The Spool / TV
No Kidding, “Feel Good” is a Real Gem

Netflix breathes new life into the tired stand-up comedian sitcom genre.

The stand-up comedy dramedy is dead. It was tired after Seinfeld, and the only person that got it right since turned out to be a monster. Every other offer in the genre has either struggled with a relationship with the world outside of comedy, or an obsession with the inside world of comedy, which is not that interesting. I am sorry to say, but I do not care about anyone’s struggles to impress a booker. 

The thing that Feel Good, Netflix’s new British comedy centered on the life of queer comedian Mae Martin, gets right is that stand up is still work. It doesn’t matter if your work is talking in front of other people, or working in an office. Most of the time it’s not that interesting. Our current society is so obsessed with work that the obsession tends to bleed into our media. Feel Good isn’t a show about a stand-up comedian. It’s about a person who happens to be a stand-up comedian. 

Mae as a character has more important things to think about than comedy. The show navigates through its first six episodes mostly focused on Mae’s relationships with George (Charlotte Ritchie), a teacher who’s never had any queer experiences, her mother, Linda (Lisa Kudrow), and her sobriety. Martin proves themself a capable actor, painting a well-made version of a person who doesn’t just love cocaine but loves getting high on any sort of obsessive behavior. Feel Good isn’t about drugs or about being queer. It’s about the day to day struggle to fight our worst aspects. 

The characters in Feel Good aren’t battling the things that they think they are fighting. Mae thinks she’s just trying to stay sober, but she’s really fighting her tendencies with obsession. George’s fear of coming out isn’t based on any actual repercussions in her personal life. George’s fight is with her own internalized shame about her sexuality. In one episode, Mae lashes out at the behaviors of herself and her fellow NA attendees, saying that they’ve all simply replaced their addictions. It’s easy to know our faults but Feel Good says that knowing your faults isn’t the same as overcoming them.

It’s easy to know our faults but Feel Good says that knowing your faults isn’t the same as overcoming them.

That’s not to discount the fact that this is still ostensibly a comedy show, and it’s supposed to make people laugh.  It does have plenty of laughs, mainly from the performances of Phil (Phil Burgers) and Maggie (Sophie Thompson). March is phenomenal as a heightened recovered addict clinging to her obsessive behavior. Burgers takes the role that tanks most comedies (the aimless, possibly stoned white guy) and injects the one-note character of Phil from Hollywood (he’s from Hollywood) with a deep of empathy for the people he interacts with that make his sometimes lazily written character into a believable, ridiculous human being.  

Even for a show so unconcerned with the workings of comedy as an industry, the most interesting looking scenes tend to be in the comedy club. Awash with blue and green neon, the scenes in the club display a great use of color as a disorienting factor. As Mae tends to be in some sort of crisis every time they’re there, the color shifts in lighting and in the walls brightly colored green room distorts everything so slightly making her switch to more manic behavior go unnoticed until it breaks down the door and starts yelling. 

Feel Good is an exciting way for modern television to go. It’s unfortunately still refreshing to see a show that features queer and gender-nonconforming characters that are not completely defined by those parts of their identity. While this is still a reality, treasure every show like Feel Good that comes along.

Random Observations:

  • Lisa Kudrow is the real deal. That’s all. 
  • “I’m not just an addict, I have my own dazzling personality. I actually, I really like grapes.” 
  • There’s a neat little bit of sound design, where high pitched feedback will play whenever Mae is thinking about using or engaging in rough behavior.  
  • I was not able to track the name of the actress, but George’s mom, a woman who’s only joke is that she thinks everyone should get a divorce, really tickled me. 

Feel Good premieres on Netflix March 19th.

Feel Good Trailer: