Mae Martin Breaks Down The "Feel Good" Series Finale And How The Original Ending Was Going To Be "Too Sad"
"I just hope we keep seeing characters that are allowed to be three-dimensional, flawed, and not defined by their sexuality."
Feel Good was easily one of the best TV shows of 2020, so it's no surprise that the show's final season, which dropped on Netflix this month, is just as funny, smart, and heartfelt as the first. The show follows Mae, a comedian and recovering addict who starts a new relationship with George, who had never been in a relationship with a woman before. Not only is this show hilarious, but it's also not afraid to showcase the vulnerable and quiet moments between characters.
To celebrate Feel Good Season 2, co-creator and star Mae Martin sat down with us to chat about everything — like writing Mae and George's final moments, working with Lisa Kudrow, and where they hope queer TV stories go from here. Here's everything we learned:
WARNING: There are spoilers ahead for Feel Good Season 2!
First, when you originally pitched Feel Good, did you know Mae's entire character arc and what would happen to them?
When we pitched it, definitely not. But then, once series one got commissioned, we definitely always thought of it as a two-season arc because it's a love story. We felt like it would be really sadistic to keep throwing problems at this one couple. So yeah, we knew the Season 1 and Season 2 arc when we started writing, but weren't certain where everything would go.
Did you ever entertain the idea of a Season 3 once you started writing it?
We never really entertained the idea of a third [season] because then I think we'd get attached to it. I think it's nice to be like, "I told that story to the best of my ability." I'm a romantic, so I would love to come back in 10 years or something and see where Mae and George are and put them in a different situation.
BuzzFeed: I always think about Dan Levy talking about ending Schitt's Creek when they did and how it was nice to know they told the complete story without stringing it out too long. Was that the same feeling you had?
Oh, definitely. I think I would worry that if it went on much longer, the characters would start to behave out of character because you'd have to keep undoing the personal growth that they'd made. It's nice to leave them where they are, and it's nice to not have the anxiety of waiting for the phone to ring to see if you have another season.
BuzzFeed: Did you have that anxiety between Seasons 1 and 2, where you weren't sure another season would happen?
Oh, it was so stressful. Channel Four, I think partly because of COVID, had to drop the show. Then, it was wondering whether Netflix would scoop it up, and luckily they did. They've been so amazing.
For this show, you're not only playing the lead character, but you're also writing it. Were the scripts and jokes ever evolving when you were filming? Were there moments that were improvised?
We tried to be pretty flexible in the moment while filming. Also, we could be pretty brutal with ourselves if we felt something was not working. You want to make sure that you get what's on the page — get a version of it that works at least — but then, if you have an instinct that it's not working, I think you do have to be brave enough to pitch another idea in the moment. That didn't happen a lot, but there were just a few lines that definitely sounded weird coming out of someone's mouth.
Also, Joe [Hampson], my co-writer, was on set all the time standing next to the monitor and he's really good at throwing out suggestions and new lines. Also, Luke Snellin, our director, was really good with that too. And then, of course, Lisa Kudrow improvised a couple of great lines. It was really fun. So yeah, it's a combination of being open enough to people's improvised contributions, and then also you work so hard on the scripts that you do want to get those lines in too.
BuzzFeed: Were Mae's stand-up comedy routines all scripted too?
Yeah, they were all scripted. I hope I'm a better comic than Mae. Mae, the character, is sort of trying to find their voice. So, they were all scripted, but [the routines] were all trying to move the narrative forward in some way or show where Mae is at in their head. I will say it's really disconcerting to purposely bomb. To film a scene where you're bombing a set and all the extras are there in the audience, like with a dry cough and just crickets. You want to try to fill the silence with a joke, but you can't.
BuzzFeed: Like in Season 2 when Mae is telling the hot dog story and the jokes just aren't landing.
Yes! That's a true story too. There was a wire in my hot dog. I think about it all the time and no one finds it as interesting as me, but I love it.
Lisa Kudrow is obviously a massive comedic actor to have on the show playing your mom. Did you write the part for her? How did she join Feel Good?
We wrote it with her in mind, but never dreaming that she would even read the script. It's just easier, I think, to write when you have a person in mind. It's easier to find the voice of that character that way. So, we definitely kept saying, "Someone like Lisa Kudrow," because I'm a huge fan of The Comeback. I love it. I loved tonally how they occasionally earn these really emotional moments, but it's also so ridiculous in other parts. It can turn on a dime and really get you choked up, and Lisa is a master at that. So, that's exactly what we wanted on Feel Good too. We kept sort of referencing her and then our casting director was like, "Let's just send her the scripts," and then right away she wanted to make it work. We couldn't believe it.
You and Lisa both posted a photo from Season 2 of Lisa playing the drums and you playing the guitar, but the scene was cut. I have to ask what that scene was going to be, and did Lisa learn to play the drums for it?
[laughs] So, when we were writing, Joe and I were obsessed with this scene where we do family band, and we played the U2 song "One." We put into the script that the whole family plays shockingly well together and they're actually a decent ensemble. So, we got Lisa to take drum lessons and then we actually played live. I hope they let us release the video because it was so good.
It was me on guitar, Adrian [Lukis], who plays my dad, is on keyboard, Lisa on drums, Charlotte [Ritchie] as George is on the triangle, and Phil [Burgers] was dancing shirtless. It was kind of crazy, but when we watched it in the edit, we were like, "Can we pause the most emotional episode for a two-minute music video?" It just didn't work tonally, but it was really hard to let go of.
Season 2 focuses a lot on Mae and their PTSD. Did you always know that was the story you wanted to tell during the final season?
Yeah, in Season 1 we knew that Mae and George were kind of in the flush of new love. Both of those central characters were dealing with external pressures, like the threat of relapse and being closeted. So, we knew that we wanted to start Season 2 with those issues kind of dealt with so that we were forced to get into the deeper reasons for why those people felt like that. So, yeah we did is the short answer, but we didn't know how quickly we wanted to drip feed that information about Mae. I'm happy with the way that some of it is kind of left to the imagination.
BuzzFeed: Yeah, when you watch both seasons back-to-back, Season 1 is really George discovering herself, while Season 2 is more of Mae's journey.
Yeah, exactly. I wanted people's allegiance to shift between the characters all the time.
Mae and George's relationship was so heartfelt, but also really funny. I feel like, especially in the past, a lot of queer relationships on TV are often very tragic. Did you feel it was important to bring a lightheartedness to their romance too?
I never got too in my head about things like representation because it can totally throw you off kilter and you can lose sight of the story you initially wanted to tell for narrative reasons. But, yeah, when I watch shows where someone says something funny and no one laughs, that always really gets me. Also, relationships are friendships first and foremost, hopefully — the good ones, at least. I think you make each other laugh and you have a shared language.
It was really important to us that we showed that because, in a way, Mae and George are their own community. They're their own little bubble, and within that bubble they can completely be themselves. George has this outlet to be weirder than she's ever been and hornier than she's ever been. While Mae is sort of learning to be vulnerable. So, yeah, it was super important that this relationship was fun too. Also, Charlotte is just so funny. We really find each other funny too. So, that was a happy side effect of working with someone that you find really funny. You just get to have fun.
Your friendship with Charlotte comes across on screen so wonderfully, especially during the role-playing montage in Season 2. How was filming those moments?
That was so fun! Initially it was like 10 role-plays, and we had to throw some of them away because everyone was like, "This is getting outrageous." Also, some of them were so obscene, so the ones we landed with are all kind of pop culture–inspired. It was really fun to just dress up in costumes and do weird shit. It was really making us laugh. Joe, my co-writer, and I loved it because the crew was just taking everything deadly serious. So, they are dressing the set to look like Game of Thrones or whatever, and Charlotte and I just laughed so hard. We kept throwing different lines at Charlotte that were making her laugh. It was really fun. I think those are some of our favorite days from filming.
I love the line this season where Mae identifies themself as a Ryan Gosling or Adam Driver. Was it intentional that Mae thinks of themself as the typical leading man? And how was it charting their exploration of identity this season?
Yeah, it was something we wanted to be ticking away at throughout, but never making it the main focus. I think in Season 1, Mae was experiencing a lot of dysphoria, and it came to a head more dramatically. In this season, they're a little more casual about it, but thinking about it constantly. People make comments to Mae that then prompt them to question it. I've always wanted to be a leading man, and those are the types of people I think that character is trying to channel a lot of the time.
BuzzFeed: It was really great that it all culminated in George telling Mae however they want to identify, she's good with.
Thank you. I really wanted it to be handled with a lightness of touch. That reaction from George was actually me writing my fantasy reaction that someone could say. It's been really interesting in the press how much they've focused on this too because that's not what the whole show is about.
The simplicity of the series finale where Mae and George are just talking about science was perfect. It's also such a great callback to Phil's line earlier in the season. Is that always the end you envisioned for them?
We entertained the idea of having them walk away from each other at the end, but it was just too sad. We wanted to present a hopeful but mature version of that rom-com thing where they might not be perfect for each other, but they've grown enough to work through that. We knew that we wanted nature to be a recurring theme. We originally had this whole thing that we threw in the garbage about Mae needing glasses and refusing to get them. Then, at the end, finally getting glasses, but then the glasses falling in the lake, and Mae falls in the lake after them. It was a whole thing, but I'm glad we kept it simple.
I think both of those characters are pretty solipsistic and they can both be quite self-obsessed. I'm really into the healing power of nature. So, I wanted them to be looking outward at some nice vista. So, the challenge was really how to make rural England look like Canada. And how to make what was essentially a pond look like a Canadian lake. There was some CGI and some drone magic, but it worked.
BuzzFeed: I was going to ask, so you filmed all of this in England and had to just make it look like Canada for part of the season?
It was so stressful to me because I obviously know Toronto intimately, but the crew was like, "This looks exactly like Canada, this is great!" Hopefully there's a little suspension of disbelief there.
Looking back on both seasons of Feel Good, is there a moment that you're most proud of? Whether it's a story you got to write or an acting moment?
That's really a nice question. I definitely have favorite moments. I just have so many happy memories from behind the scenes. The moments that really get me are when it feels really real between the characters. Like, when you can tell that we're having fun and laughing. I really like the slow-dancing scene in Season 1. Aside from moments, I think I'm more proud of the piece as a whole. I'm pleased that we were able to do it, and in COVID times and everything too.
BuzzFeed: You filmed all of Season 2 during the pandemic, right? How was that?
We were really nervous about it and nervous that we'd get shut down or that Lisa wouldn't be able to come over [to England]. We were really, really lucky. The most different thing filming this season was that Charlotte and I had to isolate together. So we were in a bubble the whole time in adjacent flats. It really made the whole experience special too because we got to know each other so well, and I think you can see on screen how comfortable we are together.
And finally, Feel Good is such a great example of LGBTQ+ representation on TV. Where do you hope to see queer TV stories go from here?
I just hope we keep seeing characters that are allowed to be three-dimensional, flawed, and not defined by their sexuality any more than a straight character is defined by theirs. When I do get audition breakdowns for parts, which is so rare to be honest, it's still pretty gendered. I always get character descriptions where it's three words and one of them is always "gay." It would be great to have some other qualities. I think we're definitely headed in the right direction and that's happening more and more, particularly with authored shows. I think when people are allowed to write their own stories, then by default, you get all the other rich aspects to a character, not just their sexuality.
BuzzFeed: And your show is such a great example of that because, like you said, Mae is not defined by their identity.
Totally! Mae is much more defined by addiction, trauma, and mania. [laughing] All those hilarious things.