier, Emet’s dad (Brian George) smacked her butt, confusing his daughter for his wife (Madhur Jaffrey). In the meeting, Emet is still reeling, as she’s worried she has, as the title suggests, turned into her mother.
So, Emet asks the four already-opinionated young men in front her, the same ones who had just been critiquing animated women’s bodies, the question that has been haunting her from the premiere's jump. “I’m still doable, right?” she sighs. The quartet of dudes are originally taken aback before they jump right in to debating how fresh Emet’s face is, whether sex with Emet is like “older, sofa pizza,” and if everyone wants literal pizza for lunch.
It’s an HR nightmare. And, creator Aseem Batra knows as much.
“I’m not recommending anyone go into their workplace and say that,” the writer assured Refinery29 over the phone.
Rather, Batra, who began writing for television in 2006 with Scrubs, was able to use the scene to show an alternate version of experiences she has already had in certain male-dominated writers rooms; writers rooms where men spoke about women the way Emet’s employees do, but without the ladies helping to set the tone.
“It was nice to have her in control of that question, because I’ve walked into many rooms where [the male writers] just talk about how women look: ‘This woman’s old’ and ‘this woman’s whatever,’” Batra recalled. “They never have to actually address that you’re a real person sitting there in the crossfires of their conversation.”
With Emet’s question, she’s able to turn around all of the disrespect she, like her creator, has likely already experienced (Emet announces in voiceover before the meeting, “I’m the only woman on my team”). “[It’s] for her to look at them and be like, ‘Hey, you guys are all talking about this all the time. Why don’t you just tell me how you feel about me then?’”
While 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.”
Hopefully, in the wake of the #MeToo movement and the work of the Time’s Up initiative, that “stuff” will be happening a lot less.
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