Published Mar 20, 2020Watching new Netflix series Feel Good will not feel that good for anyone who's ever struggled with addiction in any form — which, according to lead actor Mae Martin, is a lot of us.
The show's storyline — which Martin partially fleshed out in her 2019 Comedians of the World Netflix special — follows the UK-based Canadian comic playing herself during her years as an up-and-comer recovering from drug addiction. We watch her hold a relatively firm grasp over her sobriety for the majority of the show, as she attends narcotics anonymous meetings, finds a sponsor (albeit an unsuitable one), and remains, for the most part, successfully on the wagon. But when she meets George (Charlotte Ritchie), and the pair quickly fall in love, she learns to project her addictive tendencies elsewhere: onto her relationship. What ensues is a refreshingly honest, insightful look at how addiction can work its way into a range of areas of our lives, and if you've been there, it's so spot on, it hurts.
A high-pitched ringing goes off in Mae's ears every time she's faced with an addictive impulse: the same alarm sounds when she sees cocaine at a standup show as during pivotal moments in her relationship with George, like when they kiss for the first time and right after they have makeup sex. It's a smartly positioned sonic tool used to help the viewer understand these two seemingly different occurrences as part of the same camp: addictions.
At first glance, the pair may seem like your classic on-again off-again, "it's complicated" relationship. But Martin and Ritchie's dynamic feels more palpably urgent than most — they love each other, yes, but with a stronger undercurrent of dependence than many love stories that make it to screen. As Mae falls for George — who is in her first same-sex relationship and admits she'll probably go back to dating men after her time with Martin is up — the relationship becomes clear to be riddled with toxicities. At the top of the list is George's unwillingness to introduce Mae to her friends as anything more than an acquaintance. This is due in part to her own battle with coming out — which is valid, but proves to come at the cost of Mae's self-esteem. Nonetheless, the pair stay together, despite Mae admitting that the relationship doesn't make her happy ("that's not what being in love is," she declares to George during one pivotal fight).
Over the course of six episodes, we watch Mae's addiction to the ups and downs of passionate, albeit toxic, love play out in various ways. We watch her give up her own needs to give more of herself to her partner — blowing off narcotics anonymous meetings midway to greet an unavailable George at work, for example. As Martin's mother, Linda (played by the shining Lisa Kudrow, seemingly made for this role) points out, this is a pattern caused by something deeper. It's not the love, it's the thrill of the chase that keeps Mae involved with partners who treat her badly — the same tendency that kept her going back to drugs time after time in a past life.
When it's not breaking down the nuance of complicated love, the show is also shedding light on the fragility of parent-child dynamics, offering occasional critique of the British class system and mocking horrible men in comedy. The show is packed with lessons beyond its unconventional look at addiction — and it does this all without sacrificing humour or wit.
The show's direction (by fellow Canadian Ally Pankiw) and casting also deserve major props. Martin displays both charm and honest vulnerability throughout each episode. Kudrow offers the hardness of a deeply concerned, yet self-protective parent and the classic oddball humour we know and love her for. Sophie Thomson's portrayal of the lovable, erratic Maggie is both heartwarming and deeply entertaining. Ophelia Lovibond (Binks) and Tom Durant Pritchard (Hugh) go the extra mile in their cartoonish, yet shockingly accurate depictions of entitled posh Brits. Phil Burgers (Phil) does the same in his own version of an endearingly laid back Californian. If I could shout out every cast member I would; each personality adds something fresh to the show, which makes it difficult to turn off.
The whole thing is a work of genius, with layer upon layer of insights to dig into. It's honest, refreshing, and funny all at once. Feel Good is a must-watch.