Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is the funniest show not on TV, and exactly the kind of comedy America needs now.
Those of you who have been regular readers for a while already know: I watch a lot of TV. A lot. So you probably won’t be surprised to discover that I was an avid “Gilmore Girls” fan. While it’s true that I’ll basically watch anything on The CW (née The WB), it was love at first sight with Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel). The pitter-patter, rapid fire, pop culture ripened, insider baseballness of that back and forth between mother and daughter makes my little black heart happy. My husband, meanwhile, calls this the “rat-a-tat” and is decidedly not a fan.
I was thrilled when GG creators, Amy Sherman-Palladino and husband and constant collaborator Daniel Palladino, unveiled their magnum opus last year, a special Netflix series in four parts, allowing the duo to offer their perfect ending to the series that they left in the penultimate season. If you haven’t seen the show, check it out. It really does hold up.
I was also a fan of the charming but short-lived Sherman-Palladino vehicle “Bunheads,” starring Sutton Foster (star of the little-known powerhouse “Younger”). Different characters, same small-town setting and almost fantastically frantic pacing, this time with ballerinas.
Now with the debut of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” I am utterly bewitched by leads Rachel Brosnahan and Alex Borstein, two women who are putting a big ol’ spotlight on women’s stand-up and proving for the ages that, hell yes, women are funny.
At the center of the story is Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Brosnahan), a 26-year-old Jewish housewife in 1958 who has the world on a string—a sprawling Upper West Side apartment with a doorman, a husband, Joel (Michael Zegen), who adores her, two children (a boy and a girl), and a figure that defies the laws of gravity, to boot!
Alas, the dream is short-lived as the facade begins to crack. Turns out the adoring husband has allowed his own fear of failure and lack of stand-up talent to overtake him (he’s a nondescript mogul by day, would-be stand-up comic by night) and has filled the hole, so to speak, with a pretty, dim, pencil-sharpener-challenged secretary, Penny Pann. He’s out the door, packing his Jockeys into Midge’s own suitcase.
A bottle of Yom Kippur break-fast wine and a sad subway ride later, Midge descends upon the Gaslight Café, the very same low-rent club where she had been helping Joel hone material it turns out he stole from Bob Newhart.
She wanders up onto the stage, almost as though unaware of the dingy, disinterested audience and devolves into one of the most extemporaneous and expletive-riddled comedic rambles in history. Nothing is off limits—not her failed marriage, newly discovered mistress or the aforementioned lovely physique—and in the end, Midge pops her top to prove a point before being arrested for indecency.
The episode leaves you absolutely breathless and sets the tone for the series, which continues to revolve around both the comedic uprooting of Midge’s very way of life and the adrenaline-edged ecstasy she finds in stand-up, as she teams up with manager Susie Meyersen (Borstein).
While Midge’s chemistry with almost everyone she encounters is undeniable, estranged husband included, “Mrs. Maisel” is truly a love story between these two women. Brosnahan—not Jewish and not a comic—but this fan would never know it—and Borstein, born to play the smart, deadpan, spit-in-your-eye-as-soon-as-look-at-you comedy manager, have such a volatile, vulnerable and honest relationship. Two women from completely different backgrounds who get a taste of more and will do anything to keep hold of it.
These two women are showing us that not only are women funny, but they can be hysterical; that female stand-ups have the same chops as men and can be just as funny as their male counterparts. Funnier, if you ask me.
Likewise, the show reminds us about the very nature of womanhood, with Midge redefining what it means for her to be a mother, a wife, a woman in her own terms. She goes from “having it all” to realizing just how small her world actually is and learning how far she can and should reach to get what she didn’t even know she could have. The first episode has her waking up twice in the middle of the night—once to take her makeup off, a second to put it back on and coif her hair—all to self-perpetuate the fallacy that we wake up looking like this.
Midge learns lessons in 1958 that women still are struggling with today. The tropes may be different, but women are still defining and redefining our place in the world. Bravo to this show for putting that struggle center stage in such a poignant way.
The only thing wrong with the series, which features comedic powerhouses the likes of Tony Shaloub as Midge’s father Abe, Jane Lynch as a veteran comic, is that it’s only eight episodes long. My husband—remember, not a fan of Sherman-Palladino’s signature rat-a-tat—is equally smitten with the show and suggested we watch in the first place.
As the season finale fades to black, he turns to me and asks, “Only eight episodes? Why do they hate us?”
The series is available exclusively for members of Amazon Prime, but the first episode is available to stream for free. It was the first original series from Amazon to get a two-season order based on the strength of the pilot alone.
Make this show your New Year’s resolution, I beg you.
*“Really? I bet your wife has a sense of humor.” —Miriam “Midge” Maisel