The Marvelous Mrs Maisel – television review

I love streaming. It offers so many choices for you to enjoy at your leisure. I also hate streaming. I mean, it offers you just so many choices to enjoy at your leisure. The convenience is great, but the deluge of shows and movies means things – great things – can slip right by you. So it was with me and The Marvelous Mrs Maisel *.

I was vaguely aware this show existed, but hadn’t paid it much attention. But with its nominations and wins at the recent Golden Globe Awards, I sought it out. In Australia, it’s streaming via Amazon Prime Video, which means it’s somewhat inaccessible anyway. And while I wouldn’t recommend shelling out for Amazon Prime just so you can watch this show, it’s definitely worthy of attention.

The Marvelous Mrs Maisel is the brainchild of Amy Sherman-Palladino. You might know her as the driving force behind both Roseanne and Gilmore Girls. Elements of Gilmore Girls creep in here. Apart from the obvious (the titular character’s rapid-fire wisecracks) the show parallels Lorelai Gilmore’s struggle to make her way in the world while raising a child.

Mrs Maisel is Miriam Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) – though she’s known as “Midge”. In the pilot, it’s 1958 and Miriam is (apparently) happily married to Joel (Michael Zegen). He’s an exec in a finance company who has a passion for stand-up comedy. Luckily, the pair are able to drop their two kids off with Miriam’s parents (who live in the same Upper West Side building) and head downtown to the clubs of Greenwich Village. Joel tries his hand at stand-up with middling success. But one night, he bombs after Miriam suggests he might try doing some original material instead of copying others’ jokes. In a fit of pique, Joel announces he’s been having an affair with his secretary and leaves. Alone with two kids and an uncertain future, Miriam understandably hits the bottle.

Her drunken night sees her back at the club where a mix-up sees her doing a “bit” on stage. That “bit” ends with her being arrested. She’s in good company though, sharing a cop car with then-rising star Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby). Her escapade however has caught the eye of club manager Susie Meyerson (Alex Borstein), who not only bails her out, but encourages her fledgling comedy career.

Sherman-Palladino has crafted a tiny gem here. The series has great potential – indeed, Amazon has ordered two more seasons, but for now we have just the 8 episodes of season 1. Each episode is exquisitely crafted by Sherman-Palladino and her team. The production design is great, evoking New York in the late 1950s with some flair. Fans of the stylish fashion of the era won’t be disappointed. But more importantly, the characters and plots are also carefully worked out.

Some will see elements here of the current zeitgeist. There’s no denying that the series taps into many issues concerning women’s roles in society. The 1950s setting renders it “safe” to make some of these points quite bluntly, but don’t for a moment think this is a case of mere coincidence. The show is speaking directly to a contemporary audience.

Rachel Brosnahan has been kicking around in TV for a while now. She had recurring roles in the likes of House of Cards and Manhattan, but this is a breakthough role for her (and she has a Golden Globe to prove it). Brosnahan is very funny in the role – that can be taken for granted. But she transcends mere comedy to give us Miriam’s pain, uncertainty and vulnerability. Alex Borstein lends fantastic support as the outwardly hard-edged Susie. Michael Zegen gets a difficult role as Joel but still finds some light-and-shade in the character. Look out too for the wonderful Tony Shaloub and Marin Hinkle as Miriam’s parents; and Kevin Pollack as Joel’s no-nonsense father.

The Marvelous Mrs Maisel is simply one of the best shows to come out of the US in the past year. If you have Amazon Prime, you need to be watching it. If not, don’t miss it when it becomes more widely available later this year.

* Note for Australian readers. Yes, I am using the US spelling of “marvellous” because that’s how it appears in Amazon’s program guide.

David Edwards

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