The Asian summer – or the summer of 2018 as it was formerly known – might be over, but Asian representation on screen is far from showing any signs of slowing down. After the mega success of Crazy Rich Asians – now the highest grossing romantic comedy of the last decade – and the ever-growing appeal of Netflix’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before among teens and non-teens alike, looks like it’s time for Asian fall. As Crazy Rich Asians star and New York’s homegrown comic and DJ, Awkafina, becomes only the second Asian woman ever to host SNL (the first in 20 years), NBC is set to premiere Amy Poehler-backed I Feel Bad that revolves around the lives of a multi-generational Asian Indian family. Sarayu Blue, the Indian-origin actress you might have seen on The Big Bang Theory, Grey’s Anatomy and Veep, stars in the show as a second-generation Indian video game head designer trying not to “feel bad” as she manages her parents, husband, and three children.
Carrying forward the genre of family sitcoms, which in recent years has finally become more inclusive with Blackish (featuring an African-American family), One Day at a Time (Cuban-American) and our office fan-favorite Fresh Off The Boat (Chinese-American), I Feel Bad puts the inside jokes and family dynamics of an Asian Indian family on mainstream TV. While South Asian representation is at an all-time high with Mindy Kaling’s The Mindy Project and Champions, Priyanka Chopra’s Quantico and Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s Master of None, I Feel Bad showcases Desi families in the way that so far has only been seen in comedy sketches and online videos. Unlike Blackish or Fresh off the Boat, I Feel Bad’s family is not exclusively Asian Indian – Blue’s on-screen husband is played by Paul Adelstein, who is white. Yet, the show does an excellent job of portraying real life dynamics without straying into stereotypes and really hopes that you would notice how hard it’s worked to do that.
In a particularly telling scene with the grandparents, adorable cast members Madhur Jaffrey and Brian George spend a night with the kids and decide to dig into the sweet nostalgia of their youth. As George, the grandfather, starts his story with, “When I was in the village”, you think he is going to launch into a Master of None-style heartfelt story turned into a hardened lesson from his childhood, like so many characters of color on television in the recent past. But instead he and Madhur Jaffrey, as grandma, quickly assume a dance pose to reveal that the village in their story was in fact, Greenwich at the height of the disco era, much to their Gen-Z tween grandchildren’s disgust. What makes the show even more endearing is that the Asian Indian stories feel authentic and lived-in, seemingly written by Desi writers who have experienced them at some point in their own lives. The pilot, for example, revolves around Blue trying really hard to not turn into her mother, who would often reprimand her as a child by flinging a shoe in her direction — a hilarious but also somewhat disturbing reality for most people who have grown up in Desi households. In a later episode, one cabinet in their kitchen is dedicated to storing used plastic bags (often tucked away in another, much larger plastic bag in hopes of being recycled at some point) while other is just ‘spices’.
So far, the sitcom does a good job of showing that Emet and her family are like any other American household, just with their own set of quirks and mannerisms. But luckily for us, it does that without flattening the nuance of their Desi-ness or heritage. In fact, the show makes a concerted effort to not depict the characters as caricatures, especially from a mainstream point of view – we especially appreciate that despite being Indian, Emet is not some zen-Namaste brand of yogini. In fact, she has no interest in yoga at all. These subtleties in the writing, coming from comedic powerhouse Aseem Batra – best known for her work in Scrubs, give us hope for the rightful Desi representation on TV. We do have one question though. Where does one find Desi grandparents who kiss and slap each other’s butts when their children are in the house? Only on TV, of course!
Written by Yashica Dutt
Associate Creative Director