I’m not surprised that I like Mrs. Maisel.
Of course I knew it was a multiple Emmy-winning show before I watched the first episode, but there have been Emmy-winning shows that I didn’t particularly care for. Just like the Academy Award isn’t a guarantee that I will like a movie.
No, I knew I would like this series because I loved Gilmore Girls. Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino were also the creative heads behind that series (at least the first six seasons). When I found out that Mrs. Maisel was also their brainchild, and, as an Amazon Prime customer I had ready access to it, I knew I would eventually watch it.
Now I have.
Right off the bat, here, let me say that this show is not Gilmore Girls. Late 1950s New York City is about as far from early 2000s Stars Hollow, Connecticut as you can get. The aesthetic here is more Mad Men than Gilmore Girls. The pace is more frenetic, the people more rude. If Gilmore Girls had a religion, it was either WASP-ish or agnostic. Mrs. Maisel is 100% Jewish, through-and-through. The music is also of the period, which I appreciate, although I miss the rock-‘n’-roll.
But, the snappy dialogue is similar. This is a series you have to actively listen to as well as watch. Smart, witty people talking to each other is always a delight.
And, Miriam “Midge” Maisel—like Lorelai Gilmore before her (or after her if you’re going by the dates)—is a strong female lead unafraid to voice her opinion, and do it in a humorous way.
As the season begins, Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) is a young, upper middle-class housewife living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Her husband, Joel Maisel (Michael Zegen), is a corporate businessman by day, and an aspiring comedian at night at The Gaslight Café. It turns out that he’s a hack, using a Bob Newhart routine rather than attempting to write his own material, but Midge doesn’t know that at first. She supports her husband’s aspirations, and she keeps a notebook tracking Joel’s performances and jotting down things she thinks is funny. After a bad performance, Joel leaves Midge for his secretary, and Midge didn’t see it coming.
This is where Midge’s story kicks into high gear. She gets drunk, goes to the Gaslight, and actually tells her story from the stage. The audience loves her. But, Midge bares her breasts at one point and gets arrested. While in jail, Midge meets the comic Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby), who has also been arrested for obscenity. After Midge is bailed out, she bails out Bruce. Then, she befriends an employee of The Gaslight, Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein), who becomes her manager.
Midge’s parents are Abe (Tony Shalhoub) and Rose Weissman (Marin Hinkle). She moves back in with them and they are an important element in the series. Abe Weissman is a mathematics professor at Columbia University. Midge moves back in with her parents (their apartment is in the same building as her former apartment), and they are her support group even without knowing she’s been working as a comedian. Midge has two young children who never seem to be more than an afterthought in the series, which is okay to me because I don’t want to watch a series centered around children. There’s enough of those out there.
Midge gets a job in the cosmetics department at B. Altman, a luxury department store (gone since 1990, alas). The job provides material for her act.
She also visits other New York clubs with Susie to study other comedians. She meets Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch), a successful female comedian who uses a bawdy, on-stage persona, wearing a fat suit, when in reality she is an eccentric, wealthy socialite completely unlike the character she plays on-stage. She encourages Midge to develop a character herself, but Midge prefers to perform as herself, even though she goes through a list of stage names before settling for Mrs. Maisel. Because Midge doesn’t have much in the way of a filter, she ends up talking about Sophie Lennon in her own act, and soon finds herself blacklisted from every club in the city.
She ends up back on stage, of course, with the help of Susie and Lenny Bruce. She proves that she has what it takes to be a professional comic. Her husband Joel sees her act without her knowledge, and realizes that she’s truly talented and he’s just a hack.
It would be difficult for any series with such a high-caliber cast to fail, I think, although it happens all the time. Without a doubt, the guiding hands of the Sherman-Palladinos is what helps to elevate this series. It is a drama. It’s also a comedy, but not of the pause-for-the-laugh-track variety of television comedies. It’s good television.
I have a tendency to try to compare one series with another, maybe to make it more accessible to whomever I’m making the comparison to. Since it is a period piece, Mad Men comes to mind more than once. And, of course, the Palladino connection brings up Gilmore Girls. But, the truth is The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is unlike anything I’ve ever watched before. And I like that.
I’m looking forward to watching the next season. And the next. You should watch it, too.
Firewater’s First Season Report Card: A