Mrs. Miriam ‘Midge’ Maisel has the perfect life: she has two children, a beautiful apartment on the Upper West Side and, she thinks, a husband who loves her – a husband, she discovers, who has been having an affair for months (with his secretary) and decides to leave her the night before Yom Kippur.
During a night out drinking her woes into oblivion, she takes over the stage in the Gaslight, the club where her husband has, unsuccessfully, tried to prove himself as a stand-up comic.
Somehow, all her problems come out onstage in a hilarious manner – though she does wind up getting arrested for public indecency and profanity, earning the interest of the club’s owner.
And so it begins.
Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) is going to (eventually) make it big – the show’s PR notes that the show will follow her from that first drunken outburst to Johnny Carson’s couch (given the situation in Hollywood – and everywhere else) these days, not perhaps the best wording (they are, of course, talking about the couch on the set of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson).
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is from the husband and wife team behind The Gilmore Girls, so you would expect it to be fast-paced, with snappy dialogue, interesting characters and situations ranging from goofy to high drama.
In that, you would not be wrong.
The series details Midge’s adventures on the road to fame and The Tonight Show and uses flashbacks to reveal her life from when she first met Joel Maisel (Michael Zegen) up the point where things fell apart.
We meet her uptown parents – stiff, regimented and OCD Abe and resilient and dramatically nuanced Rose Weissman (Tony Shalhoub and Merin Hinkle) – and Joel’s more downtown folks – Moishe Maisel and Shirley Maisel (Kevin Pollack and Catherine Aaron). Not surprisingly, the parents/parents-in-law are like oil and water – not particularly compatible in any conceivable way.
The four episodes made available for review follow Midge from the point of the break-up to sitting on a fire escape to watch Jack Paar after a dizzying few days of learning about the ins and outs of stand-up.
Along the way, she finds herself with a manager, Suzie Meyerson (Alex Borstein) – the tough, seen it all owner of the Gaslight – and even rejects an overture from Joel to come back (‘Because you left!).
In four episodes of stunning comedy, wit and drama, one of the more interesting arcs follows Midge’s meeting comic legend Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby). Bruce comes across as incisive, insightful and very funny onstage and all of the above minus any clue about dealing with people offstage.
Next to powerhouse performance by Brosnahan, Kirby is the biggest revelation over the first four eps. He is Lenny Bruce.
Being set in the early ‘60s, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel tackles things like women’s rights; racial discrimination and the near impossibility of a woman making a career outside the home.
It never browbeats us with these recurring themes, but more deftly gets under our skin – like a scalpel as opposed to a cleaver.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is an Amy Sherman-Palladino/David Palladino show – smart, funny, dramatic, a bit challenging and thoroughly entertaining.
Final Grade: A