Spring is round the corner, Amazon pilot season is upon us – and I vowed to not let myself get lured in by the promise of any pilot. Why? I don’t want to enjoy something and then see it fall apart again by the show not getting a full season offer. But the promise of Amy Sherman-Palladino was too great and my truly shitty week needed some balancing out. Suffice it to say: I was not prepared for a pilot to blow me completely away. The Marvelous Mrs Maisel is what the title promises.
The show is set in 1958 in the Upper West Side of Manhattan and is centered around Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan), perfect Jewish wife, mother, lover, daughter and all-around human being. The first time we lay eyes on her is four year in the past on her wedding day, giving the wedding speech, rather than her husband, Joel Maisel (Michael Zegen, oh how I adored him in Brooklyn!). Fast forward those four years, Midge finds herself getting picked up from prison – for performing without a licence in a cafe in Greenwich Village (and for public indecency) after being left by her husband the night before Yom Kippur. She might have been slightly drunk on the wine already set out for the breaking of the fast at Yom Kippur, but the comedy set she performs delivers more jokes than her husband has generated in the past four years. The café’s manager Suzie (Alex Borstein, the original Sookie St. James) sees her potential – her set was rough, but who’d expect polished perfection from a drunken and disillusioned wife – and wants to build Midge’s career with her.
The many layers of the marvelous Mrs Maisel
There are so many touchpoints I could get to in this pilot, it’s actually quite wonderful. The pace is fast, as we are used to with Sherman-Palladino’s leading women and the layers it touches upon are varied: how a woman is perceived, what she is wont to do, how she has to behave, and where her duties and values should lie (don’t get me started on how many hoops Midge actually jumps through everyday to keep up the picture perfect image of a wife, who’s never unpolished – and cooks a mean brisket). Her husband is indeed one of the infamous Mad Men from Madison Avenue: Joel himself references the book “The Hidden Persuaders” – which the character of Don Draper is supposed to be based on (one more parallel to Don: he leaves his wife for the dimwit secretary). There’s the Jewish-ness: immigrants, having fled from the war or suffered from it, with a rabbi who’d been to Buchenwald and some nice shots inside a typical Deli. The supporting characters so far offer a vast array of possibilities: How her father (Tony Shalhoub, “Monk”) and mother react when she tells them what happens, shows the role society gives to women. But also her friends and especially the Café manager reveal the different functions and purposes placed on women.
The framework around the episode are the two “comedy sets” Midge delivers at the beginning and the end: in the first she shines on her wedding day, giving us flashbacks to her college days and upsetting the Rabbi so much with her final joke, he’d only agreed to come her house four years later. She’s polished, poised and perfect in the beginning – but also only living to please her husband in every aspect of her life. In the latter one she’s drunk on stage having just been left – but bringing all the charisma and wit with her that makes her so marvelous.
Don’t disappoint me, Amazon. I need more of the utterly original, brillant and, indeed, marvelous Mrs Maisel and her world. I’d have never thought I’d be into standup comedy.
picture credit: Christian Koch, unsplash.com