I came to Amy Sherman-Palladino’s work when stumbling across the ‘Gilmore Girls’ on Netflix, liking the first episode so much as to then commit to the next 150+ episodes over the next couple of years. What is great about the ‘Gilmore Girls’ is mainly the script, the lead character of Lorelei is annoying and palm-to-forehead-slappingly fickle but she’s charming and funny and loveable. However, it’s the relationship between Lorelei and her daughter Rory that is then the glue that holds the series together.
And now again, with ‘The Marvelous Mrs Maisel’ we have another brilliantly written lead character who is in no way as annoying as Lorelei but at least as charming and even more funny, which is a good thing given her line of work. And here too, the relationship between Mrs (Midge) Maisel and her manager and reluctant friend, Susie is the key component.
The first season starts as Midge accompanies her husband to a seedy club, The Gaslight, as he attempts to kick-start a career in stand-up. He’s ok but nothing special. Later on, he walks out on his marriage and Midge finds herself on stage at the same club inadvertently tearing the house down with hilarious stories of her recent life. This first episode thus sets up the premise for the show as she independently carves a life on her own, getting a job whilst finding that she loves making people laugh and developing as a stand-up. Well, I say on her own, she lives with her very affluent parents and their maid so money isn’t a concern neither is having to worry about who will look after the kids.
The writing of this show really is incredible. Each time we see Midge in front of an audience, be it on purpose on stage or in some random, sometimes inappropriate situation, she is properly, laugh-out-loud funny. I watched this on my commute to work, and that can garner some strange looks from folks at 6.30am. But it’s not just the stand-up routines, it’s the interactions between the characters, the sadness, the frustrations, the banter, it’s all perfectly pitched.
Another ‘Gilmore Girls’ similarity is that the creators are superb in their casting. The lead roles typically going to relative newbies and some of the supporting cast are well-known character and Broadway actors. Rachel Brosnahan is a revelation (I haven’t seen the US version of ‘House of Cards’) and inhabits the role with the vulnerability and confidence it requires.
In support are Alex Borstein as Susie and Tony Shalhoub as her father. There’s also a brilliant cameo by Jane Lynch as a very established and successful fellow stand-up that crosses over the latter end of season one well into season two. There are some wonderful touches too such as with the appearance of the original stand-up, Lenny Bruce who pops up throughout both seasons. He acts as Midge’s mentor and guide, there’s a very delicate flirtation between them that’s never going any further than an affectionate witty remark but it’s lovely to watch.
I don’t know if it’s because they did search a sterling job in portraying Midge’s husband Joel as so fickle, directionless and unreliable but I really didn’t know if I wanted them to get back together. It sometimes seemed like they’re meant to be together (especially when you see some lovely flashbacks) but I also thought… she can do much better. However, the over-riding theme of this show is showing Midge shine as an individual and so a love interest could detract from that.
Much in the same way that ‘Mad Men’ pulled off the 1950’s style so well, this shows plops you directly into that era. Don Draper could easily walk past Midge & Susie on 5th Avenue or turn up to The Gaslight with one of his lady friends. Also, when they leave New York in season two for a few episodes to go to Paris and then later to the Catskills, the styling again is perfect. I was talking to an American friend of mine recently who told me that his parents got together whilst on vacation at the Catskills in the 1950s, his story grounded what I saw on screen with a touch of reality. Then there are the odd random musical numbers and we’re whisked away to an MGM, Gene Kelly movie for a few minutes.
The music choices in season two are especially a work of genius. I don’t know how they thought to use contemporary tracks to end episodes but it works SO well in that they compliment what you’ve just seen and it doesn’t make it seem odd to hear a 80’s track from the Pet Shop Boys singing out a show set in the 50’s.
I’m very much looking forward to season three, and I hear there’s a story arc right up to a possible season five.
|Network||Amazon Prime Video|
|Cast||Rachel Brosnahan, as Miriam ‘Midge’ Maisel|
Alex Borstein, as Susie Myerson
Michael Zegen, as Joel Maisel
Marin Hinkle, as Rose Weissman
Tony Shalhoub, as Abraham ‘Abe’ Weissman
|Season||S1 (2017): 8 episodes|
S2 (2018): 10 episodes
S3 (2019): 8 episodes