A couple of years ago I heard about The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, those who spoke about it really seemed to dig it but in an age of disparate audiences I alas was a Netflix customer and Mrs Maisel was available on streaming service Amazon Prime in Australia. With so much content to choose from in the world I decided I could make do without Mrs Maisel.
How wrong I was.
The show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a delight, I easily feel it is one of the best shows I’ve seen in the past three years of its run, but this is not a show that should come billed as the best show on TV. A label that misleads and heightens expectations. What makes The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel so good is the way it grows on you and the way it builds to jokes.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, what the hell is the show about? We meet the newly minted Mrs. Maisel at her wedding reception in the mid 1950s. She’s holding court doing a speech, it’s a big reception, she regales us with tales of the courtship of her husband while she was at college. We learn a lot in that opening scene, we learn Midge as we will come to know comes from a well off family, is educated, likes to perform to an audience and is a passionate individual not ready to conform to society’s expectations and always up for a laugh. Its important that we meet Midge right at this moment in her life. This is supposed to be her crowning achievement, she’s graduated, gotten married to a good man and is going to pump out 3 kids by 30 and be a good mother and wife in a well to do family. Except well none of that is going to happen and what is going to help this young, intelligent, witty and ambitious woman survive the ordeals ahead is everything we see she is in these opening moments.
Midge is going to be a stand-up comic and God help me I know this is true – she is going to be a star. To become the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Midge’s life possibly has to get blown up because without that she doesn’t come to realise she has been living a lie and possibly the biggest lie of them all that she is happy in a life that she was not meant to live.
I don’t want to give too much away but Midge’s husband walks out on her and the first season is about dealing with the repercussions of that. We meet both families and their friends and personalities of the late 1950s underground comic scene (fyi Luke Kirby as Lenny Bruce is brilliant). You can tell a lot about a show by how much energy is put into the supporting characters. People with one scene that serve a purpose are given wit and charm and a whole lived in history thanks to the writing and the wonderful performers. There are throw away scenes that are some of the best in the series and then other laughs that make you nod and reflect yes that’s so much like so and so.
Out of the terrific ensemble cast, I want to give a shout out to Marin Hinkle as Midge’s mother Rose who is so subtle in her delivery. However even more than that, this show made me realise how much of a national treasure Tony Shalhoub is. I first noticed Shalhoub years ago as a tough FBI agent in The Siege (a change of pace for him as he was already established as a comedy sitcom star) and then I saw him as a laid back space travelling actor in Galaxy Quest. Here… he is Dad and he makes you smile and cry in equal measure. Like all fathers he is far from perfect, but he’s pretty close if you know what I mean. Hinkle and him give gravitas to scenes that are elevated by their presence and deliver pitch perfect comic timing to all the others.
Lead Rachel Brosnahan as Midge had been cast in some prominent roles in House of Cards and The Blacklist but here she gets to be the star and she makes the most of it. Midge is not perfect, she likes the spotlight a bit too much and drinking might be an issue down the road but for the most part she is quick witted, resilient, optimistic and giving to others. Something that I admire deeply about her is how she stands up for herself and keeps pursuing goals. You can’t make it in this business if you can’t roll with some heavy punches.
I think what I love most about the show is at the centre of it are two women with an impossible big dream who chase it because they’ve got nothing to lose. Alex Borstein plays Susie Myerson who sees Midge perform stand-up comedy and decides to become her manager although she’s never been a manager before in her life. The juxtaposition of these two is regularly played up in the show with great results. Midge is well dressed in fashionable outfits and has her looks regularly commented upon. Susie dresses like a man and gets mistaken for one or even just ignored. Midge comes from a lot and is about to lose a lot of it forcing her to show a new independence she has always inherently had. Susie has come from nothing and so had nothing to lose but upsets the stability of the life she had established for herself by deciding to chase something larger. They’re both betting on the other to come through for them in a big way and they’re doing it because they believe in each other and doesn’t that just make your heart soar.
The most recent season three ended with a setback for the two as they looked up at a plane rising into the New York skyline with their dreams seemingly on board leaving with it. All I could think was, “they’ll be okay, they’re gonna make it, they’re together.’
The production values are big for a TV show and there are lots of neat ways they frame things, take for example how a trip from New York to Paris is represented. The sound track is wonderful, fans of The Gilmore Girls (a show I missed but had a well off family at the centre of it, whip smart dialogue and establishing tracking shots that panned around a set and was also run by Amy Sherman Palladino) will recognise the work of the Palladinos here (her husband Daniel works on her shows too) but I think this might even be a show for people who didn’t appreciate Gilmore Girls.
There are flaws, Midge’s children only seem to be around when it is important to the plot, sometimes I wonder if favorite characters are consistently drawn or if we spend a little too many episodes in a setting because they’ve shelled out the budget for it and damnit now they’re going to make the most out of it. Catskills and Miami anyone?
Yet it is a series that grows on you, pays off little bread crumbs it left for you a million years ago. Truths that rarely go spoken but give so much satisfaction when they’re said at the height of a pivotal scene by a character. Sometimes this show is so good it warms your heart-it really does. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is my favourite TV show and you should definitely see it.