Amazon made us wait eight months for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” after airing the pilot episode way back in March. Usually, when there’s such a long gap between the pilot and the subsequent episodes of the show, viewers forget what happened and who the characters are.
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No such worries with this show.
Anyone who saw the explosive pilot is unlikely to have forgotten Miriam “Midge” Maisel and her first drunken steps from perfect Jewish housewife in 1950s Manhattan to lewd stand-up comedienne.
Midge, played by Rachel Brosnahan, is something of an enigma. Despite her mile-wide rebellious streak (she rejected her father’s advice that she study “something practical” at university to major in Russian literature, and she and her husband go to watch Lenny Bruce perform his stand-up in Greenwich Village) she aspires to and embraces the spoiled life of an affluent housewife.
Her only concerns in life are the size of her baby daughter’s forehead and getting the rabbi to finally accept an invitation to break the Yom Kippur fast in her elegant Upper West Side apartment. She is so dedicated to her husband that she routinely waits until he has fallen asleep to remove her makeup, and gets up before he does to perfume and beautify herself.
Very early on, however, she reveals her mischievous side. Not content with breaking all tradition by making a speech at her wedding (“Who gives a toast at her own wedding?” she asks, before answering, “I do!”), she ends by letting off a very non-kosher stink bomb, telling her guests that, “Yes, there is shrimp in the eggrolls.”
Four years later, Midge has dutifully produced two children and is helping her untalented husband, Joel, played by Michael Zegen, in his efforts to become a stand-up comedian. She bribes the manager of the Gaslight Café – the famed Village hangout of beatniks, folk musicians and comics – with brisket, to get her husband a better timeslot for his set, which turns out to have been lifted, word for word, from Bob Newhart.
Then, one night, Midge’s world collapses around her. After bombing at the Gaslight, Joel tells her he’s been having an affair with his secretary and is leaving. She breaks the news to her parents, played by Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle, who assume that Midge must have driven her husband away and beseech her to “fix your face, put on his favorite dress; then you go out, find him, and make him come back home.”
Midge, however, has other ideas. She gets drunk and takes an inebriated subway ride to the Village, where she barges into the Gaslight and demands the return of the Pyrex dish in which she cooked her brisket. Drunk, dressed only in a nightie and skimpy robe, Midge literally wanders on stage and start talking into the microphone.
What follows is a five-minute, improvised, stream-of-consciousness comedy set that culminates in Midge getting arrested for public indecency after exposing her breasts and asking, “Who wouldn’t want to come home to these?”
And so begins Midge’s tentative journey into comedy.
Funny, but uneven
As one would expect from a show made by the creator of “Gilmore Girls,” there is plenty of family drama in “Mrs. Maisel.” Amy Sherman-Palladino mastered the mother-daughter relationship with Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, and there are glimpses of that between Midge and her mother. The relationship between Midge’s and Joel’s parents, meanwhile, is comedic gold, and the domestic exchanges sparkle with witty dialog.
Indeed, anytime Midge appears on screen, you can pretty much guarantee there will be clever comebacks and observations. It’s a sweeping performance by Brosnahan, who dominates the screen and well deserves the Golden Globe nomination she got for best actress. The show was also nominated for Best Television Musical or Comedy.
There is, however, an unevenness to the show and its characters. The pace varies from rapid-fire gags to slow flashbacks and lingering long shots. Over the course of almost eight hours, Midge prevaricates between determination to pursue the life of a modern women – a single, working mother of two and a would-be comedienne – and her (and her parents’) desire to see her reunited with her husband, despite his many evident flaws and his infidelity.
An argument could be made that “Mrs. Maisel” should have been a movie, since the plot does not progress much over the course of eight episodes and the dramatic catalyst occurs midway through the first episode.
A two-hour film might have eliminated some of the less dynamic scenes and superfluous-but-entertaining tangents in which the show indulges. It could have pushed the plot forward at a more satisfying pace and ended with a triumphant, feel-good denouement. Having said that, critics and viewers clearly loved the show exactly as it is – it has a 95 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes – and Amazon executives have already commissioned a second season.
If you are planning on watching “Mrs. Maisel,” however, take a tip from someone who watched all eight episodes over a single weekend: Don’t binge.
The inherent problem with streaming services like Amazon and Netflix is the immediacy and availability of their output. New shows are not aired, they are dumped – and for those of us suffering from a chronic inability to defer gratification, the temptation to overconsume is overwhelming.
That’s fine for cliffhanger shows, where you can’t wait to discover the next twist in the plot or the next major character to be killed off. “Mrs. Maisel” is a very different kind of show; the kind you should savor, week by week, and not the kind to be consumed in one sitting.