Feel Good: Heart-breaking, Hopeful Dramedy for the #MeToo Era

courtesy of Netflix, Luke Varley

Was there ever a show so ironically named as Feel Good? Sure, season two starts on an optimistic note. Mae has kicked the drinking and drugs that triggered her downward spiral in season one, reconnected with her parents, and voluntarily checked into rehab. But this progress is short-lived. Mae’s debtors know where to find her, and Scott – the “friend” who bails her out of rehab – is responsible for much of the drama driving her substance abuse.

Feel Good offers an uncomfortably real depiction of trauma, and I don’t just mean the high-pitched whine that builds with Mae’s anxiety. Mae’s difficulty remembering her teens, her panic attacks, that repeated hiding under the bed, even her addiction; it’s a believable and sympathetic depiction of PTSD. The signs are all there. And the only person surprised by her diagnosis is Mae.

While the themes of Feel Good are heavier than the average dramedy, the quality of Martin’s writing and her unfailing ability to find humor in the bleakest of situations balance out that darkness. And – no matter how chaotic she gets – the character of Mae Martin is always charming, a playful and Puckish figure from whom it is impossible to look away.

Another real high was the relationship between Mae and George. While this romance was what made season one so magnetic, it has now matured into something exquisite. Martin and Charlotte Ritchie (George) have grown more comfortable not only with their characters, but one another. The result is off-the-charts chemistry between them. Which makes the elaborate and entertaining scenes of role-play sex rather fun to watch. It is still rare to see such a frank and tender depiction of sex between two women, never voyeuristic even when sex toys are scattered across the bed.

Feel Good is at its best when leaning into the messiness of millennial lives. George’s adventures through the ambiguity of modern relationships and world of queer poly dating bring a much-needed lightness to the show. But it’s Mae’s half of the story that speaks real truth about the times we live in. At the end of season one, Mae became a viral sensation after doing a comedy set about her life falling apart. And now, pulling against Mae’s desire to get well, is her agent’s expectation that she keep on mining her trauma for content to become the next Hannah Gadsby.

As Mae explores the root of her trauma, she also grapples with gender. While I cannot speak on the experiences of the real-life Mae Martin, who recently came out as non-binary as well as bisexual, I found myself asking: is it any wonder that this fictionalised version of Mae is searching for a way out of womanhood when being female was what enabled a series of older male comics to sexually exploit her from the age of fifteen?

Whereas season one of Feel Good ended on a moment of uncertainty, both in terms of Mae’s relationship with George and her mental health, season two closes on an optimistic note. There is hope – not only for the romance, but where a third season might take us. Feel Good has an incredible cast of characters, from Phil the thoughtful screwup of a roommate, to Mae and George’s dysfunctional parents. Lisa Kudrow shines as Mae’s chilly therapist mother, and Anthony Head (aka Giles from Buffy) is full of rakish charm as George’s playboy father.

Season two of Feel Good more than delivered the goods. It deepened the story and held the audience’s emotions captive from start to finish. It was also a positive and unambiguous source of bi representation, moving beyond the tired old tropes that continue to define how bisexuality is shown on screen.

Both seasons of Feel Good are now streaming on Netflix

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