TV review: Feel Good is one of the years best shows

Canadian Mae Martin’s new Netflix series about a recovering addict trying to make it as a stand-up in London is prickly, funny and honest


FEEL GOOD (Mae Martin). All six episodes streaming Thursday (March 19) on Netflix. Rating: NNNNN


Produced for Channel 4 in the UK, with Netflix streaming it in the rest of the world, Feel Good slots right into the current wave of painfully honest British television: the jokes are there to cover up the deep wells of hurt. It’s prickly and funny, and remarkably specific in its subject matter, and it’s one of the best things I’ve seen this year. 

Conceived and co-written by its star, Canadian writer and comic Mae Martin, Feel Good is a lightning-quick romantic dramedy that’s also a richly realized character study. It’s inventive, it’s alive, it’s utterly charming and absolutely enveloping I watched one episode and just didn’t stop, devouring the entire series in an evening. Look, no one’s doing anything this week. Watch it.

Martin plays a fictional version of herself, a recovering addict trying to make it in London as a stand-up comedian but not quite connecting with the crowd. She does click with one specific audience member, though: George (Call The Midwife’s Charlotte Ritchie), who identifies as straight but is majorly attracted to Mae. 

They’re a proper couple by the end of the first episode – one of the many ways Martin and co-writer Joe Hampson avoid standard sitcom structure – and the rest of the show examines the impact of this new relationship on both of them: Mae turns George into her latest addiction, while George struggles with coming out to her posh, superficial friends. 

Director Ally Pankiw, who’s written for Schitt’s Creek and directed the CBC web series Terrific Women, gives the show a brisk, slightly unsteady energy that captures Mae’s restless point of view, but she lets us see George’s dazzled, nervous perspective as well. As much as Feel Good is a story about the way new love makes us act like our best selves (while also hiding away those parts of ourselves with which we haven’t come to terms), it’s also about dislocation: neither Mae nor George feel like they fully belong in their respective worlds, but they create their own oasis once they’re together. Whether that’s healthy or not is debatable. 

Martin and Ritchie’s immediate chemistry drives the show, and they’re surrounded by layered, thoughtfully drawn characters. Sophie Thompson teases out a heartbreaking backstory as Mae’s NA sponsor Maggie, while Lisa Kudrow and Adrian Lukis are perfectly paired as Mae’s parents, who are distant in both a literal and metaphorical sense. They’re somewhat more present in the fourth episode, which marks the series’ dramatic high point… until the next two, anyway. 

The fact that Martin’s never made a dramatic series before – indeed, this is the first time she’s ever acted in anything – makes Feel Good feel like a major arrival in much the same way as Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan’s Catastrophe or Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag. 

That’s not as much of a reach as it may sound. All three series share a confessional element that pulls comedy from painful honesty, forcing us to understand their protagonists from the inside out. And by the end of Feel Good we don’t just know Mae and George we’re invested in their happiness, and rooting for them to make something of their chaotic connection, even if that just makes things even messier. That’s love. That’s life.

@normwilner

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