It has been two years since we got a new season of the groundbreaking semi-autobiographical web series The Feels, created by Tim Manley, the first two seasons of which were a hit with critics.
The Feels explores the life of its main character, Tim, a bisexual man, as well as his friends and chosen family, all based in New York City. Fans who have been anxiously awaiting Season 3 are getting rewarded in a big way, with new episodes released every day of Pride Month. The cast and crew also participated in a screening and panel discussion, moderated by journalist Imara Jones, on Tuesday night, at the IFC Center in New York.
This season features a storyline revolving around a poly relationship, as well as functioning as an exploration of grief and unexpected growth that comes from loss, fear, and doubt. That story arc was co-written by Sara Ramirez, who plays genderqueer S, who is trying to work through some heavy baggage and find a way to truly connect with the people they choose to have in their life.
Producers screened that storyline, as well as select other episodes from the new season.
Ramirez said she has never been in a poly relationship herself, but the aspect of the story involving grief comes directly from her own life, and is dedicated to her friend Al, whom she lost eleven years ago. She saw the first two seasons of The Feels and asked her managers to reach out to Manley (below) to see if there was a chance of them working together. The comfort she had with him made her feel she was ready to bring such a personal story to the process, which she called cathartic.
“When we spoke, I thought: This is so inspiring. What if this can be an exercise in exploring grief, and loss, and depression, and all these things I’ve actually experienced?” she recalled of her first meeting with Manley.
The idea to bring in the story of a throuple was another way of exploring life after loss, and how and why we choose to let people in, as well as how we interact with them, after being so clearly shown the transient nature of our relationships and indeed our lives.
When we first see S, their primary partner, Nina, who is transfemme and played by Ianne Fields Stewart, is grounding her during a panic attack (below). The simplicity, paired with the power of the connection between the two shown on screen is unlike what we typically see represented. That, too, played a part in the decision to center one of this season’s main story arcs on a poly relationship, as they are underrepresented in media.
“When we were on set, what felt most important was the story,” said Stewart. “I think that that is something that is really precious. Especially in an art form that also doubles itself with an industry.”
“When you are on a set that just allows you to embrace the art of it and allows you to just be an artist, I think you can feel free to balance dangerously on the edge. And maybe you fall but you know people will catch you.”
Ramirez said she has had the “interesting experience” of working in mainstream television, and that often the leadership on those big budget productions motivate with fear, and the sense of the ever-ticking clock, with each hour on set equaling a small fortune.
“Having had those experiences for so long, it was really refreshing to have what I like to call an emotionally and mentally humane experience working on set,” she said. “Sometimes we really underestimate the power of creating humane working environments for people.”
“I thought to myself, Yeah, my soul needs this. I’ve had enough of the other. And also, I’d like to center other people. I’ve been centering a lot of white women, and I’m kind of ready to center someone else.”
Jackson, Ramirez, and Stewart, in conversation with NewNowNext.
“I was born with certain privileges, and I’ve earned certain privileges, and I want to use them to lift other people up, to bring other people with me,” Ramirez told NewNowNext.
Neither Stewart, whom Ramirez recommended for the role of Nina, nor Shantira Jackson, who plays the third member of the triad, the masc of center Lenny, seemed fully ready to believe they were being given such an opportunity.
When Jones pointed out that Stewart hadn’t revealed that they were involved in the project, despite the two being friends, they explained it was our of a sense of self-protection.
“A lot of it is that I’ve grown up in this world as a black trans woman who came from Birmingham, Alabama, and found my way to New York City. That feels precocious enough. I think girls like us have kind of been trained to never trust that it’s going to happen until it happens,” they said.
Jackson told NewNowNext when Manley “slid into her DMs” she first thought she was being scammed because it sounded too good to be true.
“I think that it was really cool that I got to be a person,” Jackson said.
“I have seen white people feel everything. Everything; every version of rage, every version of sadness, every version of joy, or curiosity, or confusion, and I’ve only seen myself be a couple of versions of those things.”
Stewart made it clear they wanted the third partner to not be a white person, saying they are “dedicated to showing black love onscreen in all of its many facets.”
“I think we have enough stories of seeing black queer love attached to whiteness,” they added.
While love, growth, and acceptance is at the center of this story, the struggles of finding oneself when not in majority culture are not shied away from, but rather explored with unflinching honesty.
Nina is forced to reckon with the realization that even the one way in which they saw themselves as fitting a classic narrative is flawed, and must be reconsidered so that space can be made for what is likely a better, more expansive, and more realistic way to contextualize and experience love.
“But there’s a mourning period when you realize what this world is,” Stewart says. “And I’m not saying the world is all bad. The world is difficult as well as beautiful, and sometimes its beauty is difficult. Sometimes its difficulty is beauty. And in that, in the recognition of what that is, there is a mourning period. Because you mourn what it was like when you could walk through the world with rose-colored glasses.”
There are whispers of the possibility of a fourth season, and Ramirez says she is interested in telling more stories she’s been “sitting on,” including some more drawn from her own life.
“I was born in Mexico, I was put on a plane at seven years old, and told, ‘I’ll see you in two weeks,’ and not much more was said,” Ramirez shares.
“I grew up in Southern California, where xenophobia against Mexicans exists big time, and it’s internalized by brown people as well and projected back out. So very early on I had accumulated a ton of trauma, even at the age of seven; and then culture shock and divorce trauma, which is the reason I got put on a plane and sent to the U.S.
“So that double consciousness that Ianne speaks of, I’m constantly walking the world with, and I’ve collected all of these experiences and stories along the way about what that’s like for a little brown girl growing up who’s biracial, and doesn’t quite fit in anywhere, and isn’t 100% welcome anywhere, and is checking off all these boxes and yet doesn’t feel like they belong.”
Ramirez said this first foray into exploring those stories was carried out with the perfect cast and crew, allowing for such personal experiences, as well as inclusive imaginings, to be given the respect and space necessary for them to fully come to light as art.
Season 3 of The Feels will continue to be rolled out each day with a new episode throughout the month of June. All episodes are available to watch for free on YouTube.