Comedian Mae Martin stars as herself in “Feel Good,” a semi-autobiographical Netflix series that is as searing as it is funny.
Mae the character is having a rough go. A newcomer on the London stand-up circuit, she’s scraping by with gigs at a friend’s comedy club and crashing on his couch.
When club owner Nick (Tobi Bamtefa) points out that the same woman keeps showing up at Mae’s sets and laughing at her material, which “isn’t even that funny,” he encourages Mae to strike up a conversation.
“What, no? She’s like a dangerous Mary Poppins,” Mae whisper-shouts backstage. “And I’m like Bart Simpson.”
Mae and “Mary Poppins” – really George, played with British charm by Charlotte Ritchie – end up grabbing a drink that night and of course, sparks fly. When Nick stops by to offer Mae a ride home, he sees the look on her face, raises his eyebrows and remarks dryly, “I’ll see you in six months, then?”
The early stages of Mae and George’s relationship are smartly condensed into a single saccharine montage. The pair have moved in together before the title card flashes.
The show is tagged as a “romcom,” but really, it picks up where typical romcoms end.
Once the initial infatuation wears off, Mae and George quickly realize they hardly know one another, and cracks start forming as each woman’s internal struggles come to the surface.
George, who has previously only dated men, is reluctant to introduce Mae to her friends and family. Mae is recovering from a cocaine addiction and struggling to channel her impulsive, addictive tendencies in healthy ways.
On paper, the plot sounds like a recipe for chocolate, tissues and a call to your therapist, but flawless execution and perfect pacing keep the show light-years away from melodrama.
Is it funny? In a word, yes. Good comedians may dabble in jokes about airplane food and the DMV, but the best material often emerges from rawer, deeper sources: loneliness, sadness, fears, regrets. “Feel Good” deals primarily with the latter – smart humor that strikes a nerve.
Martin and Ritchie are luminous as the show’s leading ladies. Martin brings years of stand-up experience to her acting debut, and her skill shines through in immaculate timing and delivery of truly funny lines.
While Mae and George are charismatic – albeit sometimes maddening – the rest of the cast members are also off the charts and push the show to instant classic status.
Mae’s mother Linda, played by Lisa Kudrow of “Friends” fame, is an absolute riot. With designer sunglasses perched on her perfectly styled hair, she’s a woman who clearly hates herself so much there’s no chance she’ll like you, either. Over a Skype call with her daughter, she casually mentions Mae’s problems likely stemmed from being premature.
“You were in an incubator, sweetheart,” Linda says, sipping her tea. “It’s why we’re not close.”
The quirky members of Mae’s Narcotics Anonymous support group manage to be hilarious while also hitting on deep questions about the nature of addiction and recovery.
Sophie Thompson is a particular standout as wild-eyed, crazy-haired Maggie, who volunteers to be Mae’s sponsor through the program.
“Stay busy,” Maggie instructs Mae emphatically. “I’m far too busy to be thinking about drugs. I bake, I kayak. I weave my own clothes on a loom.”
Though the deeply flawed, deeply human characters sometimes make poor choices – hurting themselves and others in the process – the show doesn’t damn them for their mistakes, and it’s impossible not to root for them.
The first season of “Feel Good” was released to Netflix March 19 and is available for streaming now.