Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Netflix released “Feel Good” on March 18, a new series that hits especially hard given the current global environment. It seems we all are desperate to hit pause on the trauma of daily life and find a way to feel good, even if it only lasts six episodes.
The show follows the main character Mae through their struggles with navigating sobriety, gender and sexuality. The intersection of these identity subsets highlights the lived experiences of many individuals who are misrepresented or pushed to the margins. “Feel Good” provides a platform for stories previously muted in favor of what is agreeable among a large population.
“Feel Good” is semi-autobiographical, starring comedian Mae Martin who selflessly portrays the best and worst parts of her life on screen. Martin’s direct role in writing “Feel Good” allows for honesty that many other shows of the same nature lose in favor of an easily digestible story. Although aspects of Martin’s life are amplified in order to elicit a strong emotional response from viewers, the minor details of the main character’s mannerisms and psyche remain authentic.
Martin’s personal investment in the storytelling never comes off as self-righteous or self-serving, and instead creates direct insight into the thoughts of a recovering addict. Mae’s behavior is often manic and spur of the moment, detailing minute aspects of addiction that are still relevant to an individual’s well-being. Succumbing to one’s vices does not always come in the form of benders and overdoses, and is more commonly expressed in giving in to poor coping mechanisms or putting off the work to heal.
“Feel Good” ropes viewers in from the opening scene of the first episode, committing to fully exploring a relationship once it exists, rather than teasing potential connections. Shows of this nature often walk around and exclude the very real moments of dating, such as moving in together or spending evenings reading in bed. Although “Feel Good” does contain similar aspects of dramatization these rare moments are intentional and add to the emotional impact of the show.
The soundtrack used in the show is every indie-lovers' dream, combined with the crisp cinematography to create both auditory and visual bliss. Given that the show’s crux is coping with addiction, these ethereal scenes of pleasure coincide seamlessly. Everything flows together and envelops the viewer in a world of high-risk situations with large payoffs, feeding into the instant gratification many addicts desire.
Unfortunately, “Feel Good” is not as groundbreaking as it first appears, feeding into tropes about queer couples that fail to grant them the simplicity of cisgendered heterosexual relationships. While shows featuring straight couples may include cheating and toxicity, shows featuring LGTBQ+ couples almost guarantee it. This leads viewers to believe queer couples are incapable of maintaining a healthy, supportive relationship in which both members are equal partners, rather than codependent.
Mae and George never truly solve their issues and avoid conflict through physical acts of affection, reinforcing the show's comments on temporary elation through distractions. The couple opts for what is easier every time, only postponing inevitable pain and heartbreak.
Although Martin’s depiction of Mae’s relationship with George may perfectly represent her lived experiences, it’s implications and greater influence on public perception is harmful. Close-minded individuals hold media representation as truth, and may fail to respect relationships straying from the socially constructed norm as invalid.
“Feel Good” accomplishes its goal of adding humanity back into depictions of addiction and representing a community that refuses to remain complicit in their silencing. However, it falls short in making progress for the very community it claims to represent. Shows such as “Feel Good” need to go one step further than visibility and challenge themselves to add constructively to the conversation. Simply showing up is no longer satisfactory.
“Feel Good” upholds its promise of granting viewers ecstasy, enabling binge-viewing and avoiding processing of real world events. The show acts as a fleeting escape, leading viewers to crash from their high after the season finale and wait anxiously for their next fix.