TV TATTLE

It's a miracle Feel Good got a Season 2, but it feels like it has limited space to tell its story

  • "When Netflix got into the original programming business, it presented itself as a safe space for cancellation-scarred viewers," says Alan Sepinwall. "Netflix shows wouldn’t necessarily run forever, but their creators would at least be given warning to wrap up the story. Eventually, though, the almighty algorithm decreed that long runs were a bad thing — particularly the ones that weren’t aiming for a Stranger Things-sized audience — and the streamer forced many shows to wind down with a third season. And now, we’re in a moment where Netflix has begun abruptly canceling shows after a single season, with stories nowhere close to being finished. So it seems like something of a miracle to even get a second, albeit final, season of Feel Good. A dramedy about the messy romance between recovering addict and comedian Mae Martin (played by the real Mae Martin, who created it with Joe Hampson) and schoolteacher George (Charlotte Ritchie), its first season was a real gem. But the show seemed much too small and quirky to survive in the more ruthless, blockbuster-oriented environment Netflix has cultivated over the last few years — even if its entire production budget is probably lower than what the hats cost for a single episode of Shadow and Bone. At the same time, Feel Good Season Two strains on occasion to say everything it wants to about these characters and their relationship within the remaining space allowed, as if the two-minute warning light came on in a club while Mae was just getting warmed up. These concluding six episodes seek to cover a lot of ground: Mae’s addiction and the buried trauma that helps fuel it, George’s sexuality, Mae’s gender identity (the real-life Martin recently came out as non-binary), how each of them get along with their parents, and the state of both their careers, among many other things."

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    • Feel Good is probably the only TV series ever to show queer sex in all of its creativity, style, and playfulness — while still being pretty damn hot: "It seems almost silly to single out the sex when Feel Good is navigating so many other issues," says Jude Dry. "In fact, there are so many things Feel Good gets right it’s a wonder how seamlessly it all comes together, without a single issue outweighing another. Yes, it’s a dark comedy about one person dealing (or not dealing) with trauma and addiction, but it’s also a tender love story about two people learning how to be together in a healthy way. Underlining all of this is Mae’s fluctuating relationship to gender, which pops up as a running joke throughout but is ultimately handled with just as much care as any other topic."
    • Season 2 goes further into the mire of trauma, while maintaining one of TV’s sweetest romantic storylines: "After the end of season one, in which Mae unravelled, returned to old habits and imploded their relationship with George, there is an attempt at a reset," says Rebecca Nicholson. "Mae is dropped off at rehab by their parents – Lisa Kudrow is a brilliant comic actor, and she is perfect here, as the brittle mother terrified of the past repeating itself. At the clinic, demons resurface, as does an old drug debt, in the form of a fellow patient with a good memory who likes to piss in the food. If this all sounds bleak, well, it is and it isn’t. Largely, the show chooses humour over misery, hope over despair. It is sensitive and smart in its portrayal of PTSD, and deals in shades of grey, examining events with the kind of complexity that is often absent from public debate but is very much the bedrock of private discussions."
    • Season 2 is just as richly textured and even more ambitious in its storytelling than Season 1: The final season of Mae Martin's sitcom, which first aired on Channel 4 in the UK but is a Netflix exclusive for Season 2, "unflinchingly embraces discomfort and mess," says Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya. "Many of the central themes from season one continue here: a surprisingly thin line between self-fulfillment and self-destruction, the highs and lows of relationships, the tension between one’s self and how one is perceived by others. Mae’s addiction is still a significant part of her arc here—in the span of the premiere, she both checks into and out of rehab—but season two also introduces a new set of obstacles that builds on some of the character work last season. Reconnecting with her parents made Mae confront her past, and as she realizes that her memories of her teenage years are fragmented and sometimes lost completely, she begins to process things that have laid dormant, making her feel, in her own words, like her brain is a cupboard full of empty Tupperware rattling around. The specificity of that metaphor speaks to Feel Good’s complex and honest portrayal of its protagonist. It’s funny and disturbing all at once, but also very centered on Mae. She describes how she feels in her own words, and the image is indelible. A reunion with an old close friend morphs from something celebratory into something much darker. Feel Good asks very difficult questions about trauma, memory, and survival, which it handles with astonishing depth and empathy."
    • If you’re only looking for funny from Feel Good, then you’re coming in with the wrong expectations: "Feel Good runs far deeper, holding up a mirror to everything from the well-meaning therapy-speak of millennials, to the complexities of the Me Too movement, to the exploration of gender binaries, to the realities of living with addiction and trauma," says Catherine Gee. "But in both story and dialogue Martin and Hampson rarely take the easy route or the obvious joke or make sweeping statements. Something that might be easily mocked in a lesser show, is done so here without snark."
    • Mae Martin calls Feel Good "a childhood dream come true" -- "I grew up wanting to be a leading man": “We absolutely did not go into it with any kind of mission statement,” says Martin. “I don’t mean to talk about these sort of highly politicized or hot-button topics — it’s just that they affect my life personally.” Martin and their co-creator Joe Hampson set out to tell a relatable and realistic story about the complexities of relationships and about addictive behavior, which “I’m very familiar with,” says Martin. Meanwhile, Martin has won famous admirers, such as Elliot Page, who called himself “both a fan and a friend” of Martin’s. “Mae’s integrity, vulnerability and intelligence sets them apart, both as a person and as a creative force to be reckoned with,” Page said. “When I first saw their work, I was struck by their honest and nuanced depiction of gender and sexuality, and clearly, it is resonating with other people as well.”

    TOPICS: Feel Good, Netflix, Mae Martin




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