Film & Television

Midge Maisel is Back, But Not Bingeable

When it comes to romance, there’s an old saying: “Opposites attract.” This may be true early on in a relationship, but polarized habits, behaviors, and opinions can make married life messy further down the road. In real life, odd couples aren’t just odd; they can be downright incompatible. Just imagine the slob married to the neatnik, the punctual married to the perpetually tardy, the Republican married to the Democrat. Or, a thoroughly modern phenomenon: the streaming binger married to the person who would rather watch an episode a week.

Alas, although in many ways meant for each other, my husband and I fall into that last category. Give me some popcorn and pinot grigio and I will happily consume an entire season in a single sitting. My beloved spouse prefers to take his time, let stories unfold slowly, even if that means losing the thread now and then.

So when we learned that The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was returning to Amazon Prime for a fourth season, BUT that it would be served up only two episodes at a time, he rejoiced. Me? Not so much.

Due to the pandemic, it’s been two years since we watched Miriam “Midge” Maisel making her way in the male-dominated world of early 1960s standup comedy. So it’s little wonder if some threads were lost along the way. If you expect the new season to backtrack a bit — maybe just a two- or three-minute recap, please — you’ll be disappointed. Episodes one and two jump right in.

We last saw Mrs. M. and her manager, Susie, standing on the tarmac (surrounded by Midge’s copious luggage) as Shy Baldwin and his entourage fly off on their world tour. The female comic has been unceremoniously dumped after accidentally outing the gay headliner at Harlem’s historic Apollo Theater. And if you think Amy Sherman-Palladino and her writers are going to slow down their notoriously rapid dialogue to let you catch your breath, much less catch up with the plot, you’re mistaken.

Sherman-Palladino is legendary for the length of her scripts. (No doubt this is why Lauren Graham, star of Sherman-Palladino’s earlier Gilmore Girls, titled her memoir Talking as Fast as I Can.) As Maisel’s star, Emmy-winner Rachel Brosnahan, explained to Harper’s Bazaar, “Our scripts are about 10-15 pages longer than normal, and a lot of those ten pages typically are taken up by a gigantic stand-up set of some kind. It’s a lot of talking.”

In addition to Midge’s sudden unemployment, you’ll soon learn (or remember) that Susie (Emmy -winner Alex Borstein) has gambled away her client’s money and is counting on an insurance, or rather an insurance fraud, check  to pay her back. Midge’s parents (the equally marvelous Marin Hinkle and Tony Shalhoub) have moved in with her former in-laws (Caroline Aaron and Kevin Pollak), from whom Midge borrowed money to buy back her Riverside Drive coop. Joel (Michael Zegen), her ex-husband, has opened a club in Chinatown and taken up with Mei (Stephanie Hsu), whose parents are running an illegal gambling den in the club’s basement. 

Phew. And that’s just the main cast.

The new season begins with Midge onstage, before flashing back to the cab on the way home from the airport. Being fired by Shy’s manager (Emmy-winner Sterling K. Brown) was the last straw, as she explains to the appreciative crowd at the Gaslight.

“Revenge. Revenge, I want it. Oh, do I want it. I need it, I crave it. I am completely consumed by the need for it. Revenge. You know how there are times in your life when things seem to be going great. And then suddenly, you round the corner and bam! Someone steps in and fucks it the fuck up. You never saw it coming because you were too busy being happy. And I know that’s life. Shit happens. You should be a bigger man and just let it go. Well, I’m a woman, so fuck that! I want my pound of flesh. I want my revenge. And I’m talking real revenge, not the ‘Hey, I got you a lifetime subscription to The Watchtower revenge. Shakespearean, blood-soaked, painful, soul-crushing revenge. I will dig out my high school clarinet and play klezmer music next door to you 24 hours a day. I will sneak into your basement and fry fish. I will befriend your only daughter and introduce her to a poet and I will go to their wedding and laugh. I’m talking Medea-level revenge. I’m filled with so much fury and why? I realized that once again a man has stepped in and fucked up my life. And just like the first time, I was dressed magnificently.”

We’ve been warned: Mrs. Maisel may be back where she started — not just in her old club, but in her old apartment, and even (mini-spoiler here) back in jail. But this time, she’s taking no prisoners.

Unbelievable as it may seem, Brosnahan never thought of herself as funny until she won this star-making part. And in season four she’s as marvelous as ever. Whether she’s riffing onstage, coercing the dry cleaner (and the baker and the pharmacist and the milkman) to increase her tab limit, neglecting her children, or redecorating her bedroom, she combines a unique blend of domestic efficiency and ruthless sarcasm and so much style. (Every hat she wears is bigger and better than the last.)

“We’re going out,” Susie announces, recognizing that Midge needs to get back to work. Midge heads toward her closet. “Do not change your wardrobe. It’s fine!”

“It’s just a hat,” Midge insists.

“It’s never just a hat!”

Borstein has always been a funny person; in fact, she missed out on the role of Gilmore’s Sookie St. James (which launched the career of Melissa McCarthy) because of a preexisting contract with MADtv. In Mrs. Maisel, her Susie is the perfect foil for Midge. They truly are an odd couple, but their relationship is built on mutual respect for each other — and shared disdain for all the men who are standing in their way.

Although yet another man has pulled the rug out from Midge and Susie, one of the nice things about The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is that virtually all of the main characters — including the males — are multidimensional and sympathetic on some level. Joel, who left Midge in season one for younger secretary Penny Pan, still looks out for his ex. Midge’s father, Abe, while unable to admit that his daughter is supporting him, turns over his first paltry check as a journalist to help with the household’s bills.

“Look at it this way,” Midge tells him, “You are doing something that you love.”

She would know. And it’s awfully good to have her back. Even if she’s no longer bingeable.

 Seasons 1 to 3 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are available to binge on Amazon Prime. New episodes of season 4 will be released every Friday.

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