Love and trauma: Thoughts on Feel Good (season 2)

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

We never really leave our past selves behind.

It’s tempting idea to think we can do that, excise the traumatised or hurt parts of ourselves and pretend they were never there in the first place and have absolutely no bearing on who we are right now.

But it’s ultimately a false idea, borne from the alluring notion that once our lives improve, and that’s possible for a variety of reasons, we can turn our backs on the past and think only about the here and now.

But as non-binary identifying Mae (Mae Martin) discovers in season 2 of Feel Good, a deliciously clever title that has an implied sense that you may not feel so good at all after life has had its damaging way with you, extricating yourself from the past and embracing a promising present, and hopefully future, is a whole lot harder than it seems.

Or that you want it to be.

And Mae really wants the current iteration of their life to work.

They are deeply in love with Georgina aka George (Charlotte Ritchie), although at the start of the series they are broken up, with Mae back home for rehab in Toronto, Canada and George back in the UK in Manchester, and hopeful that all their hard work on the stand-up comedy circuit is finally paying some handsome professional dividends.

It’s may not be a “the future’s so bright, I have to wear shades” kind of deal but it’s getting there, and Mae is anxious about making the most of it and not self destructing.

In and of itself, a laudable and understandable aim, but one which Mae, encumbered by past trauma which they wants to deal with but don’t at the same time – makes perfect sense; who of us hasn’t looked at some broken part of ourselves, and known that while we’ll be better off dealing with it, that we also don’t want to in any way, shape or form – isn’t entirely sure they can deliver on.

That is the delicate balancing of Feel Good, season 2, which sees the stark realities of life explored in their weirdly hopeful, darkly pessimistic, strangely contradictory, glory.

While not as funny as the first season – this is not a criticism; it simply isn’t but given the territory it covers that’s entirely fair, with the necessary seriousness leavened by the emotionally vulnerable quirks of George’s housemate Phil (Phil Burgers), the passive-aggressive harsh love of Mae’s mother Linda (Lisa Kudrow) and the strangely woke earnestness of George’s reaching colleagues such as Elliott (Jordan Stephens) – Feel Good makes good use of its more intense feel in its second season by letting both Mae and George go to some dark and self-revelatory places.

Mae is the one most deeply enmeshed in trying to separate their past from their present with the lost ten years of teens into early twenties, where their drug use and sleeping rough was rife, coming back to haunt them.

Try as they might to be the person they are now and to love George whom they describe, somewhat adoringly, as looking like a kidney bean, and to make the most of a host of great media opportunities coming their way, they keep stumbling right at the point where things could be getting good.

Thankfully, Feel Good has the good and honest sense not to paint these setbacks or failures to execute fully as some kind of cataclysmic disaster.

They rarely are in real life; they’re not ideal, for sure, and no one wants to feel like they have dropped the ball with any part of their life, but for the greater part, they are recoverable setbacks, and while the recovery may not be perfect and is still more than a little flawed or broken, they can be repaired and you can move on.

That Feel Good gives both George and Mae the chance to do this, and resists the temptation to make every step backward an apocalyptic disaster (unlike many other dramedies where each failure is a world-ending mistake; great for drama, not so good for authenticity) makes the second season feel really grounded and honest.

It actually feels like two people trying to go somewhere rarely good, and failing in ways big and small to get there but then discovering that maybe, just maybe, there’s a whole other way to approach it.

This willingness to be brutally honest about life’s great drops into the chasm but also admit that there may be a rope dangling over the edge which you can use to drag yourself back up, like many of us often do, also extends to supporting characters like Phil, who goes on a whole journey in trying to find his estranged father while looking out for Mae, and to George’s divorced mum and dad, played by Pippa Haywoood and Anthony Head and Mae’s parents Linda and Malcolm (Adrian Lukis).

It’s refreshing to have a modern drama admit that life can be shitty as hell and a million miles away from what you’d like it to be, but that your mistakes and your misjudgements are survivable.

In other words, dumping the love of your life, as Mae does to George at the end of season 1, with the consequences very much felt at the start of season 2, and not quite getting all your career ducks in a row, doesn’t have to inevitably lead to irreversible doom and gloom.

You can come back, just as you can exist happily in the present while facing up to the full scope and pain of your past; it’s not even remotely pleasant to go through all that accounting of past trauma, and Mae is certainly put through the ringer in that regard, as is George to a far lesser extent, but you can survive it, maybe even grow from it, and Feel Good does a superb job, if a little unevenly at times (Mae bounces between rock bottom and epiphany a little too narratively conveniently at times) on exploring how that works for two very real people trying to make their individual and collective lives work.

At just six half-hour-ish episodes, Feel Good season 2 doesn’t overstay its welcome, telling its story with elegance, sensitivity, quirky humour and realistically-rendered darkness and an enviable understanding of life’s whims and contrariness, infusing this thoroughly likeable show with a sense of realism and truthfulness, while also allowing it to offer some hope and joy, recognising that even when things are at their worst, the best hasn’t completely left the stage.

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