Following the release of Feel Good Season 2 earlier this year, we’ve decided to deliver a two-part special review (you’re welcome). Feel Good is a semi-autobiographical comedy drama written by Mae Martin and Joe Hampson, starring Mae Martin as, you guessed it, Mae Martin.
Alongside co-star Charlotte Ritchie, who plays George, the pair begin an intense relationship filled with love, passion and imperfections round every corner. Stay tuned for our review of season 2 next month and, as always, spoilers ahead!
Going well for a first date…
My God. This was absolutely fantastic. I would even say this show trumps Fleabag, which is definitely a statement to make. The premise of the show is that it is a semi-autobiographical take on Canadian stand up Mae Martin’s life. Mae Martin plays “Mae” a Canadian “recovering” drug addict who does stand up and gets into a relationship with English teacher George (played by Charlotte Ritchie) who has never been with a woman before.
Since this is George’s first lesbian relationship, she understandably is uncertain about a lot of things and is closeted at first. However, it upsets Mae that George isn’t introducing her to anyone. What I love about this show is that it doesn’t shy away from demonstrating the impact of mental health on romantic relationships, an issue that a lot of TV series avoid, and instead focuses on the awkward aspects of a relationship after the honeymoon phase. A scene I found hilarious in the first few episodes, is when Mae Skypes her Canadian mum (played fantastically by Lisa Kudrow) after she moves in with George. Her mum asks how it is living together and Mae enthusiastically says it’s great whilst George mumbles that “it’s a bit of an adjustment.” I think most portrayals of LGBTQ relationships onscreen are filled with toxicity and drama (especially cheating), but Feel Good instead shows a troubled relationship realistically.
I see some similarities between Mae and George’s relationship with Euphoria’s Rue and Jules. Both relationships are genuinely sweet and have buckets of chemistry, though there’s a depressing underbelly with one party being responsible for the other’s sobriety. Of course, Feel Good is nowhere near as gloomy as Euphoria and has a much more grounded portrayal of a troubled couple. Mae, like Rue, rushes things with George and is pretty co-dependent on her (she feels on edge when George heads to Manchester for a wedding). Unlike Mae, George had a very comfortable and easy upbringing and feels out of her depth dealing with Mae. I found it interesting yet quite upsetting when George repeatedly labelled Mae “intense”, as you can empathise with George’s frustration but it only makes Mae feels more like of a burden.
Similarly to Fleabag, Feel Good shows the human condition in a very earnest way. Whilst the N&A meetings are often super funny, there are many moments where the various addicts show vulnerability. A posh businessman who lapses again bursts into tears when his mentor insists that he repeats after her that he is worthy of love. The breakup between George and Mae was utterly heartbreaking, but it was also the first onscreen breakup I could relate to. You could entirely sympathise with both sides. George just was exhausted and out of her depth with Mae’s toxic behaviour, but Mae also felt inadequate to the point where she “stopped wearing colours” around George to fit an image of masculine androgyny. I have definitely been both Mae and George in the past and probably will be in the future. I never have gotten emotional with breakup scenes but this was just so gut-wrenching I welled up.
Feel Good balances comedy and its earnest moments perfectly. Whilst it deals with heavy topics like mental health and addiction, it never felt heavy or difficult to watch, at least for me. And of course there were moments where I laughed my arse off. I loved the differing descriptions Mae uses for George – like when Mae says she looks like a “sexy squirrel” or being compared to a cocker spaniel. Feel Good is obviously a progressive show yet never comes across as preachy. I burst into laughter when Mae’s mum said Mae “looks like a sex offender” when she Skypes her in a dark room; this is one of the many examples of how dark or taboo humour is used without being offensive. Whilst Mae and George have their issues, or perhaps becuase of this, their relationship is so endearing and feels like a real life couple. Please give this incredible show a watch. You won’t regret it.
Got a numb arm yet Mae?
I was first vaguely aware of Feel Good when series one made its debut on Channel 4 in early 2020. I can’t confess to watching it then, alas I submitted to the more successful barrage of suggested content on my Netflix profile and promptly binge watched both seasons when the streaming giant commissioned the show’s second series. In the name of good journalism, I embarked on my second binge watch of Mae Martin and Joe Hampson’s semi-autobiographical series; choosing not to acknowledge the consequences it might have on my emotional state.
There is no TV genre I am more attracted to than a slightly arty, slightly awkward, vaguely coming-of-age story in which the often reasonably privileged protagonist has to overcome some kind of traumatic, identity-altering event or realisation in order to improve their relationship with their sense of self and the people around them. Think Fleabag, I May Destroy You, Normal People etc etc. The strength of these shows for me, the strength of Feel Good, is the three dimensional nature of their characters. The protagonists are allowed to be flawed, unlikeable, and callous people; something we’re all guilty of at times. Crucially, every character is crafted with the same level of nuance, irregardless of their screen time – the photographer at the wedding, the compulsive liar at Mae’s Narcotics Anonomous meetings, the sex shop advice lady. Supporting cast or protagonist, many of the characters succeed so perfectly in being exaggerated caricatures of themselves. Hugh (Tom Durant Pritchard) in particular is delightfully repulsive, especially in episode three when he shows himself to be every straight white man you’d hate to meet in the corner of a kitchen at a house party. He forms part of the menagerie of George’s (Charlotte Ritchie) arguably outgrown friends, exuding the childishness of adults still embarrassed by queer relationships and by sex. On the other hand, I would quite like to be the good bits of Maggie (Sophie Thompson) when I’m older; driving an ancient car, living in a beautifully eclectic house, exuding a certain chaotic but infinitely loving energy. Oh also, Lisa Kudrow is Mae’s mum…she has big Phoebe Buffay energy, but is just distant enough from Phoebe for it not to be a jarring experience.
The supporting cast are impressively loveable, but this is the story of Mae – a stand-up comic, apparently happy in her queerness. We spend much of this series rooting for the precious, joyful, simple moments between Mae and George; the private moments that the ‘newly’ queer George can’t manage to let herself have in public. In an alcohol and painkiller-fuelled haze, George triggers a turning point in the series, and their relationship, when she comes out to her friends in a scene that has made me cringe and smile and laugh more consistently than any other scene in my TV viewing history. A bittersweet moment, George steps into a new identity for her future self, while Mae wobbles on the edge of her past.
Feel Good does feel good. It also feels awkward and cringe-worthy and uncomfortable; laying bare all the not so good feeling bits about life. Complex family dynamics, gender identity, sexual identity, addiction struggles, outdated friendships, sexual assault – in just under half hour episodes, Mae Martin and Joe Hampson tackle each complicated facet of human life with impressive sensitivity and earnestness. At the end of series one we’re left with too many frayed ends and a fair amount of anxiety over the future. There is something ironically addictive about Feel Good’s honesty, however, that I would challenge you not to fall in love with.