"Because they're not always great for each other, I wasn't anticipating how much people would fall in love with that couple and be rooting for them."
In March 2020, at the height of the pandemic, comedian Mae Martin launched their semi-autobiographical comedy Feel Good, which they'd written and created with Joe Hampson. The six-part series launched on Channel 4 in the UK and on Netflix globally. It followed Mae's character, Mae, a recovering addict and comedian who is trying to control their addictive behaviour and intense romanticism.
When Mae meets Charlotte Ritchie's character, George, it doesn’t seem possible that she could be interested in her. Nevertheless, the pair embark on a whirlwind romance, that changes both their lives forever.
As we rejoin the characters for the second and sadly final season of Feel Good, now exclusively on Netflix, Mae & George’s complicated love story continues. Mae struggles to come to terms with the ghosts from her past and George tries to reinvent her present. Can they grow together or will they grow apart?
Earlier this week, I caught up with Charlotte Ritchie and Mae Martin over Zoom to discuss at length the upcoming season, including favourite scenes, the show's fantastic soundtrack and their character's admirable qualities.
First of all, congratulations on the success of the first season. Were you pleased with the reaction?
Mae Martin: I was so pleased. Really really pleased. It's just a small show with a small budget so it's really nice that it reached so many people.
And despite the story being very personal and specific to your experience Mae, many people (myself included) found the themes within it, incredibly relatable. Did that surprise you?
Mae: That's what we were hoping for actually, so thank God that's what we got. Lots of different demographics and people connecting to different characters and various themes.
A lot of people wrote to me about addiction which was really nice. Lockdown had just happened so a lot of people had time to sit and think and ruminate on those things. I was getting long letters from people about addiction, parental relationships and things like that. That was really nice.
Charlotte Ritchie: Interestingly, I was getting messages from friends that I hadn't anticipated would connect with the show in the way that they did. That really struck me. Friends who hadn't really been able to articulate what had been happening in their relationships - then retrospectively going "Ah. That was me."
Also lots of people got in touch who identified with George and explained how it helped them in their relationships.
Did all this reaction add extra pressure when creating season two?
Mae: I did feel a responsibility for people who had really been rooting for Mae and George. Because they're not always great for each other, I wasn't anticipating how much people would fall in love with that couple and be rooting for them. I mean, I was. So that was good!
Because season one was out during the pandemic and season two was written all through the pandemic, we weren't influenced by too many people's thoughts and opinions. We already kind of knew where we wanted it to go, so already had a series outline.
Did you find this series any easier to write, because you knew what the finished show looked like and what the actors were able to bring to their roles?
Mae: It was definitely easier not having to get into the world and do all the exposition and establish everyone. And yeah, knowing things like Phil's (Burgers) speech patterns and knowing the actors better, that was definitely really fun.
There's a Jared moment in season two that I really love and that was all to do with thinking, we love Al (Roberts) and it would be funny to see him do it.
I also love writing for Charlotte because I know her speech patterns and what I would find funny to hear her say and do.
Charlotte: But there is still a lot of pressure to be doing scenes with the person who wrote the script opposite you. I've done jobs before where the writer is away so at least they can't give you devil eyes!
How have you found switching between writer and performer on Feel Good?
Mae: I think I was a bit better at that this season. In season one, because everything was such an unknown, I had a really hard time relinquishing control. So in between takes I was always running over to the monitor and speaking to people.
This season I was able to focus on performance more because I had a bit more faith that it would turn out OK. And I had Joe Hampson - my co-writer - always standing next to the monitor and we have such a shared vision of the tone and what we want for every scene, that if he's happy, I'm happy.
Remind us, where season one left off and where season two picks up.
Charlotte: We leave season one with Mae and George having reunited after a tumultuous break up. But there is ambiguity in the air. We think "What's going to happen next series?" - because Mae's up to something...
Then (in season two) we meet them separate, in separate countries - with George very much in denial about the situation and extremely hopeful that Mae will come back and that they'll live happily ever after.
Mae: I think Mae has scared themselves by going so off the rails at the end of season one - has all these secrets because they slept with Lava and done coke - so ended the relationship. But is hoping to find their way back, I think.
Ambiguity is a big theme in Feel Good that runs throughout in almost every storyline. Was that a conscious decision? To not have everything wrapped up neatly.
Mae: Definitely. Fluidity and ambiguity has always been our aim. But realism more than anything. Life is not so tied up with a bow all the time.
Charlotte: I think it reflects very nicely - and this is not a new thing to say - that the world is so desperate for things to be neat and tidy and boxed. And it just literally never is.
We spend all of our days trying to be like "Right, so this is happening now" and then miraculously, something changes! The only certainty of life is that it will constantly change and I love that the show reflects that.
Sometimes with TV shows we like to watch a neatness because it takes us away from the complete unknown of our lives, but actually this is more a reflection of reality. There's also a definite sweetness to Feel Good that's satisfying and joyful to see, that maybe doesn't always exist in life.
Mae: Yeah, there's sweetness. But there's definitely no good guys or bad guys. I hope that people's allegiance shifts between characters.
There's a new character called Elliott in season two. What can you say about him?
Charlotte: So Elliott is played by Jordan Stephens and he is someone - who it turns out - has been working at George's school for a long time. But she has just never noticed him. Partly I think, because she's extremely closed off from people and also because she has been spending a lot of her recent time worrying about her relationship with Mae.
Elliott steps in from the sidelines and she basically has an opportunity to try out being a new version of herself I suppose. She's exploring a lot more of her sexuality. She's a lot more honest about the fact she really loves sex and is much more sure in her bi-sexuality. She's attracted to him, I think, but we see that he is maybe not quite ideal for her actually... in terms of his outlooks.
Mae: Yeah, I think initially he seems like a trap door into this...
Charlotte: I was going to say that! What?!
Mae: A trap door into this expansive world where people can explore, but actually there are all kinds of other boxes and rules in that world. I like that because in general for Mae and George, they are a bubble of their own community. Within their relationship, they're able to be totally themselves and there's a lot of fluidity and no labels. That's nice I think.
Lisa Kudrow is back as Mae's mother, Linda. What's it like working with her and do you still have to pinch yourself that she's in your show?
Mae: Yeah, it doesn't get old. It's still very thrilling. I can't believe it! It was really nice for the second season that she flew over in a pandemic - because she could have very easily got out of that. And it was nice to hang out with her without the nerves of meeting her for the first time and get to know her a bit better. She's just incredibly intelligent and kind and funny and I feel really lucky to know her!
Some of my favourite lines in the second season are improvised by her. There's a line where she says "What a sad charade" - which was improvised and it felt like in season two she really understood the character and was pitching ideas that were really funny.
There's a lot of light and shade in Feel Good. How do you manage to balance the two so perfectly? Because I think you do.
Mae: Aw thanks. When we write, Joe and I, we read aloud a lot so very quickly if things start to get too morose, you really feel it. You feel the rhythm of it and can tell where it needs levity or earnestness.
In reading out loud and in rehearsals it's about making sure everybody is on the same page. For instance, in an argument if you've got a comedic line to say - what level do you need to pitch that anger at for that joke to not feel incongruous.
Charlotte: That was the hardest thing. The scenes really flow between comedy and tragedy - but in the very same scene! It's not like you have a sad scene and then a happy scene. As an actor, that's what I love but it's a real duty thing to get your head around. Because that writing and that rhythm is just so complex.
Getting it to work between the two of us, as much as just feeling it yourself, is a really specific and difficult thing to do. But I think it's testament to the writing that there is so much light and shade - even within one scene.
Mae: It's the writing. But also the editing. Because sometimes if we do a take of an emotional scene and I'm really emotional, Charlotte is going to be emotional back. But then in the edit they might choose a reaction from a lighter take.
Charlotte: And in the direction as well. We had a brilliant director, Luke Snellin who totally read the tone of the show really well.
Mae: I think he elevated it. We wouldn't have wanted to do a second season if we didn't elevate it and push it to new places. Darker darks. Lighter lights.
What's your favourite quality in each of your characters?
Charlotte: I like how headstrong George is. I really admire her. She's actually really front-footed. At the beginning of the series it's a real detriment to her that she's so front-footed because she's so sure that she's right all the time.
But even when she's realising that she isn't and she's got a lot of things wrong, she works really hard to push through and continually tries to self-correct. I think it's misguided a lot of the time but there's real hope and intention there. I really admire that.
Mae: Although there's a lot of complicated things going on for Mae, their love for George is pretty simple. She's pretty devoted. It doesn't really waiver across the two seasons. They get self absorbed and caught up in their own pain, but I like how much they love George.
Mae, you recently posted about identifying as non-binary, was that a decision born out of Feel Good do you think?
Mae: I'm sure it sped up the process. I think having to have that process of self evaluation that you have when writing an autobiographical show, probably crystallised my thoughts a little bit.
What are some of your favourite scenes in season two?
Mae: There's a character called Marsha in episode one, who's played by Marisha Wallace and she's really funny. I really enjoyed filming those scenes. And we love the role play scenes!
Charlotte: That was really fun to film. I really like this one scene where we're waiting at the escape room for our partners to arrive because there's a fun feeling about that scene. It's a bit cheeky, it's a bit naughty and we had fun doing it!
Mae: Yeah, very cheeky. It felt like we were improvising. I like any scene where Mae and George find each other funny and really laugh at each other's jokes - because often it's us really laughing and that's really nice to see.
I have to ask about the music. Feel Good has a wonderful soundtrack. Did you have much say on the music choices?
Mae: Thank you so much for asking! I'm obsessed! I played piano and guitar a bit in the score this season. There's a lot of music from Half Moon Run - a Canadian band that I love. We had two of their songs in season one and then for season two I reached out to them and asked if they had any unpublished music and if they would like to collaborate.
So as well as our amazing composers, we'd send Half Moon Run cuts of each episode and they'd make suggestions of where to use certain songs. So we've ended up with this very Canadian soundtrack that really is just a reflection of my inner soundscape.
Charlotte: I think it's so moving. I think it's such a beautiful selection and I keep repeatedly listening to a lot of the songs from the soundtrack at the moment. They're so well chosen.
Mae: There's a sex scene at the end of episode two that has the Donny Hathaway cover of Jealous Guy.
Charlotte: One of my favourite songs ever! I think he's one of the best singers of all time.
Mae: It's one of our favourite songs. We've played it before and I was so chuffed that we got the rights to use it in Feel Good. It just lifts that scene.
What would you like people to take away from Feel Good?
Mae: I hope it stays with people in the way that my favourite shows and films have stayed with me. When you watch something that speaks to you and resonates with you, it really does stay with you.
Charlotte: I want people to enjoy it.
Mae: Yeah, I also want them to take whatever they want to take from it. I think once you make something - (to Charlotte) you always say this - you cease to have control over it.
Charlotte: It becomes something else.
Mae: It belongs to other people now, so I hope that they take something personal from it.
And finally, what's next for you both?
Charlotte: Ghosts (series three) is done and I will be mainly I think, just trundling around town. I don't have much planned. I'm going to see how this Coronavirus thing plays out. Unlike many other people, I spent a lot of time away in the last six months so I'm actually really excited to be back in my flat. And I think a lot of people are desperate to leave theirs - so hopefully I can have them all round! That's the plan, for now.
Mae: I just want to get back to Canada and see my family. I've got the tour (Sap) in October. A new hour of stand-up that I'm getting really excited about. That will be fun.
I miss stand-up. I did one gig recently and I was like "Oh yeah! That's why I've been depressed." - because I haven't been doing stand-up. I love it. It's the longest I've been without doing a gig since I was 13.
Feel Good returns Friday 4th June on Netflix with season one also available