Created by: Mae Martin and Joe Hampson
Starring: Mae Martin, Charlotte Ritchie, Lisa Kudrow, Phil Burgers
Streaming on: Netflix
In Mae Martin’s Feel Good, the comedian plays a fictionalised version of herself: a Canadian comic living in London. In the first season, which premiered on Netflix last year, Mae meets and falls in love with a woman named George (Charlotte Ritchie) who, until then, has only dated men. In their first few whirlwind months of getting to know one another, they contend with various things: George is not ready to come out to anyone, Mae is a recovering ex-addict. By the season’s end, George had inadvertently come out, Mae had relapsed (making the protagonist an ex-addict is a bit like Chekhov’s gun: you know they’ll relapse) and the two had broken up.
Now, in season 2, which was released on Friday, Mae has to revisit her past, while George has to evaluate her present. Much like the previous season, this one continues to feature a raft of eccentric supporting characters. Unfortunately, Sophie Thompson’s kooky Narcotics Anonymous member Maggie doesn’t return, but we meet George’s father George (Anthony Head), who’s about to have a baby in an open marriage, and George’s bisexual polyamorous co-worker Elliott (Jordan Stephens), who has four or five girlfriends and boyfriends. And returning from season 1 are George and Mae’s loveable flatmate Phil (Phil Burgers) and Mae’s parents Linda and Malcolm (Lisa Kudrow and Adrian Lukis).
Through the six episodes, Martin and her co-writer Joe Hampson weave a story about the queer experience, parents and children, consent, and self-actualisation in a romance. Elliott, who is given to making enigmatic pronouncements, tells George that it’s important in a relationship to take turns being the bonsai and the gardener. Is she tending more to Mae than the other way around, George wonders? Meanwhile, Mae is haunted by her past, particularly a relationship she had as a teen with Scott (John Ross Bowie), a man twice her age, whom she reconnects with this season. As she figures out what that time meant, I was reminded of Jennifer Fox’s The Tale, a similarly semi-autobiographical film in which the adult Jenny (Laura Dern) re-evaluates what she has always called her “first relationship”, even though she was a teen and her boyfriend was a grown man. When Scott tells Mae that he has dated “women on the younger side”, Mae says, “There’s a word for women on the younger side: children!”
Feel Good, which doesn’t always feel good as it unflinchingly mixes emotion with prickliness, places great emphasis on the fluidity of sexuality and identity. Often there is a pressure on queer people to form a concrete definition of how we feel, but Feel Good tells us that it’s okay to be less than sure. Martin has used her character’s examination of her non-binary identity to come out publicly as non-binary herself. George also begins to embrace uncertainty this season, repeatedly resisting the categorisation of her sexuality. As good as Martin is playing herself, Ritchie matches her beat for beat with an evocative and deeply likeable performance as George. And then there’s Lisa Kudrow, who creates a person out of a tricky character and with next to no screen time: Linda is exasperated and at the end of her tether with Mae, and you can see where she comes from, but it’s hard to empathise with her suspicious attitude.
How do we help each other be the best versions of ourselves? Feel Good asks this question, but doesn’t bother answering it in any definite way. Instead, it knows that we’re all figuring it out, just like its characters. And that’s enough.