Feel Good: Mae Martin’s Charmingly Chaotic Dramedy

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Feel Good, image courtesy of Netflix

Since we’re stuck at home all day every day during the lockdown, streaming boxsets has become a lifeline. Channel 4’s latest lesbian drama, made in partnership with Netflix, is the binge-worthy content we have all been waiting for: Feel Good.

Feel Good tells the story of Mae Martin. When we first meet her, Mae’s life is precarious. She sofa surfs. Her card is declined. And her only source of income is performing comedy gigs. Both the sofa where Mae sleeps and the comedy club where she performs are owned by Nick – whose protectiveness is the only safety net Mae has.

A Canadian in London with a soft butch aesthetic, Mae is instantly lovable. George – who has been coming to the club night after night to watch Mae’s set – certainly thinks so. After necking a double gin & tonic, she heads backstage to make a pass at Mae. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Mae and George do that very lesbian thing of falling for each other on the first date, going home together, and almost immediately shacking up. One minute they’re kissing each other in a bar, the next they’re saying “I love you.” It is the first of several stunning montages that make Feel Good so intensely watchable. Each episode is a lean 25 minutes, and every second is used to great effect.

The most successful comedy/dramas of this era are carried by a protagonist who is just the right balance of chaotic and charming – think Fleabag or Bojack Horseman. And now Feel Good joins their ranks. Her charisma and wit are what keep Mae afloat. They are also the traits that enable Mae to hide the fact that she’s struggling, leading her into dangerous waters.

Feel Good, Image courtesy of Netflix

Feel Good is semi-autobiographical. A recovering drug addict navigating the ever more complicated terrain of gender and sexuality in the modern dating world, Mae Martin uses her own life as inspiration. She describes the show as “a sort of a patchwork of real and fictional experiences. We narrativized emotions rather than specific events and people, so there’s truth there but it’s all been dialled up.”

Like Will Smith in Fresh Prince, Mae chose to use her own name for her most recognizable role to date. A decision that is likely to pay off, as Feel Good has the potential to become a classic piece of lesbian culture.

Through Mae and George’s whirlwind romance, Feel Good asks some big questions – about the sexual politics of a strap on, what it means to be “culturally straight”, gender roles within a same-sex relationship. And les/bi Millennials will find the scene where Mae puts her phone inside a suitcase and wraps it in clingfilm to keep from texting her girlfriend intensely relatable.

As a drama, Feel Good is never more successful than when asking what it means to be the first and only woman your girlfriend has dated. Until now, George has only ever been with men. Her circle of friends is very posh and very straight – their banter falls back on a strain of homophobia that flourishes within elite private schools.

When the honeymoon stage of their romance comes to an end, Mae realizes that George is reluctant to introduce her to friends. George hasn’t told her parents she’s living with someone. And George won’t even post pictures of them together on Instagram, or interact with Mae on Twitter.

Feel Good, Image courtesy of Netflix

George lies to her friends, saying that she’s dating a man called Jonathan Crenshaw. She even lies to Mae, saying that the wedding she’s going to is tiny (it’s huge) and she wasn’t allowed to bring a plus one (the invitation specifically said George plus one). While George has the right to stay closeted for as long as she needs, her dishonesty is a faultline in their relationship – as is Mae’s addiction.

Feel Good is storytelling made powerful through the characters’ vulnerabilities. Is Mae laying the foundations for a serious relationship, or is she looking for another kind of escape? Can George commit to Mae, or is this just a brief detour from heterosexuality? With sixteen years’ experience in the comedy circuit, Mae Martin draws her audience into difficult ground with a level of honesty that is disarming. Although Feel Good can be heavy, like Mae it has a lot of heart – and that’s what makes it compulsive viewing.

You can stream the show on Netflix in the US or Channel 4 in the UK.

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