From the moment comedian Mae Martin's comedy Feel Good landed on Channel 4 in March 2020, queer and straight fans alike were hooked. Season one followed Mae as they started dating the previously straight George (Fresh Meat's Charlotte Ritchie) and navigated an intense new relationship and addiction. It was a relationship dynamic rarely shown - especially so honestly and with such nuance - on mainstream TV, and one that many viewers could relate to regardless of their gender or sexuality.
After much hype, Feel Good is back for season two and will land on Netflix on June 4. And I had the honour of chatting to Mae ahead of its release. Without giving too much away, the new season delves even deeper into themes touched upon in the first: trauma, codependency, "toxic" relationships, fluidity and substance abuse.
Having been starved of genuinely good queer representation for what seems like forever, I smashed through the entire new series in one sitting. When I told Mae this, they said this was exactly how they wanted the show to be consumed. But they did say they don't think of it as a queer show. "I just always want people to watch the show across all demographics, because I don't think of it as a show that set out to be about representation. It's just a love story, really," they say. "The whole point of the show is about fluidity and ambiguity, but it's hopefully a universally relatable love story."
Why did you decide to explore the seasoned queer and the straight girl/baby gay dynamic?
"I am just telling a story that is based on stuff that I've experienced. I have a lot of empathy for that process, as I've ended up dating a lot of previously heterosexual people who were sort of rethinking things. And so I felt like I could tell that story empathetically. It's a process that can be very romantic, and also very painful. And yeah, the main thing is we shouldn't live in a world where that is even a thing."
A running theme throughout both seasons is the difference between needing someone and wanting them. What were you trying to say about that?
"It would be naive of me to think I had a definitive answer on that. But I think so we sort of posed the question about what's codependency and what's healthy? How much responsibility should you take for your partner's happiness or unhappiness? I think it's the same with a lot of things. It's when it starts to impact your own mental health and world, then you need to put up some boundaries.
"I think George experiences that in this season. She starts to feel like she's disappearing a bit because Mae's always got some drama going on. I don't think it's bad to need people, we all need people sometimes. And often relationships feel like you're just taking turns needing each other more. Mae and George are trying to get to a slightly more mature place where they're choosing to be with each other rather than compelled to be with each other in an addictive way."
Does being in love mean losing your autonomy?
"I really struggle with that. I get very claustrophobic very easily. And my whole life has been about being desperate to be autonomous. I dropped out of school very young and I was living alone very young. I'm trying to find a balance. No, I don't think love means losing your autonomy at all. I think love is the answer. And we all need to love each other. But I do think that there are different ways to do things. And I wonder if the next generations are going to have slightly different approaches to relationships. It's a lot to expect one person to fulfil all of your emotional and romantic needs."
Do you think Mae and George's relationship is what people would call "toxic" at any point?
"We throw that word around for sure. But yeah, definitely. In season one, I think when George was keeping Mae a secret, that was pretty corrosive to both of them. There are moments in season two, where Mae’s kind of completely bulldozing over George's needs as well. I'm rooting for them. I think people can see that they really make each other laugh and are madly in love. It's a fantasy scenario where you can transform a toxic relationship into something slightly less toxic."
What do people get wrong about Feel Good?
"Maybe strap-ons are slightly unusual for some people, but they shouldn't be, I mean, even heterosexual people use strap-ons. [The sex] is such a small portion of the show. Like there's really there's two sex scenes in the show. It's nowhere near as much as other shows like Girls or Fleabag. But it definitely stands out to people. Mainly it's a show about addiction and relationships.
"I don't feel like a niche performer or a niche writer. I think the show is very mainstream. And then everything I'm asked to write about it is like my coming out story, or it's about gender. I think it's kind of reductive, because the show’s about so much more than that. It's funny because [Mae exploring their gender] will be the headline of every article. I am definitely finding that in promoting the show there is a focus on the gender stuff. But really, it's just a few lines. So it's a very small thread in the second series, although it definitely informs my character’s anxiety in some way. But yeah. There's a much bigger character arc in the show that nobody's really mentioning: trauma. That’s what was more interesting to us in the second season."
"I read that The Times [and The Sunday Times] has written 223 articles this year about trans identities, and it's just too many. That is part of the reason that we're experiencing this backlash around trans rights and trans identities. Because the media is drumming up the kind of hysteria around it by covering it so exhaustively. Really, we're talking about a very small community who are just looking to live comfortably. I've definitely found sometimes people are pushing you to comment on something very personal and nuanced. But they want you to speak very definitively about it, and sometimes in not a very safe environment."
Feel Good is available on Netflix worldwide from 4 June.
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