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Netflix’s Feel Good is a rom-com about what happens after the rom-com

It’s a short, sweet watch about two women in a potentially toxic relationship.

George and Mae dance while on an impromptu holiday.
George and Mae share a happy moment in a relationship that’s not always full of happy moments.
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

I fall in love easily. A couple of weeks after I met my wife, I was “joking” with her about moving into married student housing on campus. And before that, my dating history was full of women I met a couple of times then decided were probably the one for me. I’ve been happily with my wife for two decades now — but I shudder to think of what sort of chaos I would have gotten up to if I hadn’t met her the first day of college.

It’s maybe for this reason that I am less interested in the “falling in love” part of romantic stories than I am the “staying in love” part. What I’m drawn to are stories about couples who have been married two years and are starting to realize that “as long as we both shall live” can be a really, really long time.

Netflix’s new series Feel Good (a British show produced by Channel 4 over there) gets me. The first episode (of six) shows us a meet-cute between Mae (series co-creator and co-writer Mae Martin) and George (Charlotte Ritchie). The two fall hard and fast for each other — even though George has never dated a woman before meeting Mae — and after that, a montage rockets us past the early parts of their relationship to the point where they’re moving in together.

Yet things have been so good between them for those first few months that they don’t realize how little they actually know about each other. And that, for me, is when the “fun” begins.

And to be clear, by “fun,” I mean the toxic codependency that has to be navigated to find something resembling a healthy relationship. Picture me rubbing my hands together and saying, “Excellent!” with glee.

You’ve likely never heard of Mae Martin, but she’s astonishingly good in this.

Refreshingly, both Mae and George have huge roadblocks to overcome if they’re going to be the best versions of themselves in this relationship. George, having never dated a woman, is still reluctant to tell anybody that her new romantic partner is actually her girlfriend, a lie that only grows more untenable as she starts inviting Mae to parties with her friends, then expects Mae to keep up the pretense that the two of them are just “good friends.”

Mae, meanwhile, has an addiction and is committed to a 12-step program but never forgets that just over a decade of her life was lost not just to her addiction but also to the terrible ways she treated people during that time. She keeps her addiction a secret from George until the two have moved in together and Mae’s mother (Lisa Kudrow!) lets slip her daughter’s status on a video chat with the two. (Feel Good was made before our current quarantine began, but with the way so many of its characters stay locked away at home and spend so much of their time with videoconferencing software, it might feel a little bit prescient.)

I wasn’t aware of Martin before I started watching this show, but they’re really astonishing here. Mae is frequently funny, almost lacerating when she talks. She is a would-be comedian, after all. But Martin also underlines the ways in which Mae is hard to bear and tricky to handle. She still fixates on some things in the way she once fixated on drugs, and now, her fixation has shifted to George. When George goes away for a wedding weekend (with the friends she still hasn’t told about Mae), her phone starts blowing up with text pings when trying to have a conversation with her mother, and she finally has to ask Mae to just give it a rest.

What’s smart about Feel Good is the way that neither of these two is in the right or the wrong for the extremely toxic ways their relationship develops. The connection and love between them is real, but that allows each of them to too easily and too readily take advantage of each other. I’ll leave it for you to find out if the first season ends with them together or apart, but after watching the finale, I was fascinated by all of the ways I could have interpreted the series’ title.

Feel Good has earned comparisons to Fleabag in some quarters. I don’t think it’s quite as good, but that I had to think about whether the comparison was justified indicates that this is a worthy watch indeed. And since the season is just six 25-minute episodes, it’ll take you about as long to watch as it took Mae and George to move in together. You, too, might fall in love so fast, you feel a little queasy.

Feel Good is streaming on Netflix.

One Good Thing is Vox’s recommendations feature. In each edition, find one more thing from the world of culture that we highly recommend.

Update: Mae Martin uses both she and they pronouns. The article has been updated to use both pronouns when referring to Mae Martin, the performer and writer. (The character of Mae, so far as the show indicates, still uses feminine pronouns, but late in season developments suggest that will change.)

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