The many ways you can read the title of Mae Martin’s semi-autobiographical series echoes the way this small show prostrates itself in front of you. Is it a question? A pep talk? A plea? Has the comedian given us a romance, an addiction drama, or a workplace comedy? Are you even supposed to feel good watching it?
The answer is yes and no to all of that, because unlike so many tv shows we get from stand-ups, Martin moves far beyond the comedy stage and gets into the sheer mess of real life. It’s a low-key, deceptive ambition that’s characterized the series from the start, the way it flails around from problem to problem and constantly sweeps out whatever footing you find providing so many entry points that it’s fascinating to see which spit out moment of honesty a person clings to as their favorite. And yet it’s also a comedy, a dark one, not the kind where life is hopeless but where life is a lot, the perfect amount of sugar mixed into one of the best concoctions on Netflix.
The meaty center of this season’s chaos is the hazy past of Martin’s character, also named Mae Martin, that they find creeping up on them. It’s an extension of the previous season’s breakdown, which delved into their struggles with sobriety after many years as a teenager/young adult on their own and very much in its grasp. The past wasn’t explained in much detail before, a trend that continues and gives rise to a building sense that something terrible happened to them, even if neither they nor the audience ever get a clear view of it.
Mae characteristically deflects the gnaw with a joke:
“You know I got chased by a bear once?”
“I don’t know. I’m not sure.”
Or is that a joke? Martin and co-creator/co-writer Joe Hampson are smart enough to leave it open for interpretation, always riding the fine line between humor and pain through the myriad ways they show up in Mae’s life: addiction, familial abandonment, gender identity, sexual harassment, etc. etc.
That these are pains they can’t seem to let go of, or in many cases can’t get away from, are what push the series to the painful highs it achieves. How much of it is true isn’t for us to know, but the way it sidesteps the clean talking points of so many hot button topics (the trendiness of Mae’s struggles is a running joke this season thanks to a grubby agent) takes them squarely from the theoretical and into the real, a place where John Wick isn’t going to manifest himself in Mae and take down all their problems, no matter how much they may wish to be the dashing hero. Instead, Mae struggles to even recognize the problems, and the ending it finds is as much a statement about how false resolutions are, as it is a beautifully clawed out bit of hope.
Giving some structure to this meandering bit of pain is the relationship between Mae and George (Charlotte Ritchie), which has moved past the budding phase but hasn’t really moved to the next level. George has come out to friends and family and Mae has given her a glimpse into the things going on in their head, but much of this season revolves around their struggle for intimacy beyond, as Mae calls it, righteous snarshing.
Not that the snarshing isn’t its own bit of fun. The series continues being frank but not gratuitous about sex, a playfulness, and lust invading the often reserved way queer romances are depicted. Toys make plenty of appearances and roleplaying gets its own montage (my fav is the king and knight scenario, complete with mustaches). But it’s the casualness that’s the point, not any lecherous gazing because Mae and George communicate best through sex.
Their ease with each other is the main source of the charm in Feel Good, and it’s the nugget you root for as they stumble over their various tripping points. It’s plain to see that they have a lot to work through if they’re to last (you should communicate well outside of sex, too), and it’s the tenuousness that comes from that sort of honesty about tough relationships, even ones you love watching and being in, that allows this nervy show to build to astoundingly warm places.
Of course, in a show, this full George and Mae aren’t the only relationship to get this delicate treatment. Roommate/undervalued friend Phil (Phil Burgers) is the kind of non-performative, genuinely good person both Mae and George need (they scoff at those who too consciously say and do the right things because again, this isn’t a show where right answers are to be found). And Mae’s parents, who maintain a hilarious and completely understandable emotional distance from a child they’ve never been able to help, are given the space to sort through their hurts in ways that matter to them.
The writing of Martin and Hampson is obviously to be commended for this, but they also have a cast that miraculously handles the tumultuous and often hairpin emotional turns they throw at them. Ritchie is as adept with vibrator gags as she is with the nudging her character gives to Mae without knowing what precisely will help, and Burgers has that magically goofy affability that still allows him to be taken seriously. Unsurprising, though, it’s Lisa Kudrow as Mae’s mother who snipes you out of nowhere with perfectly delivered barbs of humor and pain, epitomized by a moment involving ornamental pears that will bring you to your knees.
On the surprising side is Martin themself, who shows an ease and openness in front of the camera that doesn’t have the distancing veneer of a stage presence that creeps into so many stand-ups’ on-screen work. They twitch, squirm, and charm their way through material that usually has them playing layers of bravado and self-deception, the few clear-eyed moments being electrically immediate. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the show, as it should be because it’s their show.
Conclusion: Feel Good Season 2
Season 2 of Feel Good gets darker and more uncomfortable withFeelout abandoning its humorous reprieves, a balance that allows it to cover an astonishing amount without feeling punishing. Its brief six episodes make for a distilled hit of brilliance that feels novel in an age of drawn-out media, and that this is reportedly its last outing only makes its accomplishments more bittersweet.
Do you think the second season successfully expanded on the first? Are you sad to see the series go? Let us know in the comments!
The second season of Feel Good is available in full on Netflix worldwide.
Watch Feel Good
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