By Deena ElGenaidi
“Something we try to do … is find the beautiful in the ordinary,” says Naje Lataillade, co-creator of The Feels, a web series that follows Charlie (Tim Manley), a high school teacher and bisexual man with too many feelings. The show takes place in New York, and though Charlie doesn’t appear in every episode, he features more prominently than any other character. His episodes often center on his relationships — particularly his bisexuality and its role in his everyday life. Created by Manley and Lataillade, The Feels is currently in its third season, with a new episode dropping on YouTube every day of Pride Month. The show discusses queerness in a way that most mainstream television does not: openly.
Framed as an anthology, each episode of the web series feels like a brief, poignant window into the lives of the characters. While some are recurring, like Addison, played by nonbinary advocate and writer Tyler Ford, others appear just once, such as actress Zoe Ko’s character, playing one of Charlie’s students whose point of view we enter as the camera pans over her and she sings about the complexity of her feelings in a beautiful musical interlude.
But what’s most groundbreaking about this show is the diversity of the cast and the issues discussed. The series covers bisexual stigma, gender binaries, patriarchy, depression, anxiety, and grief, to name just a few topics. The second episode of Season 3, for instance, titled “Haircutter,” features Charlie getting a haircut while talking about what it’s like for him to be a bisexual man navigating the stigmas that surround his identity. Charlie’s barber, Malcolm (David J. Cork), lists the stereotypes he’s faced as a bisexual man: “We’re liars, we don’t know what we want, we can’t commit.” Season 1, too, discusses these issues in its “Visibility” episode; Charlie explains how, when he tells a woman he’s bi, she assumes he’s gay, and when he tells a man he’s bi, he thinks he’s “definitely gay.” In a time when bisexuality is usually relegated to primetime drama's C plot — and easily misunderstood — The Feels is doing important work in representing these characters and discussing identity.
“I start with the thoughts and feelings I honestly don’t know if anyone else will identify with,” Manley says of these scenes in an email to MTV News. “What isn’t being said in that brief silence after I tell someone I’m bi? Is my loneliness related to my queerness, or would I find a way to feel lonely no matter what my identity is? These are questions I don’t know the answers to, and I don’t know how to talk about.”
Manley explores these questions in his scripts, but the show itself isn’t heavy-handed or trying to force a specific message. Rather, the conversations feel real; honest without being preachy.
“We focus not on making a statement about something, but on showing what it feels like to experience something,” Manley says.
“Our hope with The Feels is that topics arise organically, as a function of these perspectives, but we never want to impose any topics or issues on the show, or its characters,” adds Lataillade.
And in many ways it starts with the characters, played by actors from a wide variety of backgrounds. This season, Sara Ramirez (Grey’s Anatomy; Madame Secretary), Adepero Oduye (12 Years a Slave), Alice Kremelberg (Orange is the New Black), and Nicole Kang (You; Batwoman) appear. Season 3 also features performances from trans and nonbinary actors, and several episodes focus specifically on LGBTQ+ stories. In an episode airing later in the month titled “Baggage,” a relationship triad sits around a table lightheartedly talking about their “baggage,” represented by their personal belongings. True to the show's mission, the episode doesn’t aim to convey any particular message, but it remains important simply in that it depicts nonbinary characters and non-traditional, non-heteronormative relationships on screen.
“We always aim to be inclusive without fetishizing, exoticizing, or otherizing anyone,” Lataillade says. “And the diversity might also be a function of making the show in a city like New York. I'm not sure what our series would look like if we filmed in Dixon, Montana — which I am sure is lovely.”
Ianne Fields Stewart, who stars alongside Ramirez in "Baggage" and is Black, queer, and transfeminine, said over email, “The series is a touching reminder to audiences and myself that complex conversations don’t have to hurt. They can be inviting and warm. I think that’s what I hope we’ve created with my character Nina.” Stewart and Ramirez's second episode, “Salve,” digs a little deeper. The more subdued four-minute vignette finds the two lying in bed together after Ramirez’s character, S, wakes up with a sense of unnamed grief. She cries in bed while Nina lays next to her. To quell her grief, Nina asks S to describe what she hears, smells, sees, touches, and tastes — and the two ultimately kiss. This particular moment depicts a scene that some shows would cut in favor of drama and action: two partners sharing a quiet, tender moment and creating an atmosphere of safety and trust.
“What does it take for a young, queer, Black trans woman to let go of fairy tales and live in the much more beautiful reality? What does it look like to step into the role of the one who comforts others? And how do you find the courage to yourself be comforted?” Stewart says. “These are a few of the questions we ask in The Feels."
The Feels allows room for a wide array of voices and experiences, and more than anything, the show is about the characters and the people. By focusing on them and their everyday experiences, Manley and Lataillade create a world that feels authentic, and viewers are able to emotionally connect on a deeper level. Through the show’s relatable storytelling and poignant dialogue, the audience is drawn into the experiences, brought into these characters' lives.
"I truly hope whoever watches this walks away inspired to find their own answers," Stewart says. "Most importantly, I hope my community feels we took care of them."