Film & Television

Amazon’s Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: Embarrassingly Good

With Amazon onboard, Sherman-Palladino and her husband co-producer Daniel Palladino had creative license and a liberal budget. But, finding the right Mrs. Maisel was key to success. Rachel Brosnahan is relatively unknown, although she earned an Emmy nomination for a guest role as a young prostitute in House of Cards. Here, she is simply “marvelous.” She is just 27 and is the first to confess that she’s done little comedy to date and no stand-up. “I don’t know how those guys do it,” she admits, “It’s one of the bravest things I can possibly imagine.” It’s easy enough for Mrs. Maisel’s audience to imagine; Brosnahan’s super-charged, comic monologues are highlights of each episode. Intelligent and irreverent (by today’s standards; obscene and actually illegal in 1958), her jokes pull back the shades on her until-then perfect life. Bemoaning her husband’s infidelity, she announces, “I gave him two children — a boy and a girl. Of course, the girl is looking more like Winston Churchill every day. But, still.” The sarcasm, self-deprecating humor, and foul language are familiar to us now. They were revolutionary then.

Fortunately, in her journey from Riverside Drive to The Tonight Show,  Midge has a knowledgeable, if unlikely, sherpa. Susie Meyerson is a small-time club manager who sees Mrs. Maisel as her ticket to the big-time. Played by the irrepressible Alex Bornstein, she and Midge make an entertainingly odd couple. (Gilmore enthusiasts will recognize Bornstein as harpist Drella and stylist Miss Celine. And, she was the original Sookie St. James in the pilot, replaced by Melissa McCarthy because of Bornstein’s contract with MADtv.)

Brosnahan and Bornstein are joined by a wonderful cast that includes Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle as Midge’s parents; Michael Zegin as Joel; Kevin Pollack and Caroline Aaron as Joel’s parents; Luke Kirby as Lenny Bruce; and Max Casella as lawyer Michael Kessler. “Keep my card,” he tells Midge. “You’re gonna need it.”

With or without representation (and Kessler’s right, by the way, breaking ground in the comedy scene of the 1950s often meant breaking the law) Midge is a heroine that you’ll root for. A victim of circumstances, she’s nobody’s victim. When she decides to pursue comedy in earnest, she assures Susie that she’ll study. “I was always the best at research!” This can-do attitude is central to the character and series.

“I wanted to do a story about a woman who thought she scored, made it. She has it all and then ‘Bam!’ It all falls apart, and in falling apart she discovers an ambition and a need to speak and a voice that she frankly didn’t know was there,” Sherman-Palladino has explained in interviews. Both she and her husband appreciate that the timing is right for the show.

“We’ve been in the business a long time,” adds Palladino. “When we started at broadcast networks, you pitch a strong woman character and you see men in the room get very nervous … because they worry that if a woman is strong, she’s not going to be likable.”

Mrs. Maisel, in the talented hands of Brosnahan and written and directed by Sherman-Palladino, is about as likable as you can get.

After the pilot for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel aired last spring, Amazon immediately signed the team for two seasons. That’s good news — even for Gilmore Girls fans. Netflix has hinted that there will be a follow-up to its Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life mini-series, and the new Amazon series won’t keep that from happening.

“We’ve got the Gilmore clause [in our contract],” Sherman-Palladino laughed when asked about it .

An embarrassment of riches, indeed.

You can find the binge-worthy The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon Prime. All eight episodes of season one are available to stream now.

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