The only thing to say about The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the new Amazon pilot from Gilmore Girls auteur Amy Sherman-Palladino, is that it is marvelous. That joke may have written itself, but jokes writing themselves seems to be a perfect description of the show’s main character, who finds herself being quite good at writing comedy.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel introduces us to Miriam “Midge” Maisel (House of Cards’s Rachel Brosnahan), a 1950s Jewish American Princess living in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Midge’s husband, Joel (Michael Zegan), has ambitions of being a stand-up comedian and Midge, ever the doting housewife, supports him every step of the way…if by ‘support’ you mean ‘does all the work’.
Midge butters up management, gets him good time slots, gauges audience reactions, and even writes jokes, something Joel himself struggles to do. After a disastrous set, Joel and Midge fight, which leads to her breaking down and taking to the stage herself. Immediately, it becomes clear which Maisel has the true talent for comedy, starting Midge down an exciting new path in her life.
Despite its ‘marvelousness’, Mrs. Maisel has a very unfortunate title, keeping up with Palladino’s trend of alliterative, awful titles. While not as bad as the cultural punchline that was her last show, Bunheads, Mrs. Maisel is a mouthful and just saying it aloud makes you feel off for about six minutes.
The title is not, however, false advertising. It is marvelous! The show perfectly plays into Palladino’s style–brunette female protagonist, fast talking wit, obscure pop culture references —but it is also a whole new endeavor for her. The show is distinct and fresh, being both a period piece and set in big old New York City rather than her traditional quirky small town settings.
The period piece aspect of the show works well with Palladino’s style. There is a timeless feel to her writing and they compliment each other nicely. Her trademark pop culture references help establish the setting and tone rather than a character quirk.
While pacing has never been one of Palladino’s strong suits (just look at the infamous “Stars Hollow the Musical” from the recent Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life on Netflix… or the entirety of the static Bunheads), Mrs. Maisel’s pilot is breezy yet efficient. The show starts off well with a delightful scene of Midge delivering a toast at her own wedding, establishing her character not only as a Type-A go-getter but also as a great story-teller with an innate sense of comedic timing.
The cast is uniformly excellent, excelling at not only Palladino’s trademark fast-paced dialogue, but also at bringing warmth and charm to what could easily be stock ‘50s stereotypes. Brosnahan is a great find for a TV star, helped by the fact that she looks like a Fly-esque fusion of Westwood’s Evan Rachel Wood and The Crown’s Claire Foy. Brosnahan is asked to portray the character at both her highest and her lowest and performs admirably, carrying the show on her back. But the whole thing is lead up to when Midge finally performs and Brosnahan feels just as natural as Midge does in the moment.
The other star of the pilot is Alex Borstein, best known for her work on MadTV and Family Guy, playing the role of tough club worker Suzie who helps Midge discover her talent. The role is tailor fit for Borstein, a long-time collaborator with Palladino, highlighting her comedic skills alongside a surprising dramatic range.
As Midge’s parents, Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle are given little to do so far, mostly coming off as Jewish versions of Richard and Emily from Gilmore Girls. But their performances shine, showing promise for the two should the series move forward.
The character of Joel so far is the show’s biggest issue. While acted well and fitting into the story nicely, the shift his character makes about three fourths of the way through feels abrupt. Additionally, while Midge running into historical figure Lenny Bruce (a well-cast Luke Kirby) leads to some nice moments, one hopes that the show doesn’t lean to hard on this trope. I’d rather not see Midge become the Forest Gump of stand-up.
But the real achievement of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is its most obvious: its stand-up comedy is funny. So often “show within a show” comedy can be embarrassingly lame to watch (*cough* Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip *cough*), but here, when Midge finally takes to the stand, it feels as fresh and hilarious as it would if you were sitting in the Gaslight Café watching this charming performer. One hopes her set isn’t one night only and that Amazon decides to order the show.