Feel Good is the show to bring us together in this time of social distancing. The six-episode series, which launches today on Netflix, is a refreshingly funny and heartfelt romance. At just a half-dozen episodes that clock in under half-an-hour each, there’s no excuse not to watch it. (Heck, it’s shorter than The Irishman and it even has clearly demarcated times for replenishing cocktails.) But beyond the pure binge-ability of Feel Good, the show’s the perfect answer for anyone worried about saying goodbye to Schitt’s Creek.
Sisters Are Doing It (But Not for Themselves)
The series doesn’t take place in the boonies, nor is it Canadian. However, this posh London-set dramedy comes from Canuck comedian Mae Martin. She stars as Mae, a recovering addict and rising player on the stand-up comedy circuit across the pond. Feels Good invites comparison to Schitt’s Creek not for its folksy wholesomeness, but rather for its refreshingly frank depiction of queer relationships. Feels Good does for lesbians what Schitt’s Creek does for gays in David and Patrick.
The first episode sees Mae, an out-and-proud hipster lesbian who’s a dead ringer for Ellen DeGeneres, hook up with George (Charlotte Ritchie). George is an ostensibly “straight” girl attending the comedy club and makes a move on Mae following her set. Mae Martin, like David Rose, doesn’t hide who she is. She embraces the fluidity of gender and sexual freedom one can enjoy in 2020. George, a spiritual sister for Patrick, isn’t out to her friends and family. She’s never dated another girl and passes as heterosexual without raising an eyebrow.
Out vs. Passing
The contrast between Mae and George seems especially pressing watching Feel Good in the shadow of Pete Buttigieg’s Presidential campaign. Plagued by concerns that he was too “straight” to be America’s first openly gay President (or even Presidential candidate), Mayor Pete’s effort reveals the double standards that some members of the LGBTQ community place on their peers. Mayor Pete and Patrick Brewer may not be as flamboyant as Mae Martin and David Rose, but George shares an important with the latter: her blandness. Gay people can be perfectly boring without being any less gay. But here’s where George ultimately steals the show from Mae as Feel Good progresses. There is something ineffably awful about passing and hiding, and Ritchie totally nails it.
The relationship between May and George blossoms unexpectedly quickly. They’re shacking up before the title card drops in the first episode after George proposes with a key. One could say that their relationship develops too quickly to be believed, but Martin and Ritchie play their parts with such youthful energy that it rings true to the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants abandon of Millennial impulsiveness. The closeted-ness of George’s sexuality becomes an underlying tension that threatens the relationship’s survival. On one hand, George treats Mae terribly by denying their love to her friends. She tells her BFFs that she’s dating some nondescript white guy. On the other hand, George’s superficial straightness leaves many on Mae’s side of the party doubting her commitment. A recovering addict, Mae has a habit of lying. She also replaces one addiction with another vice: chasing girls who won’t commit.
The Junkie High
Mae’s history as a recovering addict is the past she hides from George. However, Mae gets outed when her mom (a never-better Lisa Kudrow) outs her on a Skype date. Mae begrudgingly attends Narcotics Anonymous meetings to placate her mom and George, but they don’t really work out. (The guy who runs them has a dislike for coffee and a bizarre fetish for devilled eggs.) Instead, Mae invites the mentorship of a fellow recovering addict, Maggie (a hilarious Sophie Thompson), who agrees to sponsor her. Over-caffeinated bonding sessions with this spirited and off-kilter Brit prove therapeutic for Mae. However, there’s something humorously dubious about Sophie’s liberal attitude to vices. “Drugs are bad, but alcohol is British,” says Sophie while encouraging Mae to kick her habit by day-drinking. (A few afternoon gins never hurt anyone.)
Sophie has a damaged relationship of her own with her estranged daughter. The more Feel Good develops the relationship between Sophie and Mae, the more effectively they become surrogates for making amends to the family members they hurt with their toxic behaviour. Martin’s energetic, somewhat neurotically fidgety performance injects Mae with an addictive jitter. Through body language that conveys the highs and lows she struggles to regulate without narcotics, one sees the effect George’s love has on her—and how easily self-doubts fray their connection.
A Feel Good Hug
For Martin, the promising first season of Feel Good marks an assured debut as showrunner and star. She’s an unconventional lead and a welcome one, a wide-eyed and immensely relatable presence fuelled by an ability to be “on” that speaks to her background in stand-up comedy. As with most other shows developed by comics, Feel Good features a fair bit of Mae’s stand-up routines. While funny, they’re often hilariously awkward as Mae uses the stage as a form of therapy. She gets her worries out by playing them for laughs and exposing her vulnerability. She takes ownership of her fears by turning them into humour. However, watch as the season progresses and one sees how easily this kind of thing goes wrong.
Feel Good follows the growing trend of series with one director at the helm for all episodes and has Canuck Ally Pankiw behind the camera. (To further the Schitt’s Creek likeness, Pankiw was previously a story editor for the CBC show and has a series in the works with Dan Levy.) Pankiw’s hand ensures a tonal consistency to the series as Mae, George, Sophie, and company navigate numerous personal crises over six episodes. But the story plays like a feature film if watched in succession, and Feel Good sparks with the candid intimacy and natural chemistry that comes from relationships built by working together.
This refreshingly funny and down to earth show is a welcome debut for anyone looking to expand their horizons under lockdown. At this time of social distancing, Feel Good is like a big, comforting hug: but one of those awkward begrudging hugs that introverts like Mae know well. Those hugs are especially satisfying because one doesn’t know how much one needs them before giving them a try.