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The (Truly) Marvelous Mrs. Maisel 

By Spencer Coile 

The year is 1958, and Miriam "Midge" Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) lives on the Upper West Side with her wealthy husband (Michael Zegen) and two children. Her parents (Tony Shaloub and Marin Hinkle) live in the same apartment complex to watch the kids for her. She is dressed to the nines for all occasions, supports her husband's (flailing) career in stand-up comedy, and still has time to whip up a mean brisket. Why would she ever want her life to change? 

Which is to say, of course, that it will and does.

When her husband leaves her for his secretary, Midge angrily (and drunkenly) takes to the stage of the Gaslight, a downtown bar her husband frequently played at, to rant to her audience about this sudden shift. Her improvised venting, though, has the crowd in stitches. And it soon becomes clear that not only is she performing a stand-up routine, she is also quite good at it... 

And thus begins The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (currently available to stream on Amazon), the latest from Gilmore Girls and Bunheads creator Amy Sherman-Palladino. Incorporating the same quick wit and warmth that made her previous work soar, Mrs. Maisel proves to be a worthy successor in Sherman-Palladino's repertoire and a much-needed shot of energy and hope in such a disparaging social climate.

From its pilot alone, Mrs. Maisel has already secured itself a position as one of the most assured and confident first episodes of 2017. It picked up a two season order within just weeks of the pilot's premiere. 

The success of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is due partly to Sherman-Palladino's flair for quick-paced dialogue. Packed into every hour-long episode is enough script to fill an entire movie. Characters speak a mile-a-minute, each plot moves quickly, and while this may give some viewers a headache, there is enough energy here that the overall effect is charming, rather than grating. There is a rhythm to the words written, so not just anyone could play the titular role of Miriam Maisel. Fortunately, Brosnahan (previously Emmy nominated for House of Cards) is up to the challenge of tackling such a complicated leading character. Midge is brash, stubborn, caring, nurturing, and ferocious all at once. Somehow Brosnahan makes this all appear effortless, while still making Midge a likeable sympathetic character. 

Brosnahan is not the only force of nature on Mrs. Maisel. Despite a bumpy start, Midge begins a working relationship with Susie (Alex Borstein), who runs the Gaslight and notcies Midge's comedic abilities before Midge does. Often humorously mistaken as a man, Susie soon becomes Midge's manager and proves to be the perfect foil to Midge's uptight stature. Much like Gilmore Girls and Bunheads, Mrs. Maisel gets into a steady groove of prioritizing, maintaining, and developing female friendships. However, because of its time period, the relationship between Midge and Susan feels especially important. Until this point, Midge was only regarded as a housewife and mother and Susie merely ran a bar; nothing more. Together, they break into a male dominated business and never take no for an answer. It is sincerely refreshing. 

The key to Mrs. Maisel's success is that Midge is genuinely funny. Where lesser shows would show the leading character bumble her way to fame, within the first episode it is clear that she has a knack for comedy. The dialogue is often quick and manic, but all of that dissipates when Midge first takes the stage for her impromptu comic act -- she channels all of her anger and disillusionment in her personal life to her act and performs with the confidence of a seasoned professional. The fictional audience laughs (and I laughed along right with them). Her first routine occurs near the end of the pilot episode, after her husband discloses that he is leaving her. In a fit, she arrives at the Gaslight and gives a drunken eulogy to her marriage. She shouts profanities and flashes her audience. She is arrested for indecent exposure, yet there is something so satisfying about watching her tackle comedy for the first time.

In subsequent episodes, we watch her experience setbacks and her loved ones doubting her along the way, and so it is a breath of fresh air seeing this strong leading character take control of her own life and put her comedic abilities on display. When Mrs. Maisel does comedy, we can all just sit back and soak up the humor. 

The final scene in the pilotfollows Midge being bailed out of jail (the first of several times). There, she meets the infamous Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby). When she asks him if he likes being a stand-up comedian, he tells her:  

It's a terrible, terrible job. It should not exist -- like cancer, or God. 

No, he doesn't like it. But he knows nothing else; it is what he was meant to do. And we watch Midge smile after this coy answer, because we start to see the glimmer in her eyes, the realization that perhaps she was meant to do more than be a wife and mother. She is left with so many possibilities at the end ot the first episode -- but it is clear that comedy is what she was always meant to do. 

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Reader Comments (4)

In loved with this show, devoured it in two days. Rachel Brosnahan is a revelation.

December 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterV.

So happy for this post. This show (like the film, Lady Bird) arrived at the perfect time, as a respite for all that's wrong with the world. It's like a breath of fresh air, with such sparkling Sherman-Palladino dialogue and fantastic comedic talents of Broshanan (who knew?) and the imcomparable Alex Borstein, who doesn't get nearly enough attention for her peformance. Plus the sets, costumes, and camera work. Just so dazzling. And Tony Shaloub and Kevin Pollack, too, as old pros doing with they do best in supporting roles. Even as a period piece, it still feels relevant, and much less heavy-handed and stifling than The Collection, or disjointed like Good Girls Revolt.

I miss Bunheads terribly (will be streaming on Hulu soon), but this will do, Amy S-P.

December 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPam

We binge watched the entire season in 2 days. This is one of the funniest shows I’ve seen in years. Can’t wait for the next season. Anyone know when it will be released?

March 24, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Chandler

I laughed out loud. I just started Season 2. This show is absolute proof that Amy Sherman-Palladino is true comic genius that was under rated abd treated horribly when she was running The Gilmore Girls. The fast psced dialogue is somewhat similar, but this show is absolutely fantastic with it's designb fashion and a look back at "better days"? I recommend this show to anyone who sick of being the same old typical sit-com crap that commercial television is still putting out thereb year after year.

I haven't laughed out loud watching tv in over 20 years.

December 5, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

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