Mae is a mess. She’s in her mid twenties, couch surfing as she tries to break into the comedy world. She jumps from relationship to relationship and can’t effectively communicate with her parents. She also struggles with the long term effects of a cocaine addiction that led her to be kicked out of her family home in her teens.
Mae is unquestionably the main character of Feel Good. We see others through her perspective and are meant to empathize with her. Mae is deeply flawed, she’s frustrating, cynical, manic and stubborn and yet there’s something about her that pulls viewers in.
Mae Martin is a 32 year-old stand-up comedian from Canada. She currently lives and works in the United Kingdom where she co-wrote Feel Good. Martin stars in the show that is based largely on her own experience. It is brutally honest and unflinching while still maintaining the comedic style that Martin is known for. There are points in the show where I could tell that Martin was reliving a particularly shameful moment in her writing. It felt as if we were processing her past alongside her. She inserts details and characters that are too strange and specific to have come from anywhere other than her lived experience.
Where the show tends to fall flat is in Mae’s lack of any concrete goal. It’s a slice of life story rather than something more plot driven that we might come to expect. We are not on Mae’s journey to become a stand-up comedian, nor are we watching her at the beginning stages of addiction recovery. It’s not quite a love story and it’s not quite a comedy. Rather, we are meant to be invested in Mae as a person. The real story is how she changes and develops, for better or for worse over the seven episode season.
Martin gives a good performance, though her strength is clearly as a writer rather than an actor. It is worth applauding that she played herself without falling into the trap of trying to hide the flaws that both she and the fictionalized version of herself share.
A standout performance came from Charlotte Ritchie though. Ritchie plays Mae’s girlfriend, George in the series. Up until dating Mae, George had only ever dated men. This becomes an insecurity for both Mae and George in later episodes as George is pressured to label herself by her friends and family. Mae becomes concerned about her own gender and the way in which she presents herself to the world.
Something that I found refreshing was the way sexuality was portrayed in this show. It wasn’t something dramatic. Mae’s parents didn’t struggle to accept that she was dating a woman. Although Mae presents in a stereotypically androgynous manner, short hair and baggy sweaters, she is portrayed as being involved with men as well as women. The pressure on George to pick a label from friends, both gay and straight, was realistic and something many people will find true to life.
These are real issues and it’s clear that they came from a place of pain and reality for Martin. She handles these subjects with a care and humour that only someone who’s truly experienced these feelings could.
Lisa Kudrow’s character as Mae’s mother reads as humorous at first. Kudrow’s performance soon morphs into something deeper though. Martin and Kudrow portray a fraught relationship between a mother and a daughter with ease. Their scenes are tense yet tender. There’s no clear moral victor, rather, it becomes apparent that both women have some apologies to make.
Olivia Lovibond and Tom Durant-Pritchard are a fantastic comic relief duo. Together they form the absolute worst couple that we have all had the misfortune of interacting with. She’s judgemental and self absorbed, he’s also judgemental and self absorbed with just a dash of misogyny added for good measure. Their lines consistently made my jaw drop. There was no scene that they couldn’t steal and no moment they couldn’t make uncomfortable.
Ultimately Feel Good is mostly just alright. It’s not life changing, but it’s good. The episodes run less than half an hour, so it’s an easy binge. The show’s strength is in its honesty. We all know people like the characters.
The show doesn’t make audience members “feel good” but it does portray just how damaging it can be to always be sear\\ching for the next high. At first cocaine was Mae’s addiction, then stand-up, relationships, sex, change. These were all things that at first, when done in moderation posed relatively few problems, but as Mae pursued them more and more, they started to wreak havoc on her life.
Feel Good is about Mae’s quest to do just that, to feel good. We realize through the series just how hard that can be.
TBP rating: 4 stars