It’s a fair generalization to make that anyone who has invested a sufficient amount of time and interest into consuming entertainment has come to discover a favorite creator-a mastermind that speaks and appeals to that particular person on a level that few others can even begin to understand. It’s a unique, intimate bond that is built on trust and mutual respect. For me, that creator is this brilliant woman right here:
Right on the heels of reviving her hit series Gilmore Girls for Netflix, Palladino is back with another series, this time for Amazon, that manages to live up to its wildly successful predecessor.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel centers around a housewife in 1958 Manhattan named Miriam “Midge” Maisel. Midge has had life go according to plan since she was old enough to plan: “At six, I decided Russian literature would be my major. At 12, I found my signature haircut. At 13, I decided I was going to Bryn Mawr College…But all of these marvelous adventures were simply the preamble to my ultimate destiny. I was going to meet a man. A perfect man.”
Flash forward four years and it really does seem like Midge’s life and marriage is exactly that- perfect. She may be simply a wife and mother characteristic of a 1950s woman, but she’s genuinely happy being a wife and mother. Being the daughter to traditional Jewish parents, she’s never even considered being anything else. She gets the Rabbi to finally forgive the inappropriate joke she made at her wedding and come to her Yom Kipper dinner. She cooks the “perfect, perfect, you are perfect” brisket so that her husband, Joel, can have a better time slot at the local comedy club. She measures her body to ensure that she remains proportional.
Ironically, it is the lengths Midge goes to remain perfect for Joel that makes the viewer realize that there may be more cracks in their marriage than what meets the eye. About fifteen minutes into the episode, she is shown getting up early so that she can wash her face, curl her hair, and do her makeup before Joel wakes, in order to make it seem like she truly does “wake up like this.” It’s one thing for a wife to do this when the couple are newlyweds, but continuing to do so four years into a marriage is a cause for concern.
Despite this, when Joel leaves her towards the end of the episode after a bombed set at the comedy club and reveals that he’s been having an affair with his airhead secretary for months, it still feels sudden. If, as we are led to believe, this is the first time he’s bombed at pursuing his dream of being a professional comedian -even when his “act” consists solely of an Abraham Lincoln joke stolen from Bob Newhart-then why did the affair begin months ago in the midst of what overall appeared to be a content marriage? It is only upon second watch that the viewer realizes that the way Joel treats Midge is more akin to the way an appreciative boss treats his secretary than a loving husband treats his wife. Midge is in charge of making sure things go smoothly at the comedy club, bringing Joel’s lucky sweater, trading prepared food for a better time slot, and taking notes on his performance about how he can improve. Towards the beginning of the episode, when Joel does well at the club, he demands that Midge “Get me that slot again next time.”
When Joel leaves her, Midge has what can only be referred to as a breakdown. After confronting her parents with the upsetting news, she returns to the comedy club that started it all, soaking wet from the rain, still in her nightgown, and drunkenly stumbles onto the stage. “So this is it, huh?” she ponders, not even facing the audience. “This is the dream-standing up here on this filthy, sticky stage all alone. Couldn’t have that, you didn’t want me. Was that it, Joel?” It is only when someone in the crowd yells out the natural question, “Who’s Joel?” that Midge turns around, tells the crowd exactly who Joel is, and gives a better stand up act than Joel could ever dream of performing. Like any act of exemplary comedy, it is capped by earned nudity-“Seriously, there’s no fucking way that Penny Pan [the secretary] can compete with these tits!”-and being taken into custody by the police.
In what is the true climax of the episode, Suzie, the comedy club manager, bails Midge out of custody and takes her to a nearby bar. There, Suzie tells Midge the crux of what we can expect this series to become if Amazon picks it up-“Look, 15 years I’ve been working in clubs, okay? 15 years watching every kind of loser get up there thinking he’s Jack Benny. Twice have I seen someone deliver the goods…The second time was tonight.”-as well as one of the most impactful lines I’ve ever heard said on television-“I don’t mind being alone. I just do not want to be insignificant.”
This pilot epitomizes Amy Sherman-Palladino’s writing in all of its pitfalls and shining beauty. Veteran fans of hers will be familiar with her treatment of body image and dieting from Gilmore Girls, both original and revival, and similar issues arise again here. During a voiceover flashback to her college years, Midge makes the joke, “My college roommate Petra was friendly and fat, which was perfect. I’ll have someone to eat with who won’t steal my boyfriend.” The knowledge that this series takes place in the late ’50s and that this particular character is obsessed with her own body image makes the joke easier to swallow, but after more than 15 years of being criticized about this very topic it’s disheartening that ASP won’t adjust to the shifting consciousness of today’s world.
That issue aside, everything else is just about flawless. The visuals, particularly the nighttime New York scenes, are stunning. The soundtrack, including the song “Teach Me Tonight” which shares a title with a classic and beloved Gilmore Girls episode, is bouncy and fun. The plot and character development are carefully balanced, each alternating being the catalyst of the other. The characters, while perhaps not as immediately lovable as Gilmore Girls‘, are realistic and flawed.
If you go into The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel expecting Gilmore Girls 2.0, you may very well be disappointed. Amy Sherman-Palladino seems to go to painstaking lengths, especially in the first and last ten minutes, to ensure that the audience walks away knowing exactly that. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is the next step in her artistic journey, and I for one hope that she is given the chance to share it with us.
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Questions to be Answered: Is the title The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel a red herring by the end of the pilot, in that she is presumably no longer Mrs. Maisel? Will the picture taken of Midge as she’s dragged off the comedy club stage by the police be pertinent in future episodes? What about her attendance of a Communist Party meeting?
Best Scene: Midge and Suzie at the bar.
Best Characters: Miriam “Midge” Maisel, Suzie
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: