I had a to steal the title of a Gilmore Girls episode for this review’s title, which is appropriate because Amy Sherman-Palladino created both series. In The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Sherman-Palladino brings the fast, witty dialogue that she’s known for and engaging female characters. The eight episode first season of the show is available for streaming on Amazon Prime.
The series takes us back in time to the 1950s, where Marium “Midge” Maisel, played by Rachel Brosnahan, has the perfect life on the Upper West Side of Manhattan as a mother of two and loyal wife. She supports her husband, Joel Maisel (Michael Zegen), who works as a businessman for his father’s company by day and follows his passion for stand up comedy by night. Midge supports Joel’s comedic ambitions, following him to dimly lit clubs and keeping a notebook full of potential jokes. When he leaves her for his secretary, Midge realizes that she can be funny too.
Female friendships are Sherman-Palladino’s specialty and it’s refreshing as we so rarely see relationships like this between women on the screen, but it is a prominent piece of the narrative in Mrs. Maisel. In the pilot episode, after her husband leaves her (and some heavy drinking), Midge goes down to the Gaslight, where Joel was an open mic regular. Too intoxicated to notice that she’s supposed to put her name on the list to perform, Midge seizes the mic on stage and begins to delivery a hilarious account of her husband leaving her. Excessive profanity and indecent exposure results in Midge getting arrest, but bar manager Susie Meyerson (Alex Borstein) takes notice. Seeing Midge’s potential, Susie offers to become her manager.
Where Midge is the perfectly coiffed and fashionable housewife, Susie is a Lower East Side bohemian. Watching the relationship between the two grow and evolve through the series is a delight. They have the perfect juxtaposed dynamic, both able to deliver on the shows continuously witty banter.
Recent shows about period stand-up comedy have struggled to meet audience expectations, like Showtime’s I’m Dying Up Here, which came out earlier this year. Mrs. Maisel took on the challenge, though, and delivered. It probably helps that the writing for the show is mostly pretty funny, if a little outrageous and ronchy. Much of Midge’s routines, at least in the first episodes, are stream of consciousness anecdotes and riffs on her own life. The fact that her sets are unpredictable make watching someone succeed and strikeout at comedy more engaging. Most of the season follows Midge as she attempts to get of the ground as a comic, with some successful nights, some lulls, and some mistakes.
The structure of show, a slow build to Midge becoming a comic, makes its feel a bit anticlimactic at times. More of the drama revolves around Midge’s personal life, dealing with the sense of loss since her husband left, his changing life, and her parents. After Joel leaves, Midge moves out of their apartment and into her parents home with the kids. Sleeping in the room she grew up in, still decorated for an adolescent, and living under the thumb of her overbearing parents. The play out of their relationship is relatable and sentimental.
One element of Mrs. Maisel that hits every time is the sensory details that bring to life New York during the 1950s. From the soundtrack with the likes of Peggy Lee to the impressive costumes to the old cars buzzing down the street, you’ll feel transported through the nostalgia of it all.
If I haven’t gushed enough, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a success and season two, which has been confirmed, will need to move Midge, Susie and Joel’s stories into new territory. Hopeful we will see some kind of stand up career from Midge and likely more will develop between she and Joel as their Marriage hangs in limbo.