Feel Good, Netflix’s latest queer romantic dramedy, is a semi-biographical take on bisexual comedian Mae Martin’s life. Mae (Mae Martin) is a Canadian living on the other side of the pond, and has a plethora of problems that tag her: she is an ex-addict, a struggling comedian, jobless and homeless. In comes George (Charlotte Ritchie), a well placed English school teacher, who is ostensibly straight and the story commences into utter chaos. Mae and George U-haul in literally the next scene after they first meet, in the most lesbian cliché of clichés, but this is also where the problems also start seeping in. Feel Good started out as an utterly British contemporary romantic comedy of sorts for me, but over the course of the short first season of six episodes, I was completely in for the ride.
Mae and George both are characters who are attractive in their own right, but neither are characters who I actively crush on as a queer woman myself, but more as flawed people I can identify with and learn from. George is so deep in the closet that she is scared out of her wits introduce Mae to her friends and family, and in one instance, literally shoves her girlfriend into one when she comes to meet her at her school. You cannot blame George for some of her part, she has justified reactions to many of Mae’s extreme emotional behaviours, and vice versa. George comes from a fairly protected and decently comfortable family in Oxford which also explains the uptight and stickler of the character that she is, but does not absolve her of her sin of making a fake boyfriend to appease her family and friends.
On the other hand, Mae is a whirlwind of a character. Martin clearly draws a lot from her own life, and you can see the destructive obsessive patterns she has developed in the place of the drug addictions that once plagued her. An unwilling participant at her Narcotic Anonymous meetings, Mae does not reveal the fact that she is a recovering addict to George for many months. Her sudden erratic outbursts would have been downright frightening if not for the excellent writing and tonal balance this series has; one instance has her putting her phone inside multiple boxes and suitcases, and then wrapping all of it up in plastic saran wrap, all done to resist the urges of calling her girlfriend multiple times in the day. Another instance has her throw all of her personal belongings in the trash and literally Molotov it to fire, so that she can “start anew” and have some semblance of control over her life.
What Feel Good tries to say, I think, is that sex and love are great in their place in a relationship, but they are definitely not substitutes to the deeper demons that you are battling with on an individual level, whether it be estranged family members, drug addictions, personal losses, etc. Contrary to our most fatal of human desires, love does not heal all your ailments and solve all of your life’s problems. Feel Good justifies the romantic aspect of the relationship that George and Mae share, but does not justify that the two are the healthiest or the most logical match for each other. It also does more than enough justice to the other non-romantic relationships in its little English world. A show like this makes sense in the current Covid-19 worldwide lockdown, when people are living with their romantic partners in the confines of their homes and are more privy to their significant ones than ever. It is a brilliant and yet difficult time to take stock of the relationships we have with not only our partners, but also perhaps our estranged families. Feel Good is not what its title suggests, but provides much needed food for thought, and the strength to deal with sensitive and difficult obstacles that we so often face in life, but choose to overlook most of the time.
Mae takes centre stage but shares her screentime adequately with her fellow characters. Her standup acts as a comedian never come across at the cost of her character arc. While I did not begin investing in Mae and George as a couple straightaway, and for some part am still not completely convinced if I should, I was in for both of them individually. The LGBTQ-centric issues do not take a backseat; the friction arising from Mae and George’s respective dating histories and their current relationship with each other is more than enough to convey all the trouble in that arena. The troubles that Mae and George go through are pretty commonplace for such couples; it is not uncommon for one, if not both partners to be in the closet in our country even now. I felt that the disturbing patterns unravelling in the middle of their explosive chemistry were quite similar to what I have experienced in the beginning of my own relationship with my partner, which now stands close towards the better part of almost a decade.
For me, as a queer individual who has had a tumultuous history with addiction and trying to get back on track, I absolutely loved the artistic and narrative devices that were employed to show Mae’s battles for the same. Whenever Mae is faced with a scenario that could potentially veer her back to her old ways, there is a high pitched ringing noise that drowns out everything else, there is no clear human voice in her head telling her what to do. A lot of the times she blinks or is startled away. But the ringing is compelling enough for her to take the plunge into her darker temptations anyway, and sometimes, dangerously enough, it is the only thing that stops this literal death knell. However, drugs and whatever other addictions that we all face in our lifetimes, are still more often than not a substitute to denied happiness, something I had to learn the hard way a few nights back, with an anxiety attack and a much needed realization about my own coping mechanisms and learned behaviours. Mae’s self-deprecating behaviour and descriptions co-exist with her pride and ego, and it was humbling to see this being depicted not in a glorifying light, but simply, as one of the many flaws she has and needs to correct.
It takes a lot to stand up to your partner and tell them what is right and wrong, but it takes an excruciating ride through hell to acknowledge and rectify your own toxic patterns. Mae is not a character beyond redemption, neither is she inherently messed up and doomed to be that way, her circumstances and relationships and choices shaped her to be that way. Her standoffish behaviour in her NA meetings and with her mother Linda (played by the amazing Lisa Kudrow) reminds me of my own initial journey with self-recovery. It is easy as a troubled queer individual and one working in an entertainment industry to fall into the easy access of drug abuse. But, speaking from personal experience, going to therapy, seeking help, all of this is a much later step because the first step is recognizing you have a problem, and that it does not make you any lesser of a human being. It has been a tough road to self-love so far, and there have been periods of relapses, but there is nothing better than to remember there is a lifeline to hold onto, there are better things to live and love for, that you are not a bad person, and there is nothing beyond redemption.
As far as relationships go, Mae and George make me believe in a more human and flawed idea of love rather than romantic: there is nothing that cannot be overcome by sharing and being honest. This quarantine period might force you to confront your greatest fears about your relationship, especially if you are living with your partner right now. The important thing is not to hold the most vital parts of you back to accommodate the other person, which is exactly what Mae and George did for most of this season. Talk it out, understand your partner’s insecurities, reason, and most importantly, do it with love and kindness. If there are things that you constantly dread about your partner, open up before you burst overflowing with emotions, because it is the people who we love that can unknowingly or knowingly hurt us the most. Feel Good in many ways, tries to destroy the last bit of stigma around mental health and relationships that we hold subconsciously in our own minds, that asking for help means you are beyond it.
I cannot wait for the next season of Feel Good to come on Netflix and am grateful to have watched it in such a crucial time. It gave me a much needed opportunity to quite literally cry and vent out my feelings of agony and the loneliness that plagues me so often. Mae Martin knocks it out of the park with her performance, and so does the rest of the cast. It is a vital and realistic piece of television for the LGBTQ+ community in these times, and a very beautiful, less fetishized take on lesbian relationships and mental health problems in general. In just six episodes, this show develops its central couple to a level of complexity most generic television shows take their entire storylines to do. At no single point does Feel Good apologize for how dark and heavy it is, but unapologetically soars with its downright amazing acting, sensitivity and insightful, introspective writing. Go watch it!