No sophomore slump for Mrs. Maisel. Season 2 was another example of terrific television.
The first season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was about how Midge Maisel’s married life fell apart and how her life as a comedian began, almost by accident. The second season takes a couple of road trips out of Manhattan. The first side-trip is to Paris, France. Rose Weissman (Marin Hinkle) took off for Paris alone in an unexpectedly feminist attempt to re-discover herself. Rose’s life upheaval parallels that of her daughter, Midge (Rachel Brosnahan). Midge and her father, Abe Weissman (Tony Shaloub), make the trip to Paris to convince Rose to come home. Instead, Abe joins Rose in her newfound Bohemian lifestyle for several episodes, showing that there’s more to the Weissman patriarch than the straight-laced, tweedy college professor exterior he projects. Eventually, the Weissmans return to Manhattan and the status quo, but this was a pleasant holiday.
Even if the Paris storyline was a shameless way to wrangle a free trip to the City of Lights for the cast and crew, it was an effective way to bring Abe and Rose Weissman more fully into the story of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
This is still Midge’s story. That’s her name in the show title (unless the series suddenly becomes about Joel’s mother, a thought that just made me shudder a little). But, a recurring theme in this set of ten episodes is the exploration of the lives of all the characters who orbit the luminous Midge Maisel. When you have accomplished actors such as Tony Shaloub and Marin Hinkle, you know they’re going to be much more than background characters. You don’t use a thoroughbred racehorse to pull a carriage in Central Park (or insert your own cliché here).
We’re old friends, you and I, so I know you’ll indulge me in a brief conversational tangent. Because Mrs. Maisel is the creation of Amy Sherman-Palladino (with a generous dollop of her husband, Daniel Palladino), I think a lot about the series Gilmore Girls while watching this one. The Sherman-Palladinos were the guiding force behind that series as well (except for the final season), including the Netflix update from a couple of years ago.
Richard and Emily Gilmore, Lorelai’s parents, became increasingly more important in that series, the same way Abe and Rose seem to be. Just as Gilmore Girls grew into an even better show because of this, I think Mrs. Maisel has as well, and will continue to do so. Our character exploration of the Weissmans didn’t end when they returned from Paris.
Almost immediately after the Weissmans return from Paris, their family goes on a two-month summer vacation in the Catskills. Midge’s manager, Susie (Alex Borstein), joins her at the Catskills resort by carrying a bathroom plunger to disguise herself as a member of the maintenance staff. Susie even manages to get Midge comedy gigs in the Catskills, which I’ve heard referred to as the Borscht Belt, or Jewish Alps, in interviews with older comedians on Carson or Merv Griffin. You know, back in the day.
This entire sequence made me think about the movie Dirty Dancing, of course.
Joel Maisel (Michael Zegan), Midge’s not-yet-ex-husband, and his parents, Moishe and Shirley (the always-terrific Kevin Pollock, and Caroline Aaron), are also staying at the resort. Joel remains a main character on the series, in spite of the fact that the unfaithful husband usually gets kicked to the figurative curb in most situation comedies that center on the wife. He even manages to become a somewhat sympathetic character, since he’s the one who ruined what he had with Midge, and she gets to live his dream of being a stand-up comedian.
Joel and Midge’s two children remain little more than set dressing again this season. A decision I applaud.
Zachary Levi suddenly shows up in the Catskills as Dr. Ben Ettenberg, a self-assured and eligible bachelor who becomes Midge’s love interest as the season continues. He even asks her to marry him. This is the same actor who played Chuck in that eponymous series and is currently flying around as Shazam! (or the original Captain Marvel). I liked his character a lot and hope he returns in Season 3.
Susie does a lot more during this season than carry a plunger, and Alex Borstein seems to be having a blast in the role. We even get to know more about her family in these episodes. In many ways, Susie is the stand-in for most of the viewers of the series. You know, the ones who aren’t living the life of privilege that Midge Maisel takes for granted. Her character keeps the story being told grounded somewhat in reality.
Just somewhat, though. Mrs. Maisel is an escapist fantasy, and Midge seems to live a charmed life. But, as the season ends, she’s made some tough decisions about her career that will probably prevent her from ever being satisfied with the life of a Jewish housewife again. Plus, Abe Weissman has made some decisions about his own life that may affect how their idyllic Manhattan lifestyle has been funded up to this point. Season 3 may inject a huge dose of reality in the story. Not too much, I hope.
This is a good-looking period dramedy that earned every one of its six Primetime Emmys for its first season. I think it’s destined to win even more for this one. I think its among the good reasons to become an Amazon Prime member.
Firewater’s Season 2 Report Card: A