It’s hard to date a comedian. It’s hard to date an addict. Sexuality is fluid, and sometimes that can be hard to navigate. We’ve seen stories deal with these topics before. Netflix’s latest sitcom, “Feel Good,” doesn’t do a whole lot to reinvent the wheel. Yet, there’s enough heart, sincerity and wit behind Mae Martin’s new show that makes it a pleasant, quick watch.
Mae (Martin) is a UK based comedienne from Canada that engages in a flirtation with George (Charlotte Ritchie) at one of her shows. George has only ever been with men before, but she throws herself fully into a relationship with Mae. This leads Mae to open up about her journey of recovery. Having been addicted to drugs in her teens and early 20s, Mae continues to attend NA meetings. As Mae and George’s relationship intensifies, Mae struggles to balance her sobriety with the intense feelings of love and dependency she feels toward George.
Comedians have found success mining their personal lives for successful TV shows. On TV right now, Pamela Adlon continues to spin gold with “Better Things,” which feels like loose musings of her life. Mae Martin certainly possesses a sweet demeanor and good heart to her comedy. However, she lacks the necessary charisma to power an entire show. Her Mae knows how to be vulnerable, which is when the series is at its best. Mae searches for a love that can make her feel safe. However, that craving sometimes leads her into responses and situations that aren’t going to bring her the stability she wants.
None of these feelings seem shared by George, who literally wants to shove Mae into a closet. “Feel Good” makes the tricky choice of showing the many toxic potholes in George and Mae’s relationship. George hides Mae from her Mom and from all of her friends. Despite this shameful behavior, George invites Mae to move into her apartment. She treats Mae like a serious girlfriend indoors but looks at her like a stranger when they’re out on the town. Mae’s infatuation with George lets this behavior go unchecked for long stretches of time. Unfortunately, the dynamic becomes uncomfortable to watch, partially by design.
There are moments when “Feel Good” properly laughs at and dramatizes George’s faux-progressive nature. When she hears one of her students use a homophobic slur, George strictly reprimands the student. Following that, she marches to the school principal and demands that gay history be taught in her classroom. The principal, shocked, retorts that gay history is on the curriculum and that George should’ve been teaching that to the kids already. “Two of your students are trans,” the principal reminds George. It’s a really effective joke that highlights George’s self-centeredness. She only thinks of queer-ness as it applies to her. If only Mae could see that more clearly.
Though she only pops in for a few episodes, Lisa Kudrow shows us how to expertly blend comedy and drama. As Linda, Mae’s Mom, Kudrow delicately hides her love for her daughter behind walls of concern and distrust. As a teenager, Mae had crossed more than a few lines with her drug use. This led to Linda and Mae’s Dad, Malcolm (Adrian Lukis), kicking Mae out of their house. Taking such a drastic measure, even for the right reasons, places a gulf between mother and daughter. Kudrow mines this for uncomfortable laughs, but then subverts the same joke to provoke tears. Knowing some truths are almost too uncomfortable to talk about, Mae broaches the subject of her past actions under drugs while her and Linda go through a Haunted House ride. Kudrow’s deadpan faces at all of the Haunted House scares make “Feel Good” worth a watch on its own.
Early episodes feel repetitive and navel-gazing in a certain regard. Yet, the final episodes provide the dramatic payoff that almost make it worth sticking around for. “Feel Good” excels when it explores the razor thin line that recovering drug addicts walk. They know their actions affect other people, which is why they are in recovery. Unfortunately, people often don’t fully empathize or understand the voice in their head that draws them to the actions they know are wrong. Mae searches for love that may not be requited because she’s searching for something to hold onto. However, putting all one’s mental energy into one relationship produces similar feelings of addiction, withdrawal and anguish. “Feel Good” deserves to be better, but makes great strides over the course of its wonderfully brisk two and a half hour long season.