Feel Good is the latest British comedy series on Channel Four and Netflix hyped as another Fleabag. It features Canadian stand-up comedienne Mae Martin in a quasi-autobiographical story about a stand-up comedienne starting a new romance with a woman while spiraling in her drug addiction. For all the reviews that call it a romantic comedy, it's not very romantic or all that funny. It's actually more of a dramedy, which unfortunately often means it's not very dramatic or funny. The latter is the surprise. The show is really about a sober addict who starts a relationship with a new woman, and probably too soon during her sobriety. She's just neurotic and twitchy and pretty much making every imaginable mistake to drive herself off the wagon.
The characters are likable enough, but it's just not very funny.
Not Exactly That "Fleabag" Vibe
The type of comedy that Fleabag established is the type where the heroine lets her hugely messy emotional problems and flaws blow up into farcical, messy comedy. In Feel Good, Mae isn't so much awful as mildly annoying in her whimsical neurosis. That's the problem with the whole series. The cast is likable, but it's all incredibly… mild.
George (Charlotte Ritchie) takes forever to come out to her friends about dating a woman because she's embarrassed. Her friends aren't even virulently homophobic, they're ordinary British people who are generally tolerant. They were never going to reject her for dating a woman. Mae's spiral back towards drugs is also surprisingly mild. Nothing she does is truly outrageous or horrible that can't be apologized for later. She doesn't do anything so bad that her parents, friends or George can't forgive and bail her out of later. It's the mildest rock bottom I've ever seen in a story about addiction.
The best British comedy often pushes a seemingly mild but embarrassing situation into high stakes and farce. The situations in Feel Good never go over that line. They always stay within this side of the mild. The show never reached the level of actual laugh-out loud shock and funny as Fleabag, Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney's Catastrophe or Aisling Bea's This Way Up.
Feel Good Feels Authentic, But No Real Laughs
The writing, however, does feel emotionally true and authentic. It deals with Mae's anxiety about her gender identity and her propensity for women who previously identified as straight. Olivia Lovibond plays George's loud and rude best friend who's the closest to being actually funny in the show, but the writing never gets there. Sophie Thompson brings an abundance of comic energy to Mae's equally nutty sponsor Brenda who never truly becomes funny due to the limits of the script. Ritu Arya plays Brenda's estranged daughter with a deadpan robotic delivery that would be hilarious if the script would just go there. Lisa Kudrow continues her second career playing brittle women as Mae's hard, distant mother whose hostility turns out to be fully justified given the past hell Mae put her and her husband through. The entire cast is likable and top-notch. Alas, the writing never takes those extra steps to stick the landing into actual comedy.
The show feels less like a romantic comedy so much as a parable about addiction and sobriety. It pretty much dramatizes every one of Dr. Drew's lessons about the mistakes addicts in recovery commonly make. I suppose it's a credit to the writing that the characters are so specific and authentic that I talk about them like people I've met.
Feel Good is now streaming on Netflix.