Mae Martin’s touchingly humane rom-com, Feel Good, paints an intimate picture of modern love and addiction.
Having made her start in stand-up comedy as a teenager, Feel Good is Mae Martin’s first venture into screenwriting. The show follows a character called Mae, loosely based on Martin, as she charts her course through the peaks and pitfalls of life as a queer, twenty-something recovering addict trying to make it in the big city and the unforgiving industry of stand-up comedy. The plot centres itself on Mae’s relationship with George (Charlotte Ritchie), an Oxford-born girl whom Mae describes as “a dangerous Mary Poppins”.
The first episode perfectly captures the excitement and infatuation of the honeymoon period, but cracks are beginning to show already, as both Mae and George’s emotional baggage starts to reveal itself. On a Skype call with Mae’s parents, George discovers that Mae is a recovering addict, whilst our attention is also drawn to the fact that George is reluctant to tell her friends and family about her relationship with Mae – this being her first relationship with a woman. As the plot progresses, more issues unravel, such as strained family relationships, gender identity, and unhealthy friendships. The series does move quickly (at only six episodes), yet still manages to create a deep sense of intimacy through its authentic characters and numerous poignant moments.
Mae herself is magnificent. It’s hard to believe this is her first acting role, as she so expertly captures the manic restlessness of her character. Everything from her darting eyes to her frantic pacing as she tries to resist texting George on a weekend away is clearly reflective of the addictive personality of her character. Ritchie also delivers a standout performance, with the chemistry between the two actresses amplified through witty, and touching, dialogue. They are accompanied by a truly wonderful supporting cast: Sophie Thompson playing Mae’s kind and eccentric chosen sponsor Maggie, Ophelia Lovibond as George’s rude, self-centered and privileged friend Binky, and most notably, Lisa Kudrow as Mae’s emotionally distant and blunt mother Linda, who has some of the best, and most appalling lines in the show (“You were in an incubator. It’s why we’re not close.”).
The simultaneously charming and raw approach to the subject matter is what really sets this show apart. This is a show that is unapologetic in its authentic portrayal of sex, gender identity, addiction, family relationships, and queer relationships. No character is idealised or demonised; they are all shown as multifaceted, flawed and lovable people who struggle with a wide range of issues, seen through the lens of both humour and pathos.
At the heart of it, Feel Good is a modern take on a rom-com, one that embraces romance but also deftly tackles deeper issues. This more holistic approach to the genre reminds us that romantic love is just one part of what makes up an individual’s well-being, and that it takes more than one singular person or vice to make us feel good.
Words by Joanna Magill