Amy Sherman-Palladino’s whirlwind comedy-drama The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel premiered in March 2017 and set our hearts on fire. With its riveting late-1950s sets, eye-popping colours, and at the centre of it, our vivacious protagonist Midge Maisel who had embarked on a journey of self-discovery through stand-up comedy of all things, Palladino’s production had it all. As was expected and as it deserved, Season One swept away a host of awards winning the Golden Globe for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy, and Rachel Brosnahan (as Midge Maisel) winning Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy. The series also went on to win several Emmys including Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. Palladino also grabbed Emmys for Best Directing and Writing for a Comedy Series. Mrs. Maisel isn’t just about a woman trying to making it in stand-up comedy in a partially conservative 1950s America, it is also about a woman trying to challenge the established patriarchy.
Season Two sees Midge Maisel as a more confident young woman who is a far cry from the confused individual who was unsure if stand-up comedy was her thing. With the undying support from her misfit manager Susie Myerson, Midge becomes a regular figure at the Gaslight where she had done her first set in a state of inebriation. Now, she has a sense of purpose. At the familial front, her estranged husband Joel recounts her last set wherein Midge had spoken some personal things involving him. Even though he understood that stand-up comediennes talked about their personal lives all the time, he couldn’t imagine his life being thrown wide open on stage in front of a crowd of strangers. As unfair as it is, he asks her to choose between him and stand-up. Even though it is a crushing choice for her, Midge follows her heart and chooses stand-up. Joel is heart-broken but he understands her choice. He dives into reinvigorating his father’s slumping business.
Palladino brings a lot more richness into the supporting cast this time. Susie Myerson’s quirky side is explored even further through her interactions with various Club bookers. There is a hilarious scene where she chitchats with her “kidnappers” who happen to be from the same rundown side of town as she was. Alex Borstein’s portrayal of Myerson is basically us, who are ignorant of the strange ways that well-to-do upper-class families have. Her extreme lack of pretense makes her all the more endearing when compared to the dollhouse-perfect world that surrounds her. Michael Zegen’s usually meek character of Joel also finds a new lease of life, with a stronger make-over. In one particularly satisfying scene, a club-owner refuses to pay Midge and Susie despite a cracking set. When Susie tries to argue with the guy, he even locks her inside a broom cupboard. A demoralized and tired Midge calls up her only close friend that she can think of. Joel shows up at the club and stands up to the club-owner, gets their money and punches him for good measure. This character treatment also extends to Midge’s parents, Abe and Rose Weismann, who are going through a sort of crisis where Rose moves to Paris as she feels that she isn’t needed anymore, and Abe follows her desperate to bring her back home. Their eccentricities and dynamics constitute some of the most hilarious bits in the series. Tony Shalhoub, in particular, is a treat to watch as he feels his control slipping when he learns that Midge is doing stand-up comedy and his son Noah is working on a secret Government project.
A comedy series without an underlying comedic writing is a man without a soul. If Season One was funny, Season Two brings into its characters a style that is a juxtaposition of impeccable witticism and comedic timing. While the focus is on conversations and the reactions to those conversations, the camera sweeps from character to character in a fluid, continuous motion that almost gives you a headrush. There are innumerable lines and funny quips that hit you with an – “Ah, that’s smart!”. For instance, in a scene in Paris, Midge and Rose toast to each other with in Parisian style saying – “Proost.”, and Abe, angrily cuts them off saying – “Don’t bring him into this.”. As it hits you a couple of seconds later, you realize Abe was referring to the celebrated 19th century French novelist Marcel Proust.
Complementing the strong writing, is the spectacular choreography of the sets, the colours, and the lights. There are characters that just swoop into the story, dazzle with their brilliance and then check out, leaving a life-lesson for Midge. One of such is a fantastic bar-scene where a celebrated painter Declan Howell delivers a poetic rant standing over the bar-counter. Another of my favourite scenes is the ones where Midge’s mentor Lenny Bruce (played by Luke Kirby) delivers a comedic musical number on TV with Midge standing amongst the camera-crew, listening to his lines as if it were providence.
The force majeur, however, remains none other than our protagonist Mrs. Maisel played by the immensely talented Rachel Brosnahan. Brosnahan becomes Midge Maisel, a 50s girl who has found her voice and is ready to fight to make it heard in a room full of men. She is boisterous, infectious, and a keen observer. Her spontaneity captivates you like it does her audience even within her settings. The only nitpick that I have from the sets is that, there are times when she has had a bad day, barely making it to her venues, and still manages to deliver a great performance, sometimes impromptu. That may be slightly disrespectful to real stand-up comedians who have to work hard on their writing before they can actually polish it up for stage. Having said that, this is TV and creative liberties are allowed. Maybe she is that good that spontaneity works for her. Well, now that Season Two is out, we cannot wait for the next where Mrs. Maisel is slated to become a breakout American sensation.