“Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke. That’s their natural and first weapon. She will need her sisterhood.” – Gloria Steinem.
I would like to use this opportunity to welcome back Amy Sherman-Palladino to the television screen. And what a return it was. Some of us television addicts might remember a fictional town known as Stars Hollow located in Conneticut that was home to the Gilmore Girls; a facsimile of a small-town America. We remember the eccentric nature of the characters and the quirkiness of the world Sherman-Palladino built accompanied by fast-paced witty dialogue that shot out at a 1000 words per minute. Now imagine that on the larger scale that one would get using 1950’s New York as a setting. Throw in a fantastic cast, great writing, and a story that’s been absolutely delightful so far and you have Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
SPOILERS AHEAD: We’re introduced to Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) giving a speech at her wedding reception. Fast-forward a few years later and everything seems to be going well for her, or as well as it went for white women in the 50s. Midge has a husband with a great job who dreams of being a comedian, a huge Upper West Side apartment, and two children, “a boy and a girl”. Her wealthy parents live in the same apartment building acting as convenient babysitters for when Midge and her husband feel like spending time at the local comedy club. To be honest, the first 15 minutes of the pilot had me wondering if this show would be a boring period piece drama– the kind that would never live up to the image of Mad Men that would be stirred up in some members of the audience upon viewing. But everything changes when Midge’s husband (Michael Zegen) leaves her for his secretary in classic Don Draper fashion. Midge undergoes dramatic yet well-paced changes from drunkenly discovering her comedic talents as she unknowingly performed a lewd set at the aforementioned comedy club. She’s arrested by the police for the first time and eh, what the hell, another time for good measure. She applies for a day job to work in a department store. She explores beyond the boundaries of living as solely a housewife/mother despite the concerns of those around her that she needs a man to stabilize her life. And with the guidance of her new friend and manager, Susie Meyerson (Alex Bornstein), she decides to channel her talents and try for a career as a stand-up comedienne.
As the episodes progress, there are several things that made it stand out as one of the best shows to air in 2017. The relationship that forms between Midge and Alex evolves from one of semi-professionalism to some form of friendship that bonds over comedy, binge-drinking, and hangovers. The show works magnificently as a period piece that pays amazing attention to every detail to the look of the decade while also showcasing the Jewish culture of the protagonist’s family. It’s great to see what Sherman-Palladino is capable of when presented with a larger canvas to paint on than she worked with in Gilmore Girls. What we end up getting is a vibrant, colorful look at 1958 Manhattan from the women dumping buckets out on the sidewalk to the cars on the streets to the fashion of the era. Each member of the cast is also phenomenal. Both sets of parents of the separated couple deserve recognition for the work they put into the show as well.
Midge, however, shines like a beacon in the midst of everything mentioned in the previous paragraph. The show follows Midge very closely and we watch her discovering herself for what seems like the first time in each successive episode. We see her give off varying levels of astonishment and awe as she goes through these new experiences. We see her make the decision (without ever saying so outright) that because she wants to live a life that’s fulfilling to her. She wonders out loud whether she should have ever been a mother, even though we can see that it definitely wasn’t her calling. She ignores the obvious disapproval of her being separated from her parents that comes in several forms from angry piano playing to their incessant intrusions in her love life. Brosnahan is so engaging as Midge that it’s kinda hard to pay attention to what anyone else is doing on the show. One random thing I only noticed during my rewatch was that Midge didn’t cry until the 6th episode. She deals with considerable pain in the first few episodes of the season, but acts as the anchor for the show, keeping a cheerful outlook and is determined to make sure no one sees her in what would be perceived as weakness. She’s the epicenter of the universe and it moves as she does and her tale is inspirational to watch. Her wittiness, charm, and green-eyed nature help make her the perfect captain to navigate this intense, elegant world and her determination means that she’s ready to seize whatever it has to offer.