Felt

Felt is an oddity, but a refreshing one. The show takes real therapists and their real sessions with couples, records them, edits them down to episodic chunks, and then both protects the identities of the clients and creates some comedic distance between those clients and the audience by using puppets to act out all of the roles in the conversations that follow. It is weird idea for a television show, but it’s also strangely engaging.

Therapy—and sex therapy in particular—is the type of things that routinely gets mocked in the vast comedic landscape of mainstream media. So there is something fundamentally and extraordinarily humane about Felt. It’s trading on the tortured monologues of unhappy couples in uncomfortable therapy sessions, trying to fathom the complexities of their relationships. There’s certainly an editor in the background, trying to cut the stories for maximum entertainment value, but unlike most other reality television, Felt doesn’t feel exploitative. If anything, it seems that Felt seeks to put these sessions into the public domain, so that other couples might see that they’re not alone.

Felt is a show that could be quite successful on Netflix or Hulu—the 30-minute episodes are so lightweight that it would be easy to marathon through the eight-episode season, especially as most of the stories are not significantly interconnected with any of the other stories. There is some continuity. From the promotional materials it looks like some of the couples in the premiere will be returning in later episodes. But at least in the pilot, the stories are disconnected vignettes. They each provide an opportunity for a voyeuristic view into the lives (and often, bedrooms) of these couples—but there isn’t a lot else holding each episode together.

The première feels slower than it should be. The first couple is a strange choice to start the show with—the two men are primarily arguing over a very tense and esoteric-seeming issue of how the other expresses anger in the relationship. Both characters are heartfelt, but the storyline is difficult to follow, and the resolution is not particularly satisfying. By comparison, the other two couples are much easier to understand—they’re both struggling with stagnant sexual relationships, for very different reasons. Each couple gets roughly the same amount of airtime, broken up into three parts: session one, where they state the problem; an interlude, where the couple tries to practice what they’ve learned; and the following session, where they go over what they may or may not have accomplished. In each storyline the interlude is what ends up being the most interesting scene—for one couple, it’s a fraught trip to the gym; for another, it’s a tedious dinner date. The change of scenery does a lot for a show that is otherwise extremely one-note; most scenes are in a therapist’s office, and everyone has to talk about their feeeeelings.

Still, despite Felt’s issues with pacing, the puppets are ingenious. They’re a little silly—but that’s exactly what the show needs, as it wades through sexual incompatibility and wounded egos. The puppets provide a soupçon of comic relief, with their recognizable Muppet-y ways. Felt is not exactly supposed to be funny, but the moments of real human tension are easier to bear when it’s a puppet, not a human, trying out a new thing in bed. Seeing one puppet whip another in a makeshift puppet-sex dungeon is, like, really funny. The puppets are a buffer between the all-too-recognizable emotions of the couples struggling with intimacy and our own lives—close enough that we might empathize a bit, but different enough, and amusing enough, that it also provides a lens for entertainment and comedy. And if it seems like the puppets are the type of thing that Pam from Archer or Mr. Frond from Bob’s Burgers might whip out to demonstrate conflict resolution in a safe way, that’s because they are.

It’s unlikely that Felt will be for everyone—it requires an interest in the intimate thoughts of perfect strangers, which is admittedly a bit niche—but it manages to convey the raw emotion of the therapist’s office without overwhelming the audience, and that’s an interesting balance to strike.

Stray observations:

  • The “felt” of the title is clever wordplay—the “felt” emotions of therapy presented in the felt fabric of the puppets. (Forgive me if this is obvious—it took me about ten minutes to untangle.)
  • I am so not convinced that Josue is a guy worth getting engaged to, and that’s not just because he brought up the Dog Whisperer as an analogy for his fiancée. 
  • “God, these white people, with their feelings.” 

More TV Club