Spoilers ahead for Season 2 of Netflix’s Feel Good
Season 2 of Mae Martin’s Feel Good isn’t a revenge fantasy, and that was by design.
Speaking with NewNowNext via Zoom, Martin talks honestly and carefully about the past trauma that their fictionalized counterpart (also named Mae and loosely based on their own life) confronts head-on in the critically acclaimed Netflix comedy’s second season. As the show’s star and co-creator, the Canada-born, U.K.-based nonbinary comedian wrestles deftly with complicated topics like drug addiction, toxic relationship dynamics, and PTSD. Martin is a stand-up comedian at heart, though, so there are plenty of self-deprecating one-liners, larger-than-life characters, and hilarious sexual scenarios with Mae and her love interest, George (played by Charlotte Ritchie), in the mix.
All jokes aside, Martin wants to make one thing very clear: In the process of healing from past abuse, there are no winners. “Something like confronting an abuser, it doesn’t feel like a triumphant moment,” they explain. “You excavate these traumas, and hopefully in time they become less powerful and affect your present less.”
Find our full chat about Feel Good Season 2 below, including Martin’s approach to balancing comedic moments with heavy, emotional scenes, and why they can’t wait to pester Phoebe Bridgers at this year’s BAFTA Awards.
How much of Mae’s story in Season 2 is based on your real life, and how much of it is just fictionalized?
Well, one thing is I have an amazing agent, not a stressful agent who’s pushing me to do anything. [Laughs] I mean, in general, I would say the situations are largely fictionalized. In Season 1, it felt like the character Mae was where I was 10 years ago. Mae in Season 2 feels very much more in real-time, stuff that I’m currently figuring out.
Speaking of things you’re figuring out, I really appreciated your Instagram post from April about your gender identity. You’re right: It is a personal thing. How did you come to the decision to speak about it publicly?
It’s interesting because as soon as you post something publicly, then the assumption is that you’re totally comfortable talking about it and probably waving a banner about it — which I am. But as I tried to say, it’s new to me. And the reason I talked about it publicly was because I knew I was going to be doing tons of press for Feel Good, and I get misgendered a lot. A lot of press would call me a “lesbian comedian.” A, I am bisexual, and B, I don’t identify as female.
So that’s not accurate in any way.
Right. So the post was to preempt some of that. But what I didn’t anticipate was how much the gender stuff would dominate press for the show. I think it really is just one of many threads in Season 2. It’s really only a couple of lines here and there. It’s bubbling away for the character, I guess. I think particularly in the U.K., because of the hysteria around trans rights at the moment and this backlash we’re experiencing, a lot of the news outlets just latched onto the buzzwords. That’s been really eye-opening.
Oh, totally. I wanted to ask about Elliot, the pansexual male character George dates briefly when she and Mae are broken up. How did he come about?
Well, one of the benefits of them being in the community is being able to satirize that community. Elliot’s a person I’ve met many times who’s very dogmatic about being open-minded and ends up being pretty dictatorial in a lot of ways. I think definitely within the LGBTQ+ community, often you get the sense that you’re not doing it right or getting it wrong somehow. And I think George has just gone through this big, exciting change, so I liked that George and Mae have their own kind of bubble. They are each other’s community in a lot of ways, and when they’re just together in their apartment or in that bubble, they don’t feel a huge amount of pressure to label themselves and they can explore different aspects of themselves sexually. I love the sexual role-play that they do where they’re both in mustaches.
I feel like George and Mae grow so much throughout the season, both individually and as a couple.
They do a lot of work on the relationship. Even though they’re so flawed, they really love each other, and that is admirable. I think we’re quick to throw relationships in the garbage if they’re not perfect, so it’s nice that they are trying to work through it.
Something Feel Good does really well is balancing very raw scenes about heavy topics with moments of levity. How do you find that comedic sweet spot?
We have a really identical sense of humor, my co-writer [Joe Hampson] and I. From the beginning, I knew that we wanted to earn the emotional moments and have them really pack a punch, but we wanted to give equal weight to the jokes and think scientifically about how to milk those jokes for the biggest laughs. I’m a comedian, but it would have been a weird omission to not include the pain of life as well. So I guess in a way, it’s just being as true to life as you can. I think life has both those things. Even in really dark situations, people are ridiculous. We also read stuff out loud a lot when we’re writing. And when you’re hearing the rhythms of it, it’s really easy to hear where you need a punchline, or where a punchline would be totally inappropriate.
I really appreciated the way you tackled Mae’s PTSD from an abusive relationship. Truthfully, I haven’t seen many depictions of queer and nonbinary people dealing with PTSD or abuse. Was that something you thought about while working on the script?
I try never to think about things like representation because then you just get hung up on, am I representing everyone well enough? We just tried to be really honest, I think. One thing that feels nice is seeing a masculine-presenting bisexual character. Often we see really femme, nymphomaniac bisexuals. I’m bi, and I never see someone that looks like me kissing a boy. That felt nice.
How did you approach writing about trauma and confronting a sexual abuser?
I wanted to make sure that as much as I was exploring the negative impact on Mae from these experiences, I was also exploring the ripple effect on the people in Mae’s life, and how much responsibility Mae needs to take for her behavior. And I think that’s an angle that I haven’t depicted seen as much. I just tried to be honest about the fact that there’s no winners. It’s very complicated. I threw comments about it in the show — like, “this year, that trauma’s trendy” or something like that. That’s something I’m very self-critical about, so I wanted to make sure that it didn’t feel like a revenge fantasy.
Watching Mae confront her abuser, Scott, felt like a gut-punch, and I think that’s because it seemed so realistic.
Yeah. It probably would have been cathartic to see Mae kick Scott in the balls or something, but it wouldn’t be realistic, I think. And, what, 90-something percent of abusers are people you know — friends, family members, people you’re in relationships with, often people who you love and maybe who love you in a way. So it’s never that clean-cut or easy. That’s an interesting conversation to have, at least. I don’t really have any answers though. The show poses a lot of questions, but it doesn’t give a lot of clear answers, but hopefully just by exploring it some people can relate.
When Mae pukes afterward and “Motion Sickness” by Phoebe Bridgers starts playing, I lost it. Like, bawling.
I’m so glad that we got the rights to that song because the lyrics are very on-point with where we’re at. I’m going to the BAFTAs on Sunday, and I really hope Phoebe Bridgers is there. I think she’s dating someone who’s nominated. I’m just going to not leave her alone.
Feel Good Seasons 1 and 2 are streaming now on Netflix.